Picture Book Review ~ Bear Snores On

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First SentenceIn a cave in the woods,
in his deep, dark lair,
through the long, cold winter
sleeps a great brown bear.

Said bear sleeps (and snores) through the day and night, through storm and a host of uninvited guests. A tiny mouse stumbles in and builds a fire and is quickly joined by a hare, a badger, a gopher, a mole, a raven and a wren. They share food with each other, pop popcorn, laugh and visit while bear snores on unaware until a rogue pepper flake makes its way to his nose and he sneezes himself awake. I’ll let you read this yourself to find the ending but it’s got a fun little twist, just perfect for preschoolers.

There are a lot of rhyming picture books out there and a lot of them are just mediocre. They look great on the page and even sound good in your head, but when you try to read them aloud the words and rhythms just fail to flow smoothly. Not so with our Ms. Wilson. She has a veritable gift for verse. And she uses some lovely words to do it. Nothing about her vocabulary is trite or tired, another reason why I love her so much. At an age when children are gaining words in their own vocabulary at the rate of +/- 5 or so words a day,  the more rich language they are exposed to the better. So the bear’s cave is also referred to as a lair and a den. The animals ‘pitter-pat,’ ‘creep-crawl,’ ‘sneak-peek,’ and ‘scuttle;’ and they ‘divvy’ up their snacks, in the ‘damp’ ‘dank’ cave. There are also lots of fun action sequences for varying voice volume and pitch. And a host of sequels!

Wilson has a bunch of other titles that are all quite good as well but the bear books are my favorites. There are currently 10 (if I counted right!) with several board book variations and sets available.

Chapman’s illustrations are friendly, the animals at once recognizable for what they are but with a definite cartoonish quality in their faces and posturing—I think little mole is my favorite–(and ability to be friends without eating each other!) Highly, highly recommended!!

 

Bear Snores On Book Review

Bear Snores On

Written by: Karma Wilson

Illustrated by: Jane Chapman

Number of Pages: 32

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2002

Age Range: 2-5

Rating: 5/5

Middle Grade Book Review ~ The Lions of Little Rock

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Marlee’s world is changing. Her older brother is off to college, her sister is being shipped off to their grandmother’s because the high schools are all closed in protest of integration and she’s not sure she’ll be able to handle things on her own. She’s basically a selective mute speaking only to her family (mostly her sister) and providing one word answers at school when forced. And then Elizabeth shows up. Liz has a way of pulling the words out of Marlee and making her do things she never thought possible. But when it’s discovered that Liz is actually a light-skinned Negro their friendship becomes forbidden. Their world is volatile and the racial tensions in the city are real and life threatening.

When Liz goes back to her school she enlists Marlee to help her learn to be quiet and ignore the comments and slams she receives. The girls sneak around in an effort to see each other and call each other on the phone using fake names. Their efforts lead to more and more trouble until it escalates into an older white boy’s violent actions against Liz’s family and neighbors. But the girls won’t be deterred.

Listening to the lions in the nearby Little Rock zoo roar each night Marlee bolsters her courage (much as the lion in the Wizard of Oz, a movie the girls see together, does as well.) She decides to do what she can to keep the first friend she’s ever had.

Marlee and Liz deal with realistic portrayals of racism, ignorance and bigotry even from members of their own families. There’s a lot of history here with some background information on the NAACP, Emmitt Till, John Carter, the KKK, the Little Rock Nine, lynchings, bombings and more. There’s enough info given to explain the gravity of the situation without dwelling on it all, as befits the target audience.

Marlee is a fantastic character with a great voice and insight into the people around her. Because so much of her dialogue (at least at the beginning of the book) is internal we see her growth and evolution in a very direct way through her thoughts but also the words she chooses to say aloud and those she chooses to say them to.

Here’s a sampling:
You see, to me, people are like things you drink. Some are like a pot of black coffee, no cream, no sugar. They make me so nervous I start to tremble. Others calm me down enough that I can sort through the words in my head and find something to say.

My brother, David, is a glass of sweet iced tea on a hot summer day, when you’ve put your feet up in a hammock and haven’t got a care in the world… (pg 5)

Each new person she comes to interact with is labeled in this way; bubbly sodas, wholesome milk, shots of whiskey. Eventually it all leads to this conclusion near the end of the book:

Summing people up as a cola or a coffee wasn’t really fair. Most people were a whole refrigerator full of different drinks. Trying to force them into one cup or one glass meant I never really got to know them. (pg 271) 

Not only does little Marlee find her voice but through her influence the people around her find their voices as well and slowly change begins to come. This is a quietly powerful fictionalization of ‘the lost year,’ 1958 (the year following the events of the Little Rock Nine) and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in history, the Civil Rights movement, equality or just plain great stories.

Lions of Little Rock Book Review

 

The Lions of Little Rock

Written by: Kristin Levine

Number of Pages: 298

Publisher:  Puffin Books, 2013

Age Range: 8-12

Rating: 4/5

Music Monday ~ Welcome, November!

Page and Print November Playlist 2018

How the heck is it already November!? I feel like time is not just marching on but it somehow got a hold of a fast Italian sports car and is steadily trying to run me over. This month is absolute madness around here and the holidays are just around the corner which means the list of things to do has multiplied a thousand-fold and is begging me to gift-wrap, bedazzle and hand-deliver every item while singing carols…and probably dancing too. Sheesh! I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

In an effort to tame just a bit of that madness I made a goal last year to get Christmas cards and neighbor gifts and the bulk of the shopping done by Thanksgiving so that we could spend the month of December in a state of relative relaxation just enjoying each other’s company and all the events and hoopla that will inevitably crop up. Little did I know that we would book a spontaneous trip to Ireland, that I’d take it into my head to plan a surprise party for my husband’s 50th birthday, have tickets to several concerts and performances, and start the month out with an awesome cold. Add to that the preparations for Thanksgiving and everything I need to do to help contribute to this amazing event at the end of the month, and well, there’s a lot on my plate. Needless to say it won’t all get done in the time or way I’d hoped but I’ve decided to just go with it rather than stressing. (We’ll see how well that works, but that’s the plan!)

So, my Christmas cards have become Thanksgiving cards which will give me a chance to shower my loved ones with gratitude for their influences in my life. And hopefully will be a bit more personal and standout rather than becoming lost in the deluge at Christmas time. It also gives me a great opportunity to share this Thanksgiving playlist with everyone. One of the things that has saved my sanity over and over again throughout my life is music. I firmly believe heaven will be one continual musical with people spontaneously breaking into song and dance at every opportunity (and I firmly believe that I will thus be blessed with the ability to dance!) So, as I will wish to everyone on my Christmas card list a few moments carved out of the craziness to be able to listen with those they love, so I wish to you.

And here are a few other things I’ve learned that have helped me make it through some of the busier moments:

  • Make a list! While it’s sometimes overwhelming to see the pages and pages of things that need to get done it makes it so much easier for me to group tasks together, prioritize and work out a plan of attack. Can you make phone calls while waiting in the carpool line? Can you group errands to save you some trips?
  • Make a list part 2. Take a really good look at that list. Can you outsource anything? Or drop it altogether? While we sometimes think that we need to do it all, honestly some things just aren’t important. If it’s not going to feed your soul (or your family) then maybe it doesn’t really need to be on the list. Be honest and brutal…it’s okay to say no, to buy cookies for the bake sale instead of making them, or let the kids skip out on soccer this season. The world won’t end. I promise.
  • Take time to take care of yourself. This one can be tough. It’s easy to justify skipping the workout to squeeze in another load of laundry or eating the cookies instead of an actual lunch but resist! The old adage ‘if mama ain’t happy ain’t nobody happy’ applies in spades here. If you’re well-rested and healthy you can take better care of everyone and everything. So find a few minutes to do some yoga or meditation, stock the fridge with some quick, healthy snacks, stick to your sleep routine; your immune system will thank you.
  • Take care of yourself part 2. Schedule in a few minutes daily to unplug, unwind, and really relax. This works especially well if it’s something out of the ordinary so that it truly feels like a splurge and gives your mind a chance to reboot. Grab an adult coloring book, savor a piece of fancy chocolate, take a walk and observe what’s around you, immerse yourself in a song or piece of music; whatever it is that makes you happy make sure you find a little time to do it fully and mindfully.

What are your favorite tips for preparing for a stressful event or time? (or keeping your sanity on a normal day?!) Any favorite songs you listen to around the holidays? I’d love to hear about them!

And good luck to all of you and whatever holiday madness may come your way. You’ve got this!

How Are You Spending Your Time?

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Earlier this month the leader of my church challenged the members of our women’s organization to participate in a 10 day fast from social media. The goal being that we would take the time we would have spent on those mostly mindless tasks and devote that time instead to serving others, reading scripture, and bettering ourselves and our communities. I took the challenge to heart and was amazed at the results.

I was also amazed at how often I pick up my phone to ‘check in’. I found myself looking at my phone the first few days and not knowing what to do with it. It just goes to show just how much time I spend/waste doing relatively unimportant things! Lessons learned: I do not miss Facebook. More often than not it’s full of negativity and meaningless trifles. I did, however, miss Instagram. For now, at least, it’s filled with more positivity and uplifting images. But they all have a tendency to suck you into a time warp and so I’ve instituted a daily personal media fast from 9pm-9am going forward. And I’ve mostly stuck to it! 🙂

While pondering all of these thoughts I was reminded of this book that I read not too long ago. It talks a lot about the idea of opportunity cost in relation to our time management.  (Not being a business major I wasn’t super familiar with the concept, but basically when you make a choice to do one thing you automatically make choices to NOT do other things–ie, if you have $5 and spend it on candy bars you choose to NOT spend that $5 on rent–roughly.) And then it introduced the idea of a “stop-doing” list.  As one who lives by my many “to-do” lists I was intrigued. In order to accomplish any goal or make progress toward something (particularly something new) in your life you have to choose to stop doing something else in order to make room/time for it. To start a new exercise program you have to stop sleeping and get up 30 minutes earlier. To learn to paint you sign up for a class which means you have to cut back on the time you watch TV.  You get the idea. It’s all about priorities and what you are willing to sacrifice in order to do/be something better. (This is a fabulous talk on the same subject.)

I continually fall prey to this. There are so many things I want to do with my life that I dip my foot into as many pools as I can but I never actually go for a swim in any of them. My book is a prime example.  I tell myself I really want to write and I even go so far as to take a class every now and then, jot down a paragraph or two when the ideas strike and drag a notebook around with me wherever I go.  But I haven’t taken the firm step yet of cutting something out of my life to make room for it. I’m still not truly making it a priority. And that’s just one example. I’m a great dabbler and often pride myself in being well-rounded and interested in many things. And for the most part I’m really okay with that. But I sometimes forget that it comes at the cost of never truly excelling at anything. And one day I won’t have any more somedays to hope for. Am I going to look back and wish I’d done something different?

This video made the rounds on social media a few years ago. I was just as impressed re-watching it now as I was when I first saw it. It’s a rather startling visual…and I do love visuals! How much time do we all really have left?  And what are we doing with it?

I also found it really interesting to read the comments section on the youtube page. They tend to fall into two basic categories; some people found the video/facts depressing while others found them motivating. I think it’s safe to say that those who were depressed by it all probably spend less time doing what they love than they’d like.  Looking back at years spent scrolling through facebook versus actually picking up that guitar and learning how to play has got to be discouraging. Those who were motivated either realize that they need to seize the day and finally do what they keep talking about or have already found a way to do it and really enjoy and savor the time that they have.

The key, for me, is balance. Set some limits for yourself along with some goals. There’s nothing wrong with vegging on the couch catching up on Netflix to unwind after work. But if that’s all you ever do then you’ll never get anything else done. Limiting your veg time to say one show each night will give you time to focus on something else. Make it something that really excites you but also start with small, manageable steps. When you find yourself succeeding at those you’ll be motivated to take the next steps and pretty soon we’ll all be clamoring to see you perform or buy your book.

Another key is appreciation. Accepting and savoring what is instead of wishing for something else can be invaluable (especially when those things are outside of your control.) Spend time with those you love doing the things you love and you’ll be able to look back at your life with very few regrets. This is a great time to practice this as we move into the holiday season. Instead of jamming your schedule so full of things to do and places to go, take advantage of the moments you have to slow down and enjoy. Cuddle up and watch movies together, buy some fancy hot chocolate and really taste and savor it, marvel at the first snowfall or bring out your inner child by starting a snowball fight.  ‘Tis the season for hygge! (Check out this past post about hygge and Hobbits for some more ideas!)

My challenge to you (and myself) over the next couple of weeks is to find 3 things you can put on your “stop-doing” list, be they big or small. And then use that re-claimed time to try something new, start a new project, or re-focus on a goal you’ve set that keeps getting put on the back burner. You only have so many hours in a day and nothing you do will change that, therefore you can only change what you do with them. What are you doing with yours? I want to hear all about it in the comments below. 🙂

P.S. Want a great kid’s book connection to go with the video? Check out How Many Jelly Beans? by Andrea Menotti.

A Spooky Series for Adults ~ Barbara Michaels

Spooky book series for adults

Earlier this week I confessed to my love of cozy mysteries. One of my absolute favorite authors of this genre is Barbara Michaels. (Her real name is Barbara Mertz but she also writes under another pseudonym, Elizabeth Peters.) Peters tends towards the historically set, more in-depth mysteries set purely in the human realm. She’s probably most well-known for her Amelia Peabody, female Egyptologist, series. Michaels always has a touch of the Gothic and supernatural in her stories. The writing isn’t as sophisticated as the Peters books but they are delightful little mysteries all the same. Under her own name she published several non-fiction books. Ms. Mertz passed away in 2013. I mourn the loss of all the books she won’t have a chance to write. But she was quite prolific, with more than 65 titles under her belt, so there is plenty for me to read and re-read for years to come.

This series follows a couple of characters throughout several years with each taking turns acting as main and supporting characters. The stories can be read independently but it’s most fun to read them in order and watch the relationships progress and shift over the years.

In the first book, Ammie Come Home, we meet Ruth, a middle-aged heroine living in Georgetown with a visiting niece, Sara. She ropes herself into hosting a séance at her hundreds-year-old home. But things take a dark turn when a presence settles on Sara during the event and refuses to let go. It’s up to Ruth and Pat (Sara’s professor and eventual love interest for Ruth) and Sara’s boyfriend Bruce to figure out what the ghost wants to bring peace back to the home and its inhabitants.

The second volume, Shattered Silk, also takes place in Georgetown. This time we meet Sara’s younger sister, Karen who is in the middle of a nasty breakup. She’s house-sitting for Pat and Ruth and basically wallowing in self-pity and derision. After a few encounters with an old flame and a mean girl from her past (and with the help of Pat’s eccentric mother) she learns to stand on her feet again and decides to open a vintage clothing store. This is more of a straight-forward mystery. No supernatural encounters.

The final installment, Stitches in Time, published in 1998, is probably my favorite of the three. Here we meet Rachel, a grad student who is struggling to find a topic for her thesis and winds up working at Karen’s vintage clothing store. When a bag of old quilts shows up on the doorstep the family gets caught up in a possible theft/murder while trying to figure out who the rightful owner is. Meanwhile Rachel is drawn to a wedding quilt from the collection that seems to have a dark story to tell. When she begins to see and do things not of her own accord she enlists the help of Pat and Ruth to uncover the history of witchcraft and betrayal literally sewn into the seams of the quilt and bring closure to its former owners.

This first book was published back in the late 60s so there are a few things that will date it a bit (feminist quirks and old-fashioned attitudes of the men being most predominant). The second wasn’t published until the mid 80s so we’re still a tad dated but our feminist sensibilities are a little more on track for this one (once Karen kicks the no-good husband to the curb). The final installment, published in the late 90s, is obviously the most modern of the three. In each we’ve got a female protagonist coming into her own with the help of an unlikely but strong support system, yet the ways and means are a little bolder in each successive story. If you’re not too hung up on that sort of thing you’ll not have any issues as the stories themselves hold up quite well. Grab a cup of tea or cocoa, curl up in front of a fire and enjoy some spooky chills while you read these light, gothic-flavored tales. And you should absolutely check out some/any of her other books and let me know what you think!

Spooky Tales for All Ages

Spooky Books for All Ages

When I was ten or eleven years old I came across an entire shelf of Agatha Christie books in my grandpa’s basement. He graciously allowed me to borrow one and I devoured it, eventually moving through the whole collection over the course of the next few months. And I’ve been a sucker for a good mystery ever since.  This past month I re-read Murder on the Orient Express in one of my book clubs and was reminded of why she’s a master.

With colder weather and Halloween right around the corner it’s the perfect time to curl up with a spooky story or mystery and forget everything else happening in the world outside. So I wanted to share a few of my favorites for all ages. My tastes now run the gamut from the cozy mysteries to thrillers (but I have to take the stronger stuff in smaller doses–I can only take so much of the blood, guts, and truly twisted characters) so there should be something for everyone!  Have a favorite I missed or you think I would like? Let me know in the comments below!

(Most of these authors have written multiple books that could fit on this list. Be sure to check out their complete works for more options.)

Adult–

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

The String Diaries by Stephen Lloyd Jones

In the Woods by Tana French

Wildfire at Midnight by Mary Stewart

Rebecca by Daphne Du Marier

Love Talker by Elizabeth Peters

 

Young Adult–

House of Furies by Madeleine Roux

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan

The House of Dies Drear by Virginia Hamilton

Jackaby by William Ritter

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

Scary Stories by Barry Moser

Chime by Franny Billingsley

 

Middle Grade–

Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn

Ghoulia by Barbara Cantini

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox

Doll Bones by Holly Black

The Book of Elsewhere: The Shadows by Jacqueline West

Juniper Berry by MP Kozlowsky

Bunnicula by James Howe

The Dark Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural by Patricia McKissack

The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand

Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

 

Beginning Reader–

The Spooky Old Tree by Stan and Jan Berenstain

In a Dark, Dark Room by Alvin Schwartz

 

Picture Book–

Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds

Inside a House That Is Haunted by Alyssa Satin Capucilli

The Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman

Black Dog by Levi Pinfold

Skeleton Cat by Kristyn Crow

Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg

Nightlights by Lorena Alverez Gomez

Ghosts in the House by Kazuno Kohara

Wolves by Emily Gravett

The Scariest Book Ever by Bob Shea

The Dark by Lemony Snicket

 

And check back to these posts for a few other ideas.

Psychological Thrillers

Truly Devious 

The Devil in the White City

A Bit of Poetry ~ Rumi

Rumi Renewal From the Fall

I came upon this poem by Rumi not too long ago and it is such a beautiful concept of fall. Life is full of hard things and while we tend to try to avoid them we can often look back at those trials and see how they helped to lead us to the people and places we needed or have shaped us to become stronger or teach us important lessons. I, for one, have a hard time seeing the beauty in the situation while I’m in it. It generally takes a few years  (if at all) for me to recognize all the positive points of a negative situation. But nature does a better job of accepting what is and taking things in stride. Fall is a natural state of being and part of life and death. With each season of ruin comes an eventual rebirth and rebuilding, with each fall comes the spring. And each season holds its own glorious beauty if we know how to recognize it and appreciate it.

My challenge to you for the next few weeks is to take a moment to step outside and take in the beauty that surrounds you. And remember that when your own life mimics the cycles of the seasons that there’s a beauty to be found in each one. Even if it seems as if everything around you is falling down and apart and into ruin its all just part of the plan. Our desecration, just like nature’s, leads to a remaking, a glorious spring. (You just have to survive winter first!)

Fall Aspens

Library Day

West Jordan Library

After spending several years working in a public library and having constant access to all the books my heart could desire I’ve had to make it a regular habit to stop by my local library to get my fill. I wanted to give you all a little peek into my weekly ritual and the fabulous building I frequent. Since I tend to max out my request/hold list at all times there’s almost always something for me to pick up and for my husband’s sanity I try to always have a stack to return. This is the main branch of the Salt Lake County library, a gorgeous, spacious building that also houses an event center that gets used for a ton of youth programs, author readings, art and music displays and more. There’s always something going on. I like to spend a few minutes perusing the shelves to see what’s new, taking pictures of covers to add to my Goodreads queue when I get home and often picking  up an extra title or two that really jumps out at me.

West Jordan Library interior

After checking out my holds (I’m pretty sure I’m going to end up with back trouble due to my weekly load) I head home and jump right in. I update my Goodreads status, make a list of which books I plan to review and which I’ll just read for fun, and depending on the time I may start in on the actual reading.

Here’s this week’s haul.

Currently Reading Book Stack

What are you reading? Where’s your favorite place to feed your bookish needs?

Music Monday (er, Thursday?) ~ Willie Nelson

With election day breathing down our necks and the country in all sorts of upheaval I just couldn’t not share this. Hopefully you are registered to vote, so do your part and make your voice heard. Study up on the issues and where the candidates stand on them and vote accordingly. Let’s bring about some mighty changes this November. Spread the word!

Nighttime Musings

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A Parade of Elephants end pages

One of the perks of not being able to sleep (if it can be thought of as a perk) is that you get the house, and often the world, to yourself at odd hours of the night. A few nights ago I was up wandering around 3 am or so, reheating a heat pack and making me some chamomile tea. The house was silent aside from the sounds of settling that seem to happen only when it thinks no one is listening. There was a hint of horizontal light peeking through the blinds from the streetlamps out front and the odd glow of an alarm clock and charging laptop, enough to light my way to the kitchen without having to turn on an overhead light.

As I was waiting for my water to heat I looked out the back window and realized I wasn’t alone. Across the road and through the trees I could see not one, not two but three windows illuminated in the darkness. I wondered at the circumstances behind the too-early-morning shine. Did my neighbors have jobs that forced them to be up at this hour? Were there new babies in the house that needed feeding or comforting? Perhaps they’d received bad news, a late night phone call that forced all sleep from them? Or, like me, did they simply have nights when sleep, no matter how welcome and wished for, wouldn’t come?

I leaned my forehead against the cool pane and let the steam from my mug fog the glass as one by one the lights winked out and I was alone again with the night. Misery, no matter how brief, loves company and it was a comfort to share my insomnia with strangers. And with that feeling of unknown of alliance and companionship I headed back upstairs to cuddle under the blankets and drift off to sleep.

A Parade of Elephants

 

*Both images are taken from this adorable book by Kevin Henkes.