Thursday, October 11, 2012

For Mommy and Daddy - A book review of Blessed Sons

As parents, a very important role we hold in our children's lives is modeling good behavior - including reading books that are just for us.  In that vein, I'll take a first-time ever break from children's literature to share a recent interview:


I was very fortunate to have a conversation with author Eric McKinley about his debut novel, Blessed Sons this week.   Blessed Sons follows an ensemble of characters through the complicated scenario leading up to and following the shooting death of a star high school athlete.   The characters seem simple enough: the boy and his family, the shopkeeper, and the lawyer who is assigned to the case.  But the emotional relationships that McKinley creates for each character are fascinating and nuanced –  and the characters are forced to examine some of the most difficult things that life holds – race, class, violence, death, and the consequences that go along with each.  When I sat down with McKinley, I tried to ask him some meaningful questions.  Often I was reduced to just gushing about my favorite parts of the book, but here are the highlights of the interview:
Mrs.O:  In this book, the protagonist is a lawyer named Jon, you happen to be a lawyer, how often do people ask you about the lawyer component of this book?

McKinley:   Sure, even people that don’t know I am a lawyer ask me about the detail of the trial and want to know if I have personal experience with the plot line.   But I don’t want people to get bogged down in making comparisons.   I don’t want people to think this is the only thing I write about – or that I will write about in the future.

Mrs. O:   You do convey a great bit of detail - like how the lawyers talk to the judge and how the whole legal process goes, even down to the details of the rooms they are meeting in and how they differ from one another. 

McKinley: Yes, but being a lawyer is not a monolithic experience.  Some judges are casual; some lawyers are too, stylistically.  Some are more talented than others.  Not everyone will be the same.

Mrs. O: At the reading you did today, you spoke of intentionally making the city of Philadelphia a character in the novel.  You did so beautifully.  Even though I live here, I felt that I was really getting an insider’s view of the city – and was transported to each locale with you, in the same way that I am in books that take place in far-away locales. 

McKinley:  First of all, thank you for the kind words. Yes, I was very intentional in making the city part of the ensemble.  Places like Bob and Barbara’s and Cookum’s are real places, although Cookum’s has closed down now.   I wanted to include the detail of the city because this story might be different in a different city.

Mrs. O: You acknowledge that this story has an eerily similar context to the Trayvon Martin case, do you think that would have been a different scenario, had that tragedy happened in Philadelphia?

McKinley: I think it might.  Philly is different.  We have an African American Mayor and an African American Police Chief, and obviously a large population of African American residents, so I think the reaction would have been different.  George Zimmerman wasn’t even arrested until some of his bizarre post-shooting behavior happened.  And his bail was set rather low.  I don’t know that that would have happened here because our public leadership contains so many people of color.

Mrs. O: What about Music?  You use music in a very theatrical way in this novel – I could so easily see it translated into a screenplay – but did you intend for Music to be another character?

McKinley: Music is not meant to be a character in the same way that Philadelphia is an intentional character, but I did imagine the scene and what kind of music would be playing, because that is part of the experience of being in Philadelphia.  Most places would have a jukebox or a band, so I did think as I was writing about what would have been playing.

Mrs. O: Yes!  I was so happy to see a mention of one of my favorite artists – Mos Def – in a description of Jon.  I immediately thought – oh now I can get an idea of this person – he is probably my age, and is thinking about music in a way that is not necessarily following trends.

McKinley: He is not a trendy guy.  And the song choices were very intentional.  Part of my desire for this novel to be an ensemble piece was to include things like music in that way.  Food is another component that was meant to augment the story.

Mrs. O: I find myself very drawn to the psychology of Jon – he is so apathetic in so many ways – and particularly to the women in his life – in his relationships with his wife and his mother, he is so stuck.

McKinley: I think of him not so much as a protagonist but as an anti-hero.  So much of what he is doing is just trying to survive.  He is not a white knight swooping in to save anything.  In some ways he is just a guy trying to keep his job, trying to keep his marriage together.  But he does have a baseline competitive streak and at a certain point he gets interested in winning; in winning his cases, in trying to ‘win’ his marriage.  He is trying to do the right thing.  But, he has a definitive threshold for how much he is willing to give a shit.  At a certain point the effort becomes too much of a struggle and turns into a blockage.  He loves his people, but there is a limit to his emotional reserve. He loves, but not unconditionally and not without limits. Jon’s relationship with his mother is the best illustration of this. 

Mrs. O: Tell me about the great bartender character – Cook – he seems to be such as great father-figure character.  Was he intended to be?

McKinley:  That is an interesting question and a characterization that I had not thought of before.  He certainly represents a refuge for Jon.  Cy (the best friend) and Cook (the bartender) both fulfill that role of providing a safe place for him to go amidst the madness.  Look, there is a lot of judgment coming at him from all angles.   Judgment of whether he is living up to his potential or not.  Men don’t get that kind of judgment from other men.  The idea is, “Okay, fine, my boy is going to cheat on his wife, or he drinks too much, but he is still my boy.”
 
Mrs. O: But the relationships with women are more judgmental?

McKinley:  Yes, for Jon, the women in his life don’t need to do anything. They have been accepted by him.  They are already at the standard needed for his engagement.  And of course this is vast generalizing, but women have a more project-based attitude toward men.  They want men to be more, to be what they think is better.  The men are fine – saying: “That’s it, this is my guy, whatever happens.” Conversely, men become apathetic or compartmentalize because they have already made the decision to commit to the relationship and they are in it for whatever it is.
For instance, there is a scene in the book where Jon is looking around his marital house and he is seeing that the d├ęcor is fundamentally his wife’s.  He accepts it and is comfortable within it, but it would be different if it was just him.  It is clearly her house.  But he is okay with that.  He knows he will stay and try to make it work.  She is going to have to be the one that leaves him – even though it is obvious that they have evolved away from one another.   He would stay forever.  Just like he would never leave his job until he reaches a true breaking point.

Mrs. O: I guess women have more rules than men do about their close relationships – a code of conduct maybe?  But I feel like there is such a strong male tone to the book.  Even the narrator has a male tone and an urban tone.

McKinley: Interesting, I meant for the narrator to be omniscient, but you might be right.  Men – and again I am generalizing – don’t have the same rules toward their close relationships.  They can have conflict without analysis – they just accept whatever happens – with or without explanation or resolution.  They just keep going. 
This is true with Jon’s marriage – he’s in it.  He is at a point where he doesn’t feel like he has a choice, so then he honors his commitment.  He is not intentionally trying to push Cheryl away.  He doesn’t want to be an island but he doesn’t want to be domesticated either.

Mrs. O: I want to be sure I’m not providing any major spoilers, but there is a moment when Jon finally breaks down.  Can you tell me more about what is going on to finally bring out this emotion from a character that has been so stoic up to this point.

McKinley: He is not a guy that feels like his life belongs to him.  It’s not his house, it’s his wife’s.  It’s not his marriage, it’s on her terms.  It’s not his job; his colleagues take much more ownership of the firm.  It’s not even really his case, it’s Saul’s and Jerrel’s.  So when something that he really owns and loves is finally touched by this situation, he reacts.  Because he has so little stake in the rest of his life, this becomes an even greater violation.
And I think it important to note that there is a lot of pressure coming from his community.  They know him and they know the implications of him defending this person.  He had been able to remain detached, but then all of a sudden, it’s all there in his face.  He’s there in the maelstrom of crap.  

Mrs. O: Right, that is a great part of the story – this all hits very close to home for him on so many levels.

McKinley: His role provides even greater scrutiny because he is from the same community where the pivotal action occurs.  He has considerable talent and good intentions, but he is in a difficult situation. 

Mrs.O: The book really has such interesting topics for discussion.  Race, gender, class, mobility are all strong themes.  I see why you have offered to attend book group discussions because there is so much fodder for discussion!

Still with us?  I know that was a long interview, but I have to thank Eric McKinley for indulging my many questions.   You can find the book through the author’s website http://ericmckinleyfiction.wordpress.com/, the publisher’s website: http://wragsink.com/#/ericmckinley/, and on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Blessed-Sons-Eric-McKinley/dp/0983045445

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Tricks, Traps, and Transitions: Getting Your Toddler to Read



If I had a dollar for every time I have heard the parent of a toddler say “He won’t sit still to read!” I would be typing this from my own private island.  Toddlers and their capricious ways, Toddlers and their lack of focus, Toddler and their toys - Yes, those can all be barriers – or speed bumps if you will – in journey to helping your child becoming a lover of books and learning.  BUT, there is hope!  There are ways to work around all those things to remind your child that they really do already love to read.

Lowering Expectations:
When I think of a reluctant reader, I usually first imagine a child and a parent that are overwrought.  So if the first problem with your child’s interest in reading is that you feel overwhelmed by the task, then I’m here to help.  First, not everyone is comfortable reading aloud.  Don’t worry, your child is not your second grade teacher, correcting every missed word and embarrassing you in front of the class.  Your voice is soothing to them.  They LOVE to hear you read, even if it is not your favorite task.  Next, while there will be moments when you are snuggled together in a quiet, Norman Rockwell moment of familial bliss it is not a necessity when reading.   Finally, and I've said this before, you as the reader should be kind to yourself.  Yes, you may need to read a book you hate once a day, but if that is the case, choose other books to read that you love.  If you get resistance from your child, see below.

Pushing past resistance, tricks for capturing your child’s interest in reading:
Start without them.  Open the book, begin to read as if it is the thing you most want to do in the world.  9 times out of 10, the child will slowly notice that they are missing something interesting going on in the room. 
Don’t expect them to sit still.  Allow them to wander and play while you read.  Most often, they are still listening. 
Sneak attacks: One of my daughter’s favorite things is when I give her a “horsey” ride on my back.  Well at least once a week that horse takes a little break by the bookshelf and my girl gets the treat of a reading session from her favorite perch.  This also works when at parks and playgroups.   They are expecting to play, but I bet you would be surprised at how amenable those kids are for a little reading break.  Even just a small change of scenery can change your child’s interest level.  Lie down on the floor and begin reading.  Put a little pillow next to your head and I bet before you know it, the apple of your eye will be looking skyward at that book.

Whatever you do, don’t stop.  Children need to be read to even as they begin to read themselves.  If you can remove their distractions and find a way through the developmental challenges, then your efforts and creativity will be returned in spades.

Photo evidence:

Dad Starts to Read...

Child begins to show interest.  Dad, unfazed, continues.
Engagement!  And a happy story time is had by all.



Tuesday, September 11, 2012

New Feature: Books for Older Children

It's no secret I have a toddler, but that doesn't mean that we cannot occasionally fast forward to find meaningful and wonderful children's literature intended for a school-aged child.

Enter The Great Cake Mystery by Alexander McCall Smith.

I quite liked the Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency books, and I was not disappointed with this prequel.  It has similar feeling - slightly predictable, but none-the-less enjoyable plot-lines, simple enough language that it could be a good read-aloud book for a patient preschooler or kindergartner (though a chapter book, could maybe even be a one-night read-alouder!) or a book for an no-longer beginning reader.  Alexander McCall Smith in his Note To Readers calls it a book for children under 10.

There are some moral lessons intertwined with the plot, but my favorite part - of this book and the Ladies No. 1 books is the very lovely way in which Alexander McCall Smith describes the simple, but exotic to us, life of this girl in Botswana.  I challenge anyone to resist the story of a father confronting a lion or of the river that flows in the wrong direction.  They are charming.  I am charmed.

And much like the adult series, it was over too soon and I was left wanting more.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

How to Heal a Broken Wing, by Bob Graham (with Spoilers)


Several months ago I had an embarrassing thing happen.  My favorite librarian became convinced I was pregnant again.  It is no secret to our friends and family that another child is not in the cards for us, so this
was more than just a workout wake-up call, it was a peculiar, private insult to me.  Of course, the librarian was always very upbeat about the whole thing, but I never found a way to tell her without major embarrassment that she was wrong, that she had me confused with someone else, that there was no way, no how.  So instead, I just disappeared.  For months.

This week we went back.  She was chipper as usual, but asked no questions, made no mention of anything, but instead went marching right on with what we love about her, she told us of lovely books.

Her suggestion this week was to read the books of Bob Graham.  She picked How to Heal a Broken Wing off the shelf and hesitated.  "This might be too sad, too emotional for your girl" she said.  I know my girl, and I perked up, "She loves sad!"  The librarian smiled, "Yes, she does have an empathetic vein to her, doesn't she?"

And off we marched with this book.  Simple in words, but complex of emotions, a boy finds a wounded bird and wants to help.  There is something so evocative to me about this book.  The entire wounding goes completely unnoticed by the teeming masses of adults, until our compassionate little protagonist enters.  Will.  The definition of his very name holding the intent for something wonderful to happen.  Miraculously, his parents are equally concerned and they nurse the bird back.

Normally, I don't like to give away the whole plot, the punchlines, and thus the magic of the books I review here, but this one is so sweet, I must quote it.  Over many pages of beautiful illustrations, the following lines unfold: " A loose feather can't be put back, but a broken wing can sometimes heal.  With rest, and time, and a little hope... a bird may fly again."

And so it is with life.  We are wounded by it.  We watch people struggle.  Sometimes we help and sometimes we do not.  But if we are lucky, someone comes along at the right time and nurses us back without even a mention of repayment or even acknowledgement.

And yet after all that watching and worrying - if our intent has been in the right place all along - only the feeling of finally watching that bird fly again gives our own spirit that enviable sense of soaring.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Construction sites, Trucks and More.

For months, my daughter has been slightly obsessed with Truck Party! by Tammi Salzano.  A sweet little truck is celebrating his birthday (another of her obsessions - birthday parties) and is surprised with a fun party.  This would be a GREAT gift-book.

So I've started paying more attention to truck theme books while out and about, and one that is consistently recommended by mothers of truck-lovers is Good Night, Good Night Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker.  It did not disappoint.  Just informative enough that the truck-obsessed will appreciate the vocabulary, but also with a good, relaxing tone and a nice cadence while reading.  Adding this to my wish list!

Maudie, Olivia, and other feisty young ladies.

This week, we have been reading Maudie and Bear by Jan Ormerod and Freya Blackwood.

Maudie is a spirited young lady with grand emotions and great ideas.  Bear is the archetypal, anthropomorphized parent figure.  If Maudie is fire, Bear is cool earth.  Their interactions are delightful.  And the illustrations are layered, complex, and interesting for all ages.

I also quite like the formal tone of the language used.  We have been reading it before bed, when that type of deliberate, slow speech and tone are exactly right for calming and centering before our bedtime routine.  My daughter loves to mimic my tone.  "One moment, please" she has been saying throughout the day - because in one of the chapters of this book, Maudie must prepare herself properly before their outing.

Even though Maudie is a tough cookie, the tone of the book makes her behavior more palatable for me.  I chafe a bit at Olivia's attitude in Ian Falconer's books, perhaps because his books are a more dramatic read. Ian Falconer is to a roller-coaster what Jan Ormerod is to a nice walk in the forest.

Jan Ormerod is new to me, but is a well-published, Australian author.  I'll check out some more of her work in the next few weeks - she may be an upcoming author alert!  Stay tuned!

The other book we have been enjoying this week is Lizette's Green Sock by Catharina Valckx.  A totally different book, but quite fun and funny.  We were on a sock-theme.  We also read New Socks by Bob Shea.  What a funny guy that Bob Shea is!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

New Feature: Recommended by a Friend.

The O Family has been consumed lately, but how could I neglect my sweet, little blog.

Introducing... Recommended by a Friend!  A new feature, more for me than you, but here it is.  Because the people I love know I love this here little blog and that I love to read, I often get book recommendations.  But like everyone, especially us mothers, bits of information fall out of my head and scatter to the wind with every passing moment.

TA DA!  A way for me to remember!

Our first recommendations come from a charming, energetic 6 year old by named Jaden (c/o his darling aunt Nicole) - here they are:

Stuck by Oliver Jeffers

I Will NOT Read This Book by Cece Meng

The Pirates Next Door by Jonny Duddle

and last but not least -

Jackhammer Sam by Peter Mandel

Please feel free to make suggestions in the comments, or anytime you see my posts on Facebook or Productive Parenting - or even Pinterest.  I am here to serve.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I Love You, Mom.

Today my daughter has been saying every few hours: "I love my beautiful mommy" and then hugging me.  It's what we yearn for in this life - someone to pour our love into, and for them to find that love beautiful.   Today after some trouble settling down, I rocked her to sleep, and with her warm, sleeping body melded into mine, thinking about how those words feel when you hear them brought me to tears.  Tears representing the extreme gratitude I have for the opportunity to be raising this sweet girl.

So in honor of a day when you feel loved, peaceful and worthy - even if for you today is a day quite the opposite - let's talk about some books that can nurture those feel-good words in our children.

One of our favorite books with a great love theme is Hooray for Fish by Lucy Cousins.


I must admit, we change the end to talk about "Daddy" instead of "Mommy" because I find it harder to find pro-Dad books.  And the father of this child happens to be very worthy of adoration and praise.

I also love the Anna Walker books - there is a whole series of "I Love..." books.  I Love My Mom is a great one.  My daughter's favorite line is: "When I say, 'What shall we do?' She says: 'Let's try something new!"  She recites that quite often, and it keeps me on my toes, thinking of great new things to do.
I Love My Mom

Certainly, if you read this blog, you've already read my reviews of "Me" and "YOU." - two great books about love.

Of course there are a million books about how much we love our children, and we do.  But feeling that love reciprocated keeps us going, reinvigorates our efforts, and reminds us that the love we give is planting the seeds of a positive emotional life for these sweet babes.

And in case I don't say it enough to the woman who gave birth to ME, "I love you, my beautiful mommy."

Monday, April 23, 2012

YOU.

The subject of this post: You.

No, not YOU.  Oh, "you" what a confusing topic.  Grammatically speaking, the confusion of "you" and "me" is a one of the most common mistakes in the English language.  It's a concept so complex - the idea of a generic subject - that children's brains involuntary revert to speaking about themselves in the third-person to avoid confusion.

But in this case, You is delightful book by Stephen Michael King.

(Special note for children's book authors and publishers, never choose a title like YOU!  Try googling "You" - you hardly come up with an easy-to-navigate list!)

The book is a simple explanation of the world.  It's an explanation that includes things I love: colors, sizes, music, and adventure.  But the clear message is one of love.

And isn't it nice in our worlds of complex parent-child negotiations, schedules, meltdowns, and other bumps-in-the-road to have a moment in the day when your child may feel like the most important thing in the world is them.


Friday, April 6, 2012

I Want My Hat Back.

I love when I find a well-done book trailer to post here for you.  This one gives you a taste of the tone, text, and illustrations of this wonderful book.

Simple in concept.  Great repetition, great dialogue, great surprise ending.  It's fun and funny.  My daughter does not want to read it once, she wants to read it three or four times in a row.  She loves it.

I'm glad she likes it, because I like it too!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Me.

One day not so long ago, I was in the library looking for something new to read.   There was a book, a perfect square - which I always find attractive - with an equally attractive bear on the cover.

The title of the book is: Me.

The author: Philip Waechter.

A quick flip revealed the right word to picture ratio for my wee one, and *plop* it went into the rapidly filling library bag.

A few days later, I fished it out of the pile and began reading.  It's hard to get a good idea of the book from the first few pages.  Is it all egotistical mantras?  Is this bear full-of-himself or what?  But the last few pages are so sweet, so lovely, so true that this fun little book is now on my all-time-favorites list.  I want to buy a copy for everyone I really, truly love in the world.

So I have a new label for this kind of book - birth to death.  Because I challenge anyone of any age to read about this fantastic bear and not fall in love.   Or at least remember who it is in the world that you do love - and perhaps fall in love with them again.

This one might be worth another try at video posting!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Recommended Reading, Inspired by Apple Brains.

Be sure to read my interview with Apple Brains here.

But perhaps you are feeling inspired to help your children (of all ages) learn more about the food they eat, food preparation, and eating healthy.  Here are some books to help!

First, for adults, I highly recommend the book Apple Brains mention in the interview: The Fruit Hunters by Adam Leith Gollner is a fun and informative read.  I need to mention again, THIS IS FOR ADULTS ONLY.  Fruits, as it turns out, are quite sexy.

For the littlest babies, try:
Fruit by Sara Anderson
and of course the incomparable the Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

For toddlers, try:
Orange Pear Apple Bear by Emily Gravett
and Rah, Rah, Radishes! by April Pulley Sayre

For preschoolers and early-school aged children, try:
How Did That Get In My Lunchbox? By Chris Butterworth
and Apples, Cherries, Red Raspberries by  Brian P. Cleary

As I said at the end of the interview, Apple Brains Video coming soon.  Also, a video of my wee Brussel Sprout rocking out to the music.

Interview: Apple Brains


Mrs. O:  Congratulations on your wonderful album and the great reviews it has received! Tell me, how long have you been performing?  And did you play an instrument as a child?

Apple Brains:  I've been making music my whole life.  I started with piano lessons at age five, then played oboe in the school band, and also started playing guitar at around ten or eleven.  Drums came next when I was fifteen or so.  I suppose I've never stuck to one instrument and really tried to master it, but instead am most interested in song writing, and try to develop the skills necessary to experiment with different instruments.  I've played in lots of rock and roll bands, and Apple Brains has been performing for about 3 years, with varying intensity.

Mrs. O: That’s so funny.  I played the oboe as a child too.  What a funny coincidence!  So, I have read that you were a "Nutrition Musician" for the LA school system.  How did that come to be?

Apple Brains: That was a serendipitous thing.  I had a roommate at the time who worked in nutrition, for a federal program called Nutrition Network (now known as Network for a Healthy California), and they were looking to diversify their approach to education with kids.  He told me they were looking for a musician. I had never done children's music at the time, but a lot of my solo music was very playful, and along with my personality it really just made sense.  So I altered some songs I had to make them about nutrition, went in for an audition, and got the job. Once in the door the pressure was on to write songs fast, so that's how I started developing what became Apple Brains. 

Mrs. O:  My daughter's favorite song is "Apple x3" - it must really get the crowd going at concerts!  Not to focus on the negative, because the deliciousness of an apple cannot be questioned, but I wonder, as you make reference in the song:  Have you ever gotten an apple with worms?

Apple Brains: I have gotten an apple with a worm!  Well, at least with what was a worm....  I've bitten into apples that have rotting worm holes that seem too gross to just be apple...  yuck!

Mrs. O:  My two favorites are "Water - the loveliest beverage" and "Frutero."  How did you come to that wonderful association with water?  After a nice cold glass of it, or gazing out upon the lakes of Vermont?  And for Frutero, you have incorporated an awesome, Latin influence, what other musical influences feature strongly on this album?

Apple Brains: Water really is the loveliest beverage!  I'm one of those people that loves ice cold water.  I'm always shocked to meet people who only like their water room temperature!  Also I think a part of my very real craving for fruit is its high water content.   You can just feel how needed that hydration is, and water just does it the best.  No need for any fancy packaged Water 2.0 beverages.  Water 1.0 is the loveliest of all!
As for musical influences, I'd have to say Sesame Street above everything else.  I love the arrangements of those songs, how playful they are in sound and content. The characters and voices are awesome.  Plus the musical style is more my speed.  It's 'acoustic' essentially.. I guess what i mean by that is not electronic as in drum machines etc., which is where so much kids music is nowadays.  I love electronic music, but it's not where my strength lies in what I'm gonna offer. Also they also don't dumb things down for kids.  I think that can be fine, and can be great for real specific educational lessons, but I also love a children's song that's more complex.  Kids can go there, we all know that.  I'm sure that's a conversation that comes up a lot with children's literature too.

Mrs. O:  Oh, I completely agree!  I love that Sesame Street (and you) do not dumb things down for children.  And the children’s literature that I enjoy the most also encourages children of all ages to learn new things by challenging them.   On that topic, this blog is primarily about books, so I was intrigued to read that The Fruit Hunters by Adam Leith Gollner was an influence.  What song did that book inspire?  What other things inspire you to write these songs?

Apple Brains: The Fruit Hunters inspired 'Ba-na-nas', which is a song about the astounding diversity of fruit all around the world, using bananas as an example.  Bananas are a staple fruit here in the US, but they don't grow here. The song asks the question, "what other fruits may there be out there that we don't know about because they aren't part of the global commercial fruit industry?"  It's a celebration of that diversity and a call for exploration.  Adam Leith Gollner's book uses fruit to celebrate those concepts as well.  It's a REALLY fun read, and will make you itch to go out and try all the fruits you can find!  He also expresses the magic of fruit; The wonderful sensuousness of its shapes, colors, flavors; all the ways fruit intrigues and captivates the imagination the world over.  I want to give kids this sense of wonder too.  It's one way of opening the artistic eye.  "Have you ever REALLY looked at a pomegranate? Have you ever eaten it slowly and REALLY experienced it's flavor?" 

Mrs. O: Okay, I just got that book at the library, now I cannot wait to “peel” into it!  (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)  We just got back from Kenya, and I was shocked to realize I didn’t know what a banana tree looks like!  Also, the bananas there are tiny, like one or two bites – one or two sweet delectable bites!  Now I will be looking out on our next trip for more indigenous fruits and I’ll report back!  Oh and speaking of pomegranates, there is nothing that makes me think of California more than a heavily-laden pomegranate tree!   Quick cautionary tale: Never try to feed a horse pomegranate seeds!

Mrs. O:  When you are in LA, what fruits and vegetables do you miss about Vermont?

Apple Brains: I miss the fresh apples and blueberries that you find at the local farm stand or in your own backyard or on a bush behind CVS!

Mrs. O:  I thought you might miss the fresh, seasonal fruits of the northeast – they are some of the best non-commercialized examples of fruit in our country.   I love visiting farmer’s markets while on vacation to remember what produce tasted like during my childhood.  Tell me, what is next for Apple Brains?  When does the Futero video come out and where can we see it?  And is there another album in the works?

Apple Brains: Apple Brains is getting busy playing a new slew of shows in 2012 in and around LA.  We will be recording a new album this summer, which will be very exciting.  I'm really looking forward to diving deep into the creation of that and seeing what comes out.  Anything could happen!  As for the Frutero video, it will be done within the month of February for sure.  We are actually running a Kickstarter campaign to help with funding, so please if you can check that out to get a taste of the video and help us financially to bring it to light.  I'm working on developing another video full of elementary school kids, so fingers crossed that that will work out as well.  The Frutero video will be on my website, facebook, youtube, vimeo, pretty much everywhere we can put it!  You can stay informed by liking Apple Brains on facebook (www.facebook.com/applebrains) as well as checking in at my website. Thanks so much and have a delicious day!

Mrs. O:                 You can find Apple Brains current album at:

Or check out their website at:  www.applebrainsmusic.com

Or visit them on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/applebrains

I'll post a link to the new video when it's available.  And maybe one of my own in the meantime!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What's Wrong With My Hair? By Satoshi Kitamura

The Politics of Hair - the subject of many books: children's books, beauty books, adult books, empowerment books, blogs, reality shows, and magazines.  We spend BILLIONS of dollars a year at the salon.  Hair-care products account for our largest non-food expenditures at the grocery store.

And yet, our hair is the single most uncontrollable part of ourselves.  We are born with it, it changes color, texture, length, and style throughout our lives, and we are obsessed with controlling it.  Strangers comment on it.  We poke and prod our children to mold them into some vision of what we want them to be.

I hate it.

So I am often wary of children's literature that addresses hair as a subject.  Do we project our obsession onto our children too early?  These are things I  worry about.

But I have been thinking about themes for this blog, and the other day I happened across this book: What's Wrong With My Hair by Satoshi Kitamura.  Its main character is a Lion, so I was thinking of a Lion Theme.  Instead, I found a lovely adventure, sweet illustrations and a surprise ending!  How fun!

Let me go ahead and ruin the surprise by telling you what it says on the front cover.  There is a little circle that reads "Buy the Hole, get the Whole Book for Free!"

Confused?  Let's use a pictorial explanation - a break from this wordy post - 


What a fun book.  

Monday, January 30, 2012

Books to discuss feelings

I'm in a bad mood today.  I'm not feeling great.  My family visit just ended.  And I feel like the catch-up game of motherhood is a bit relentless right now.

So while you talk among yourselves, here are some books to read to your children that help get a handle on these precarious whims we call feelings.

Happy Hippo, Angry Duck by Sandra Boynton
 Duck and Goose, How Are You Feeling?  By Tad Hills
 Today I Feel Silly and Other Moods That Make My Day by Jamie Lee Curtis

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Refresh your Night Routine - Bedtime Books

There are four bedtime books that never leave our bookshelves:
Good Night Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
Bedtime Kiss for Little Fish by Lorie Ann Grover
I'll See You in the Morning by Mike Jolley and
Lullabies by Usborne Books

The reason they never leave the shelves is because we both have them committed to memory.  Each night we turn off the lights and recite them, culminating in singing the lullabies.  It is a soothing routine and sometimes she is asleep before the end of the second book.  On the rare times when she is not asleep by the last lullaby, I know something is amiss.

Some days you need a routine before your routine.  Or a backup routine.  So I always look for some good books to fill in those needs.

My new favorite is Yawn by Sally Symes.
 I love that a children's book attacks the subject of extreme contagions, like yawns.  It starts with a baby, running uncontrolled through a cast of very cute animal friends, and SPOILER ALERT ends with all of them snuggling  fast asleep in bed.  It can change a bouncy, high-on-speed-seeming toddler into a yawning, cuddly squish-fest.


For older children, I really like When I Woke Up I Was A Hippopotamus by Tom MacRae
An active child has an active day, pissing just about everyone off in the process.  But he is reasonable, makes amends, and learns from his mistake.  This book would be an awesome tool for diffusing an active and imaginative child close to bed.  My girl loves it.

When all else fails, we sing a song that I used to sing when she was a very small infant.  It basically is "Sleep Baby" over and over again.  Someday, when that fails, I'll be buying a copy of Go the F@k to Sleep!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Variations on a Theme: Elephants

Recently themes keep emerging in my mind - books about animals, books about school, books about emotions, books about transportation.  So I thought perhaps I should do some posts about these themes as they emerge.

So let's begin with our sweet, not-so-little, pachyderm friend, the elephant.

Whenever you are talking about animals, I immediately think of the wonderful Let's Go to the Zoo series from the Smithsonian.  They have one called Elephant and Mommy, in which the elephants romp about, eat, get clean, and other lovely everyday elephant activities.  It's cute, it's photographic which I like for babies who seem to sometimes get confused by illustration styles, and they are very simple.
But recently our local library did a special section featuring elephants.  We have now read so many cute books for toddler/preschool aged children about elephants!

My daughter and husband after only a few days with a particular elephant book have started a daily call-and-response about a small elephant named Kai-Mook.
It's got nice onomatopoeia, a sweet story, and I think is meant to be a gift book, but it is quite fun.  There is one very odd illustration where the monkey in the story has grabbed the baby elephant's bottom.  I probably read the book 5 times before I noticed it, but now I keep thinking "uhhhhhh, what the ????"

Another sweet story about a small elephant is Kidogo.  Kidogo means little or "a little bit" in Swahili.  In the story the elephant goes on a quest to find an animal smaller than he is.  It has a nice empowering theme, it has a very sweet ending, and for every way that Kai Mook seems a bit bratty, Kidogo seems sweet!
Of course there are other wonderful books about elephants too... the Dr. Seuss classic, Horton Hears a Who, the Elephant and Piggie series by my pal Mo Willems, and for you adults... Water for Elephants wasn't too bad either (although I wasn't a fan of the ending).

Go forth, swing your trunk, trumpet your voice, and enjoy some books with your wee one about these not-so-wee friends.

Stay tuned for more themes!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Author Alert: Leslie Patricelli

The time has come.  The time when I must try push aside embarrassment and begin to discuss bodily functions with my child.  Potty training is looming.  Positive signs are being seen.  Interest is being shown.  Resistance to the ways of babies everywhere are being resisted.

What is a mom like me to do?  Find a book!

This book is perfect!  It's simple.  It covers the process.  It has positive emotions and fun pictures.  And my daughter LOVES it.

Thank you Leslie Patricelli.

But I have loved Leslie Patricelli's books for awhile.  I have been reading my daughter the Birthday Box for almost a year - we started long before she had any concept of what a present was, what a birthday was, or even what a box was!  Because it's a lovely book.
Also recently, while on our Leslie Patricelli book, I picked up the bilingual version of her book Higher, Higher.  I was shocked how quickly my daughter picked up the Spanish (a language we have not previously introduced).  Now she asks for it by saying "Mommy, do you want to read Higher, Higher, Mas Alto, Mas Alto?"  And occasionally when we are celebrating she puts her hand up to high five me and says "Amigos!"

Very cute.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Kenya Christmas

Let's compare and contrast: A Kenya Christmas by Tony Johnston and my very own Christmas in Kenya.

In the book, an eccentric aunt arrives in the village with her two pet cheetahs, gives elaborate gifts, and just happens to have a Santa suit with her.

During my Kenyan Christmas, no gifts were exchanged, the only exotic animals we saw were some monkeys along the side of the road, but eccentric aunts were plentiful, tipsy, and animated.

In Mr. Johnston's book, a fat man with a red suit magically appears and delights the family and the villagers.

On Christmas Day in Kenya, we went to a wonderful park, ate some freshly barbecued goat, sang songs, played games, and spent a delightful day with our family.

I think I win.

But if you cannot accommodate thousands of dollars in airfare, vaccinations, and weeks of leave, then A Kenya Christmas is a fun book, with good vocabulary words in Kiswahili, and although clearly a work of fiction, it will surely provide your child with some whimsy and some wonder about how Santa might operate in other lands.