Children's Books, Friday Favorites - Children's Books

Quirky Reptile Books: Friday Favorites, Ed. 9

My kids love quirky books. And it appears what they love most is quirky books about reptiles. If you read this post, you know about the “dragon” books my son loves. We’ve added two more to our list this week.

The Mysterious Tadpole: 25th Anniversary EditionThe Mysterious Tadpole

Last week’s library trip was extra special because Daddy got to go with us. He stumbled upon a book he loved from his childhood, The Mysterious Tadpole, and we have read it daily since then. Steve Kellogg is just so fun. His characters’ expressions and development is amazingly thorough in just a short book. I also appreciate the details in his drawings that seem to be especially for adults to pick up on (like the furniture store sign that says, “Park here! (Please) (Please) (Please ),” or the “Huff and Puff Construction Company”). The Mysterious Tadpole is a zany story about Louis’s birthday present, the tadpole. The tadpole turns into a rather peculiar kind of frog, and quite an adventure comes with it. We also love Kellogg’s books about Jimmy’s Boa; The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate The Wash is our favorite. (I’m telling you, we read way to many reptile books).

The Kindhearted Crocodile

The Kindhearted CrocodileThe sweet crocodile in this book only wants to be loved, so he goes above and beyond his calling as a picture book illustration to squeeze his way into the hearts of the family who owns his book. Who is picking up the toys? The dishes should be dirty! I might be okay with almost any kind of pet who does my dishes while I sleep. I love that the real kicker is when he brings the parents a really great cup of coffee. “Okay, you can stay!” Coffee is like a love language to some people.

So that’s the fun stuff we’ve been reading lately. I’m making a list of some educational books to balance out all the whimsy for our next library trip. I’m thinking a detective-themed book would be fun, too. Any suggestions? Your input is always welcome!

Happy Reading!

Everyday Life, Parenting

The Bird Feeder

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My Bird Feeder
I have a bird feeder in my backyard.

Big deal. Everyone has a bird feeder.

Well, actually, it is kind of a big deal. I used to kind of scoff at bird watching. Yep, I am pretty much a terrible person. But I’m growing up. (It turns out, growing up just means you buy your own groceries, you decide for yourself when the speed limit is too fast on a certain road, and you scoff less).  However, I didn’t realize I was such a scoffer when it came to bird watching until early January of last year, when one day I found myself staring through my kitchen window at the frantic birds scrounging around in the soggy, bleak backyard. My hands deep in the hot, sudsy water, rubbing grime off dishes that had sat in the sink too long, I watched the birds’ fretful hopping and pecking and was deeply thankful I had a grocery store right down the road. Then I realized, “Wait, why am I identifying with those birds? I’m bird watching! I’m like those people I’ve always laughed at.” And that’s when the self realization dawned: “<Gasp> Why do I laugh at bird watchers??!!” There it was, another bit of snobbery realized in my life.

A few days later, it snowed. My house was the warmest, coziest place it has ever been, but I found my eyes wandering out to those same little birds that I had watched a few days before. It turns out they were chickadees. I was watching them, and I was actually worrying about them. Where are they going to find any food? Why don’t I have a bird feeder? What kind of horrible human being am I? Wait, why am I worrying about this?

But those birds…they had a hold on my mind all of a sudden.

Then it didn’t seem so much like I just coincidentally started noticing birds. It was like it was all part of a plan.  I attended the IF: Gathering at a friend’s home a month later in early February 2014 and listened to Shelley Giglio talk about birds. Why birds? What in the world? Well, birds are often used in the Bible to show men and women how God cares for his creation and how much more he cares for us. Shelley Giglio’s talk focused on verses from Psalms that have two bird references:

“1 How lovely is your dwelling place,
Lord Almighty!
2 My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
3 Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.” Psalm 83:1-4 (NIV)

Giglio went on to explain that a swallow is a very plain bird, brown and ordinary. The swallow in these verses was going about her natural work, being a mother, but the thing that stood out is that she was mothering in the presence of God. It was such a beautiful reminder to me that I don’t have to wait to seek God until all is quiet and still, I can bring my young and be with God in all things. I can dwell in my daily life, and the work of motherhood- the building the nest and having the young – can intersect with the sacred God who loves me as I am, ordinary and plain.

A year later, I still don’t exactly watch birds. I asked for a bird feeder for Christmas and it’s outside my kitchen window.  The chickadees come and go on the frozen winter mornings, and it makes me happy to see them and give them a few seeds, but I’m still not fascinated by the actual creatures that I’m feeding out there. What I love is that anytime I see that bird feeder, I remember all I have learned in the past year. I know the work I do is sometimes mundane and not at all profound – it has all been done before. Yet, it is sacred. I’m in the presence of God in this nest of mine, and my children are, too.  I’m reminded to scoff less, to appreciate the way I am cared for by my creator, to delight in the work of my hands. It’s amazing what one bird feeder can do. Who knows, maybe next year I’ll be carrying around a copy of National Audubon Society Field Guide for North American birds. At this point, I wouldn’t put it past me.  All kinds of things can happen when you’re growing up.

Reading, Reviews

Random Reads of Winter 2014-2015

Usually on Fridays I feature our favorite children’s picture books of the week. Sadly, this week has been one of those “For the love, I cannot read The Tawny Scrawny Lion one more time!” kind of weeks.  I guess I could just tell you that my kids have been hitting the Little Golden Book classics kind of hard and all this animal and toy personification is really getting to me (elephants, puppies, tugboats, little engines that still can, every time you read about them…). Apparently, I’m more of a people person than I thought.

So here’s what I’ve been reading lately:

The Distant HoursThe Distant Hours: I used to call myself a great fan of Kate Morton. It’s true, I do really like her story telling and her characters. However, after reading The Distant Hours, and recalling some creepy elements of The Forgotten Garden, I’m realizing that I’m really just a great fan of her latest book The Secret Keeper. It doesn’t have the ghostly element that her other books do. As a disclaimer, I hate spooky stuff. The Distant Hours isn’t really that scary, but I still was unable to go to sleep for about an hour after finishing it last night, which is a pretty mean reward for finishing a 500+ page book. Also, the whole parental guilt theme in her writing kind of messes with me after a while. I’m second guessing myself enough as it is without thoughts about turning my daughters into mad women floating around in my head. All that’s to say, I wouldn’t recommend The Distant Hours unless you like somewhat spooky stuff and you’re good at compartmentalizing what you read and what you think about when you’re not reading.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and LifeBird by Bird: It feels really dumb to say I’ve never read this before but equally dumb to say I’m reading a book about writing. How pretentious can I be? Anne Lamott (whose name I always spell wrong, kind of like I always get vaccum vacuum wrong) does an amazing job of writing a book about writing that’s actually quite enjoyable. That must be the mark of a truly great writer. I didn’t like the one novel of hers I’ve read, but I do admire her writing abilities.

By the way, on the “Writers write so just write already” note, this post by Jen Hatmaker on Becoming A Writer resonated with so many people on the internet, I’ve decided that at least 50% of all people want to be writers. Turns out it’s not that crazy or rare of a thing to have a need to write things down. It’s just a crazy thing to expect to be published. That’s what I’m learning from Lamott and Hatmaker and any other person who is an accomplished writer. Thank goodness for blogs, right?

Own Your Life: How to Grow a Legacy of Faith, Love, and Spiritual InfluenceOwn Your Life: The timing of this book for me and several of my friends is just perfect. I’m just getting into it and really looking forward to our discussion. Sally Clarkson is one of my favorite authors on parenting. For all my mommy readers, you need to check out these podcasts she was recently a guest on:  Inspired to Action and God Centered Mom. I badly needed her wisdom on the two separate days I listened to these. Heck, when do I not need this kind of wisdom?

I’ve got nothing on the horizon for a good novel to read right now. Someone, help me. I’ll be under the kitchen table rocking back and forth until I have another good book to read. Of course, the only difference is that when I do have a good book to read I’ll be under the kitchen table reading instead of rocking. Oh, I’m kidding, calm down! We’re all fine here, kids are dressed, fed, read to, played with, scolded, laundry is (mostly) washed (but rarely folded and put away).  I even made dinner every night this week, which, you know if you’ve read my Saturday Cooking posts, is not my favorite thing. I really was kidding about the under the table thing, I promise.

Have a happy weekend! Oh yeah, and if you’re feeling ambivalent about the weekend’s holiday, here are my thoughts from last year on what the day should really be about. I’m all in this year – I cut out hearts and owls with wings made out of hearts almost all morning yesterday. Ella had this idea that she wanted to make a Valentine’s Day Tree (A “Valentree”) with hearts and heart-owls on every branch. How could I say “no” to that kind of creativity that’s totally foreign to me? But even if you’re not crazy about the holiday, I hope you find a way to spread some love in your corner, wherever that may be.

Children's Books, Friday Favorites - Children's Books

Friday Favorites, Ed. 8

It’s Friday again! We had an awesome library trip this week. It was the kind that makes me glad I’ve stuck it out and kept on taking my kids to the library. Because the library is for everyone, even (especially?) children. Here are a few gems in our library basket that we highly recommend.

Five Nice Mice and The Great Car RaceFive Nice Mice & the Great Car Race was a fun read for our family, as we have been in Pixar Planes and Cars craze for several months. The painted illustrations were satisfyingly rich and imaginative. I loved the color palette of deep blues, reds, and yellows. The book features good lessons on teamwork and sharing. It’s a little on the wordy side for such a simple story, but my children both enjoy it. As always, there’s something about little mice in literature that appeals to us.

Princess Patty Meets Her MatchOur other favorite from the week is Princess Patty Meets Her Match. Princess Patty goes on a journey to find her prince, and along the way exhibits compassion, generosity, helpfulness, and just plain good sense. I appreciate that the usual fairy tale words like “beauty” and “happily ever after” are not in this book.  The focus is on meeting others’ needs and being a friend. I think the wording and illustrations will appeal more to the 8-and-under crowd. We’re always battling the Fairy Tale Frenzy with our daughters in this culture, so any princess book that focuses on good character over outward appearances or achievements is a win in my book!

A Bear Called Paddington (Paddington, #1)In the chapter book arena, we are reading A Bear Called Paddington. Thanks to the movie’s debut, this English classic is once again a popular pick. I really can’t believe I’ve never read it before because it is delightful. We may not see the movie, but the book is a new favorite. Even three-year-old Isaac is spellbound by the bear’s adventures. Have you seen the movie? I’d love to know what you think?

And as always, feel free to chime in with what your children are enjoying this week. We are interested in books for all ages here!

May your weekend be filled with books and bliss!

Everyday Life, Parenting

This Hurts Me More Than It Hurts You: Disciplining Myself Before My Kids

It was a hot, hot August day when I figuratively picked up my favorite piece of parenting advice and flung it out the window. If I had known how much damage I would do before the day was done, I might have thrown something more tangible out of the window, like say, a Tickle Me Elmo. Because why not? What’s one more broken thing?

Baby Violet had just turned three weeks old. It was the first week of August and my three children and I had been staying home a lot. We were going stir crazy. Our MOPS group was having a play date at a local splash pad that my kids love. I knew it would be a huge challenge to care for my newborn while trying to wrangle my boisterous 3-year-old boy and his side-kick sister into following the splash pad rules (“No running! Stop running!” Don’t they know little boys don’t even know how to walk? That they are born with one speed and that speed is “running?”). But I was prepared to do the crazy thing and try. I even announced to the kids we were going. Now there was really on turning back.

Or was there? The towels were packed, the sunscreen applied, the swimsuits on, but the kids were just plain misbehaving that morning. Nothing I said seemed to get into their ears. “Don’t tip your chair back.” “Please go brush your teeth.” “Stop hitting your sister!” Honestly, my children are usually people I enjoy being around, but I guess we were in the “acting out” phase of having a new baby in the family. As the minutes passed by and the time to leave for the splash pad got closer, the utter disregard for my authority grew. I tried pleading. I tried cheerleader-ish encouraging instructions. “Let’s get those shoes on quick, how quick can you do it!! Go, team, go!” I tried The Look. I tried yelling (tsk, tsk, I know).  I knew what I should do, but I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to say, “You know what? We can’t go out when you are behaving like this. We are staying home.” Because I really, really didn’t want to stay home.

But we did. After I finally made the decision, I managed to say it pretty calmly: “I’m sorry, I wanted to take you to the splash pad, but you are not listening to me. We have to stay home today.” There were some tears, but I think I was sadder than they were. I had broken my favorite parenting rule: “When you punish your kids, do not punish yourself along with them.” I first heard this advice when my oldest was still an infant. I thought it sounded so good, I told myself, “Oh yeah, I’m making that rule my own!” I mean, what parent needs worse punishment than being The Punisher?

Apparently, this parent.

At that moment, it became very clear that I had to let that parenting rule go. Because if I’m honest, I need just as much discipline as my children. In fact, I’m starting to realize the cruel truth of parenting is that if I want any of this discipline I’m doling out to work, I have to be the most self-disciplined of all.

Sigh. It was a sad moment of realization, but it felt right. Like when you decide to take back that shirt you bought but didn’t need when you were at Target last week.

The kids straightened up their attitudes a few minutes after I delivered the crushing (to me) blow of staying home. A bit later, I told them I would turn the sprinkler on in the backyard for them. Maybe we can redeem this day after all, I thought. That didn’t happen the way I thought it would, though. As I went out to turn on the sprinkler, I pulled on the hose a bit too hard…hard enough to pull the spigot out of the foundation of our house. I stood there for a minute, listening to the water gushing out of the broken pipe under our house, just feeling like life was really unfair. This is what I get for doing the right thing and staying home? Then I snapped out of it and did what every good homeowner does when they have a leak, which is, of course, turn off the water supply. But I couldn’t turn the knob on the valve for the life of me. Maybe it was really stuck, maybe I was too weak only three weeks postpartum, but at life seemed pretty unfair.

My husband was out of town. My in-laws were at the beach. I couldn’t reach my dad. All the while, the water flowed out of the pipe under my house. If I hadn’t been so tired, I might have turned on my own waterworks. I felt so abandoned by everyone and cheated by my good intentions of doing the right thing.

$300 later, the pipe was fixed, the kids were fed, the Little Einsteins were on, and we were all doing okay. I sat feeding my baby, trying to make sense of all the thoughts in my head (this is a big process when you’re sleep deprived). I was positive I had been the one learning the most about discipline that day. I learned in a very real way that parents have to do the right things, even when it’s hard, and that the right things aren’t always fun. They can even involve broken pipes if you’re not careful. The reward isn’t immediate and the hard things can just get harder before you see any of the good that follows. I’m still figuring this all out, but I have this feeling that pursuing discipline in myself first will be a real game changer in my home. Without my own self-correction, teachability, and humility, I don’t think the discipline I give to my children will have good lasting effects.  My theory is any “discipline” I give my children will just be punishment, not training, if I’m not growing and learning right along with them.

It’s been six months since I threw my favorite parenting rule out the window. The practical side of this theory is starting to make sense in real life now. I recognize that when the kids are throwing a fit over turning of the TV after just one show, it’s a result of my own lack of discipline. Have I fallen into the habit of letting them watch more like an hour of TV? Yes. My own lack of discipline in my practices has brought us to this point of rebellion and tears and tantrums. It’s still not an appropriate response from my children, that is undeniable. And they will get some sort of consequence, probably along the lines of no TV tomorrow, which means no down time for me tomorrow. But at this point I know if I had drawn the line and stayed on the right side of it, we all would know that the line was not to be crossed. Now my children think there’s a totally different line then the one I meant to set and they feel I’m doing them an injustice. I know I am the one in this situation that the discipline starts with.

So I’m replacing my old favorite parenting rule with a new one: “Discipline in my family starts with me.”  I’m praying we’ll all be better for it.

I’m just hoping it doesn’t involve any more broken pipes…

Reading, Reviews

If You Liked The Book Thief

Every now and then, a book comes out that defies the usual reading genres. It’s a book that we try to categorize, but it doesn’t even matter because all kinds of readers read it. It’s the book that makes the top of the “If you read one book in 20__” list. Let’s call it The Wonder Book. It’s awesome when we readers find books like that, because for a few minutes, a bunch of us who read all different kinds of books can talk about the same one.  The Wonder Book becomes that book on everyone’s reading list, or the only answer in every conversation on social media related to books.

You: “I need a good book to read at the beach!”

Half your friends: “Have you read The Hunger Games! So. Good.”

The Book ThiefAnd if you’re lucky (or living under a rock, or just really stubborn), you haven’t read The Wonder Book and you get to experience it for the first time. But after a while, you say, “What should I read?” and people say, “I love Harry Potter,” or “You have GOT to read Unbroken” and you slap your forehead. Can’t anyone recommend anything else???

This is what happened about three years after the publication of The Book Thief.  The Book Thief was “The Wonder Book” in 2011 (though published in 2008). My husband and I both read it and thought it was great. If you have read The Book Thief, you know it’s one of a kind in its writing style and perspective. And if you’ve read it and are now on the hunt for another great book, I found a similar one last week. All The Light We All the Light We Cannot SeeCannot See is making waves in the literary world.  I just finished it last week, and I am still trying to figure out the end, but I would venture to say that it’s really, really good. It’s an odd mixture of myth and history, with memorable characters and precise yet descriptive writing. If you’ve read extensively about Europe in World War II, you will understand all the horrors that are mostly veiled in this particular novel. There are definitely some harsh realities, but much is left to the imagination, or to the reader’s own historical knowledge, which might be nice for someone who doesn’t want to delve too deeply in WWII history. (Too late for me). I enjoyed it for its many layers of fine plot details, symbolism, and historical relevancy. I will never forget the characters. My only complaint is the format is a bit choppy, which is great and makes it into a page turner if you can sit down and read for a good solid chunk of time, but is a challenge for people like me who often read in snatches.

So read All The Light We Cannot See and then let me know what you think happens at the end!

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Here are some of my other favorite WWII books which are not much like The Book Thief, but I love them.

For Such A Time, by Elyse Larson

This will probably appeal more to women readers. It’s the story of Jean Thornton’s attempt to rescue her cousin who is arrested by Nazis for aiding the French Resistance. I read as a teenager, and still enjoy it as an adult. Quality-wise, it probably shouldn’t be on the same list as Doerr and Zusak, but I’m putting it here because it’s one of my favorite books set in World War II Europe.

The Plum Tree, by Ellen Marie Wiseman – I loved this book! It’s the first one I ever reviewed on my blog. Read my review here.