Tuesday, May 31, 2011

So You Like Detective Novels?

I remember when I was younger that I went through a big Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew phase.  Remember them?  I don't know if they would take off now though.  In fact, I think there was a Nancy Drew movie a while back that flopped pretty badly.

But that doesn't mean that the children's detective novel has died.  Nope.  It's been revived in the form of The Brixton Brothers and the Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity by Mac Burnett.
I picked this up at my library because it had won Texas' Bluebonnet award (more on that later this week) and I love young adult literature so, why not?  Ah it brought back memories . . . 

In a good way.  The protagonist -- Steve -- is an 11-year old die-hard fan of a detective series similar to The Hardy Boys.  He's read all their books.  And he has their detectives handbook.  Which actually gets him into more trouble since the whole thing is tongue-in-cheek and he just doesn't get it.

Although Steve WANTS to be a detective, he finds out what it's "really" like when he's mistaken for one by both the good guys (librarians who are really an ultra-secret protection agency -- very cool) and the bad guys (a ring of villians led by Mr. E (get it?) who is looking for a top-secret quilt with all of America's secrets stitched on it -- awesome!).

This is your classic kids detective book but as an adult I loved it for 3 reasons:
1.  The librarians.  Who knew that they were even better-trained and deadlier than the CIA?  Their weak spot?  Searching a library for their suspect, they are easily distracted by books that have been mis-shelved!
2.  The quilt.  Just because I love quilts and quilting and I found it truly hilarious that it was the hiding place of all our secrets.
3.  The humor.  Steve takes everything so seriously.  For example, when he's tied up, he flexes his muscles because that's what his detective handbook says to do.  Then the ropes will just fall right off when he relaxes.  Of course he discovers that's not exactly the case . . . and I love when he figures out what a magnifying glass is good for (you'll have to read it).  There is so much irony and sarcasm to this book -- it was great!

Oh yeah, and it's totally clean.
Love that.

I highly highly recommend as a great light, funny read.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

I May Actually Feel Like Gardening . . .

I've been getting a free subscription to Better Homes and Gardens magazine and also Southern Living.  I love getting magazines.  It's just something nice to break up the never ending cycle of junk and bills (blech!).  My problem with these particular magazines is that they feature absolutely gorgeous gardens.  And that makes me hate my yard.

Well, hate is a pretty strong word.  After all, I have great space for my girls and my husband is king of the mower so it's always trim, but it needs . . . something.  Something to replace these terrible boxy bushes that add no whimsy or color.
So sad.  Notice too my little attempt at sprucing things up.  Yup.  Those are little piles of grass and weeds from underneath.  That's a big deal for me by the way . . . 

My girls of course are typical children who love to dig in the dirt and my 3-year old in particular LOVES LOVES LOVES flowers.  We spend a great deal of time smelling flowers wherever we find them -- yards, Walmart, doctor's offices.  You name it, fake or real -- they must be sniffed!

Since I think it will be NEXT YEAR that will be the year of the garden, in the meantime, we enjoy some delightful gardening books: 
Karma Wilson is the same author of the Bear books -- Bear Snores On, Bear Feels Scared, etc.  Love them.  A lot.  This is her 2nd Mortimer book (or maybe her first, I'm not sure), but the other one is about Christmas.  In Mortimer's First Garden, Mortimer watches as the people he lives "with" plant a garden.  He is so impressed by the yield of it that he decides to plant his last sunflower seed and wait for the miracle.
One thing I love about these books, they are religious.  Mortimer prays and attributes the miracle to God.  It's so sweet -- and inspiring.  Although I'll tell ya, our little sunflower miracle isn't doing so well right now. Probably because I don't water it  . . . 
The other one I just love is Ehlert's Planting a Rainbow.  I love the bright, vibrant illustrations.  I love the simple story of a mom and a child working together to grow a garden and that it is tradition to do it every year.  This is the kind of book that I want to tear up and frame in a child's room -- it's that pretty.

And these books make me want to garden as well.  If you need to verify the power of that inspiration, please talk to my mother who can tell you every instance, IN DETAIL, of my attempts to escape from gardening my whole life.

It's true.  So they must be good books.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Parenting Books -- are they worth it?

I'm having issues with my 3-year old.  Nothing I that I don't think most parents go through but she is my first child and in many ways, I am clueless.

I read parenting books.  Sometimes.  I prefer novels quite frankly.  But there are some good ones out there, and some not so good ones.  I have liked:

But here's the thing.  As much as I like a book, when it comes to the moment, I can't pull out the chapter on making no mean no or on disciplining with rewards or when punishment is appropriate.  That was something like 200 pages ago and it's competing with a whole list of other things in my brain like baby shower planning, my mom coming to visit, cleaning the house, working on quilts, planning preschool for Wednesday -- you know, every day gotta do it stuff.

That's why reference-type books are awesome!  I love love love the What to Expect books and this particular nursing book:
If I have a problem, I look it up!

But behavioral analysis and advice doesn't exactly work that way it seems.
So my lightbulb!  (It's only taken how long for this one to come up?)

Step 1:  Isolate your problem (for me, currently, how to make no mean no)
Step 2:  Find a solution -- just one, but make it one you like and can do
Step 3:  Simplify it so it will fit on one sheet of paper in large letters.
Step 4:  Makes lots of copies.
Step 5:  Hang them all over the house.

Ok that might only work if your child can't read.
But I'm thinking, this is the way that I can do it!  When my 3-year old does something I don't want her to do, I say no.  And then when she does it again, out of the corner of my eye I see that sign that says "after the first no, take her to her room" and I'll do it!

Then I just have to remember to follow up with hugs and praise when she listens after the first no.
But I think I can do that.

Monday, May 16, 2011

B is for Butterfly

The letter B is so much fun to teach.  After all, there are tons of fun things to associate with it: balls, bubbles, balloons (which we didn't do), bouncing, bears, butterflies!

I found a fantastic idea here for making a chrysalis.  In a nutshell, you paper mache a balloon with tissue paper and then insert a butterfly inside for your demonstration.
Mine wasn't nearly as neat as the tutorial's but it worked for the purpose and the kids got a kick out of it.  My 3-year old's been playing with it ever since!

I suppose that I should preface this with the note that we read Lois Ehlert's Waiting for Wings.
While I'm not a huge fan of her earlier works, I love love LOVE this book and several others with this style of artwork: Eating the Alphabet, The Leaf Man.  And after reading the book, we reviewed the life cycle of a butterfly -- hence the chrysalis . . . 

And this very lovely caterpillar that I made out of a nice stretchy, fuzzy sock and pipe cleaners.  You have to love those last minute lightbulbs!

I should, of course, have included Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar but if I don't think about it before preschool/playgroup starts, I certainly don't think of it during the process!  Oh well, most kids have read that book anyway and I'm sure that they'll have the opportunity to see it again!  It still turned out well.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Another Scavenger Hunt

Scavenger hunts are always fun.  There's something about the search for the prize that just makes people smile.  That's why there are pirates!

I wanted another scavenger hunt for our preschool/playgroup, but one where each child gets the exact same thing.  I know I should be teaching my children that life isn't fair but I've decided that a lesson with 7 other children is not the time that I want to deal with that tantrum if I can help it.

So this week, we're focusing on the letter "B" and I've decided on a hunt for things that start with B.  But how to do it?  Simple!
Create a page for each child with pictures of items around your home that start with B.  Then write (or print on the computer) the word for each object on a sheet of file label stickers.  Just make sure you put all of that word on the same sheet. (Email me if you want this sheet -- I can't get a Word file to attach . . .)

And then off you go!

Our group of kiddos (ages 2 & 3) had a great time running around the house looking for obvious things and then putting stickers on their paper.  I guess they could've colored it too but it worked pretty well.  And they covered lots of words that start with the letter B!

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Funny Fairytale

I have always loved fairy tales.  Always.  And my 3-year old going down that path doesn't bother me at all.  We found another telling of Rapunzel that we both just love.

Falling for Rapunzel by Leah Wilcox is ADORABLE!  It tells the story (in fun rhyme) of the prince trying desperately to get Rapunzel to let down her hair.  Unfortunately, way up in that tower, Rapunzel can't hear so well!  She throws out a wonderful array of objects that finally culminates with pushing out her maid -- which makes the prince happy.  He got something for his efforts! 

This is a simple enough book, especially with the rhyme, that my 3-year old reads it with me.  And we have read this one quite a bit!  Well worth your library trip -- I'm thinking of adding it to our permanent collection.

But I do love fairy tales. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Delightfully Sad Book

I checked this one out of the library completely by accident and am so glad that I did.
Alan Zweibel's book Our Tree Named Steve made me cry.  And that's partially because I love trees.

Really, the book is an incredibly touching story about loss and change and how things other than people can be a special part of our lives.  Steve is the tree who "helps" a family enjoy so much togetherness and is a part of so many family memories.  And then he dies.

I don't know how much young children understand about death and loss this is a great book that explores that without the trauma that can happen with the loss of a person that you are close too.  And it's an adorable book.

Monday, May 9, 2011

A New Source For Book Ideas

Happy belated Mother's Day to everyone!  I had the best Mother's Day weekend.  I took Saturday and packed it full of fabric therapy and a writer's workshop at our library.  I haven't written in ages but I have some book ideas in my head and thought a workshop would be just the thing to get back into the game.

I was write (haha)!  But not only did I come away inspired about my own writing, I came away with a great resource for my kids.

The presenter of the workshop was Anastasia Suen: author, elementary school teacher, and bubbly-personality extraordinaire!  
She has some fabulous resources at her site for both writers and readers.  That also includes a blog for both a picture book a day and a chapter book a day.  She has quite a range -- including many books that are more boy oriented.  That probably sounds odd and I don't mean to discriminate, but she highlights books on sports and animals and subjects that typically seem to draw boys in well.  Which is very good.

Take a look through what she has -- it's definitely worth your time!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Great Books About Animals

This could be a very long post.  So I'll just talk about 4 for now.  And dive right in.
Calling All Animals is a very basic book that I found in board book format at my library.  Perfect for my 1-year old!  the drawings are simple and a little quirky and simply put is animals and their "groups".  My favorite?  A flamboyance of flamingoes.  It's also good for focusing on the concept of one and many.

Doreen Cronin's books are so adorable and hilarious!  Both books operate under the concept that the animals have learned how to write (or type) and are using it to their advantage.  And what the animals want is to be a little more pampered (don't we all?).  I particularly like that they choose to watch The Sound of "Moosic" in Giggle, Giggle, Quack.  It's fun to read about them pulling the wool over their farmer's (and his brother's) eyes.  (haha)

Finally, Graeme Base has some of the most detailed, amazing artistry in his children's books.  His stories tend to be a little long for my girls -- they're more in line for the school-age set, but we have and love this one -- Animalia.  It's an animal alphabet book BUT each page is entirely devoted to that letter.  What does that mean?  It means that the description of the animals for that letter is all written with the letter A, or B, or C or so on.  And everything -- EVERYTHING -- in the picture starts with that letter.  These books are almost I Spy or Where's Waldo like.  You're not searching for anything specific (ok you can -- he always has a little twist at the end), but you can spend so much time looking at the all the detail of each picture.  Sometimes I have to get out a dictionary to figure out how a particular inclusion starts with that particular letter!  This is a MUST HAVE because checking it out of the library is simply not enough.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Lions and Tigers and Bears! Oh My!

I've begun a sort've pre-pre-school program with my 3-year old and invited a group of kids her age to participate with us.  It helps keep me focused when I know I'm planning for more than just her.  Plus I think it helps me reach -- how can I plan learning activities that will appeal to more than just her?

So today was our first meeting and I am wiped out!  Definitely a nap day!  I think it was a success (we'll see what my feedback says!) and I am definitely planning on doing it again.  

I'm loosely using some curriculum found here that is based on doing one letter of the week.  I think for preschoolers, it's a popular way to go.  So today was "A" of course and our main focus was animals.  We had a great activity and read some awesome stories.  The craft -- not so much.  It was an alligator paper-bag puppet and ended up being a lot more work for the moms than the kids.  It was too advanced I think.  Oh well, live and learn!

The Activity!
Start with 4 murals of places that animals live.  I chose woods/mountains, homes, farms, and jungle.
 My 3-year old helped me color this one.  When she pulled out the orange I tried to dissuade her from that particular color and she said to me "you can trust me on this".  And indeed, it is a lovely orange . . . circle?

Each kid had an opportunity to identify an animal and tape it (painter's tape -- AWESOME!) to it's correct habitat.  Sometimes they needed a little help but it kept them engaged and they liked it (ok the snack they had at the same time certainly helped!).

If you're religious (which we are), you can link it to Adam and Eve and how Adam named all the animals in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:19-20).

Simple.  Fairly Effective.  And fun.  You could also hide the animals and search for them by sound.  (Find an animal that says "moo" and so on) or match animals with their babies.  There are of course other habitats to consider but my artistic ability only goes so far!