Children's Books, Friday Favorites - Children's Books, Three Book Thursday

Introducing Three Book Thursday!

girlreadingjwsmithWe’re crazy about children’s books around here. That’s why I’m excited to announce that Mia The Reader’s Friday Favorites Feature is getting a make over! It’s even got a new name and a new day….

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Three Book Thursday!

Every night at bedtime, my two oldest children (ages 6 and 4) each pick out a picture book and we read them together. This is my very favorite part of the day. We sit on the couch or under the covers on my bed, close and quiet and at peace with one another as we all find ourselves in the same imaginary space that a book creates. Three Book Thursday is in celebration of those evenings when the kids say, “Can we read one more book tonight?” and instead of saying “No, time for bed!” I can smile a slow (probably tired) but happy smile and say, “yes, go get one more!” Since I secretly love our bedtime ritual, it’s not a hardship to extend the best part of the day once or twice a week. On the nights when I’m not too tired, I relish this time when the children are bringing me brightly illustrated, cleverly worded books to read to them. I know pretty soon they won’t be asking, “Just one more book, please?” but “Let’s read one more chapter, please?” and I’m sure that will be a lot of fun, too. For now, Three Book Thursday is a marker for the joy of having little ones and sharing picture books with them. I hope you’ll join in, find some great books to read with the little ones in your life, and chime on your current favorites, as well!

This week, we’ve loved these three books:

Obadiah The Bold – I am just starting a quest for good books for my little boy that aren’t just about monsters or dinosaurs, but about real, brave boys who exhibit courage and honor. (Monsters and dinosaurs are fun, but not much for inspiring little boys to greatness…we still read them! But I’ve begun trying to mix in a healthy dose of more mind-and-soul feeding books, too). I heard about The Obadiah books on this Read Aloud Revival podcast (such a great resource, if you haven’t heard of it before!).  Obadiah is a Quaker boy who decides he wants to be a pirate. When he has to come to terms with what a pirate really is, he learns about a true hero in his own family and develops new and better aspirations of his own. The illustrations are so warm and inviting. This book would be great for any little boy, but especially the ones who love pirates (and what little boy doesn’t, these days?).

Little Time And The Brave Sea Captain – This book also fits the bill for the Brave Books For Little Boys category. Also, any time you find a book by Edward Ardizzone, snatch it up! They aren’t easy to find and they are gems. This one is back in print, though, so you shouldn’t have any trouble getting your hands on this delightful story about a little boy who goes on an adventure with an old sea captain and learns true courage from him. I suspect my little boy loved this one because the danger is real and grim but it all turns out okay in the end.


The Six SwansThe Six Swans – This is our fairy tale of the week. After the first reading, Ella asked “Can we renew this one twice?”  If you’re familiar with the story, you know it’s about a devoted sister who spends years of her life freeing her brothers from a spell that turns them into swans. This book by Gerda Raidt is based on The Brothers Grimm’s version of the story. I grew up with the Hans Christian Andersen’s classic illustrated by Susan Jeffers called The Wild Swans, which has more mature, medieval themes in it. I remember one particularly gruesome picture of demons in a graveyard. For children under around 10, I would recommend The Six Swans over Jeffers’ beautiful yet possibly terrifying rendition.  This is a good mix of boy and girl fairy tale, instead of merely a princess tale.

Our “baby” (she’s fourteen months) also gets two stories read to her at night. She is currently loving Biscuit Finds A Friend and is always a fan of Brown Bear, Brown Bear (though this mama gets kind of tired of it…)

Those are our favorites to read during The Best Part of The Day a.k.a Bedtime around here this week. What are your family’s favorites?

Nonfiction, Reviews

Better Than Before: A Book Review

Here’s a non-fiction review for my non-frivolous book readers! Yesterday I finished Gretchen Rubin’s latest book Better Than Before:  Mastering The Habits of Our Everyday Lives. The popular author of The Happiness Project and Happier At Home once again brings readers an insightful book on her favorite topic, how to live this present life well.

Rubin starts off the book by claiming we can’t be successful in our habits without knowing our habit tendencies. I found this section of the book fascinating. She breaks these tendencies down into four groups:

  1. The Upholders – Sensitive to inner expectations for oneself and outer expectations of other people
  2. The Obliger – Very sensitive to others’ expectations, not as sensitive to one’s own expectations for one’s self
  3. The Questioner – Always questioning expectations, and has to make all expectations his or her own by evaluating and deciding whether they are reasonable and useful or not.
  4. The Rebel – Basically, this person hates expectations and has a hard time with habits.

Rubin, herself, is a strong Upholder, and finds it very easy to begin and maintain habits. I almost question why a person who finds habits so natural would write a book about harnessing the power of habits – can we learn anything from her struggle if there actually is no struggle for her? Then again, I suppose we can learn from the best, and she does an insane amount of research and includes anecdotes from other types of tendencies. (Side note: if you read the beginning part of this book and you classify yourself as a Rebel, good luck. You don’t want habits in your life, you enjoy making each decision you make, and having the freedom to decide yes or no to most everything you do each day. Habits are not your thing. And probably neither is this book).

After doing a little self exploration, Rubin decides to tackle the seven areas in which people most commonly want to improve their habits: Healthy eating, Exercise, Finances, Rest and Relaxation, Accomplishments, Clutter, and Relationships. As is her wont, Rubin sets up a specific goal for herself in each of these areas and writes about the results. This is the part where the book gets a little less interesting to me, because I already know she is going to do a great job of creating new habits. She is going to nail this. But would I?

I read this book at a great time to improve my habits, when my youngest recently turned a year old and I had the mental fortitude to improve some areas of my life that were just scraping by one sleep deprived day after another. I didn’t want to grab the whole project by the horns like Rubin did; I thought I would pick just a few areas to work on: getting up earlier and eating healthier.

So far, I have failed miserably. For about a week, I did great, but then it all fell apart. I still get woken up often at night by one of the three kids, if not all, and I still can’t seem to get a meal plan together that is consistently healthy. Snacks are a whole ‘nother battle. The upside of this experiment is that I did feel exceedingly better when I did a good job of getting up early and putting healthy food on the table. I’m excited to continue my attempts at improving my habits in these areas.

Overall, I liked this book. I find that Rubin’s books can bring me some ideas and get me thinking, but when I finish them, there’s a sense of emptiness for me.  They lack the overall purpose of life in their theories. I don’t want to be so inwardly focused on living my life well. I want to love God and love others.  Also, as a middle class American in the suburbs, her upper-middle class New York City lifestyle is very hard for me to relate to. However, if you’re interested in using the practice of habits for to empower your daily routines, I think this is a great book for you.

Now, if only Gretchen Rubin would write a book about helping kids form good habits…

Everyday Life, Parenting

May The Sum Equal Love

If a six-year-younger version of me walked into my house right now, with her firstborn so new and rosy in her arms and her eyes bright with ideas about the future, there are so many ways she wouldn’t recognize herself in the Here-and-Now-Me. The younger me wouldn’t understand the mess. She wouldn’t believe my voice could elevate that quickly to angry tones over seemingly silly offenses (“I told you not to growl at your baby sister!”). She wouldn’t understand the exhaustion pouring from my posture as my very frame slumps over the dishes in the sink. She wouldn’t get why I have to remind my kids every single morning to brush their teeth. (Really?)

Whether we mean to or not, we all enter into parenthood with ideals of who we will be. Some of them aren’t even fully formed in our brains before our hands are clenched tight around them. They can range from “I’ll be the fun mom who plans great birthday parties” to “I’ll be the intentional dad who plans one-on-one time for each child once a week.” Sometimes our ideals are so abstract like, “My kids are just going to love talking to me one day!” Then we get into the thick of raising human beings, and it’s at that point we step back and think, “this is not the person I was planning to be!” That’s when we realize how much we had our hearts set on a specific version of ourselves, and how far we are from hitting that mark.

But maybe we are better than the person we planned to be?

Yes, my six-year-younger-self would probably walk into my house today and see too much stress, too much mess, a mom with un-washed hair and an overflowing laundry closet. After that, though. After that, she might see a mom spreading peanut butter on apples for her older kids with a perfectly happy, mostly clean toddler on her hip and think, “huh, that should be hard but she makes it look easy.” Maybe that younger me IMG_20150916_190051413would see a mom who knows what kind of music to put on to get her kids out of a slump and into a dance party on the living room floor. Maybe she’d see a woman who keeps on going on four-hundred-and-one nights of severely interrupted sleep. She might see this girl trying to be a wise, adult mother who will still lie flat down on the floor next to a mopey six-year-old in a desperate attempt to show her, “I am with you in this day. Let’s make it better.” Maybe she’d see a mom who makes sloppy cakes with her kids? Maybe she’d see a mom who tears up when her 4-year-old son puts his arms around his older sister and says with wonder and kindness, “You looks so pretty today.” Maybe she’d forgive me for yelling sometimes. Maybe.

My children are still so young, just 6, 4, and 1, but already I can see the harsh difference between the mom I thought I’d be and the mom I am now. Sometimes I don’t like what I see. And sometimes, I really do. Here’s what I know now: mothering is not a minute to minute equation, balancing the bad ones and the good ones and striving to make sure all the bad moments are cancelled out. Parenting is the sum of all the moments. There is no erasing the bad moments. And there are some pretty bad ones! I know now, I make big mistakes regularly and I can neither deny them nor hide them from my kids. But praise God, there are so many good moments as well. The hope I have replaced my ideals with is this: that the sum of my moments will add up to love in my children’s hearts. I hope and pray that I will play enough games with them, make them do the hard stuff to build their character consistently enough, hug them enough, stretch out beside them in their beds at bedtime and hold them close so many nights, look into their eyes and really hear them so many times….that I will do all these things enough so that when they are grown, all the time we had together in their childhoods will scream and ooze warmth and safety, acceptance and care, affection and security that lasts and leads them ever onward to the Parent whose love is all they need.

May the sum of my moments equal love.

Reading, Reviews

The DNF List of The Summer

Confession: for every book I read start to finish, there are is another book (or two) figuratively marked with a glaring DNF. I have no shame about the Did Not Finish category. I know some people feel if they start a book, they must finish or else it’s all been a waste of time. I prefer to take Thomas Edison’s view, though: he discovered 10,000 ways not to invent a light bulb, I have discovered 10,000 books (er..maybe a few less) that I didn’t want to spend time reading. Unless a book has inherit merit (say, you promised a friend you’d read it, or it’s on your syllabus, or it’s The Bible, for instance), I say, feel free to cast it aside! How many books would I never discover if I was too afraid to pick up a book because I knew I was going to make myself finish what I started?  To prove I’m serious about this, I’m admitting today that I started and didn’t finish these four very popular books this summer. (please note: these are the books I did not finish just in the last two months. There are tons of others).

  1. Go Set A Watchman – Okay, don’t judge. I read this book through more than halfway, and I really appreciated the look into the way an author can develop characters and they can morph into people the author didn’t set out to create at the beginning. It really is like reading a first draft of To Kill A Mockingbird. I can totally see why Harper Lee’s editor suggested a re-write from Scout’s childhood perspective, for those were far and away the best parts of WatchmanYou can’t read this book as a sequel. It’s separate, it has hardly anything to do with TKAM. I read it out of curiosity, but when my curiosity was sated, I didn’t find anything in it to keep me going.
  2. The Book of SpeculationThe Book of Speculation– So morbid and dark! Tarrot cards, curses, babies abandoned. Not my cup of tea. I kind of wanted to know what happened, but not enough to endure through the end of the book. Maybe I should have skipped to the end? I was afraid of the end, though. It’s better not to know, sometimes. Plus, the cover ends up having nothing to do with the book. A misleading cover is such a bad start to a book relationship.
  3. In The Unlikely Event – I may pick this book up again one day, but right now I cannot handle any more books that shift their points of view. I counted twenty different points of view in this book. Twenty! Judy Blume can get away with it, because I’ve heard from so many people that this is a really awesome book. Right now, I just want to get sucked into a character and a story and stay there, please? Alright? Alright.
  4. The Nightingale – I will read this book one day. But this was about the 4th novel set in WWII I picked up this summer and I just could not go down that road again. I’d love to know any reader’s thoughts on this book.
  5. Circling the SunCircling The Sun – This is another book I may go back and finish. It was a hard week when I started this one, though, and I could tell by the first five chapters that this one would have some harsh word pictures in it. I needed soft, like Miss Read or something. So when it came due at the library, I gave it back only 1/8 done, vowing to go back to it one day when I was ready for the grit of African soil. I’ve heard so many people say it’s amazing. I make myself feel better by chanting, “I have read Beryl Markham’s true memoir, I have Beryl Markham’s memoir on bookshelf, I am not a phony book lover, I am not a phony book lover…” It sort of worked.

How do you feel about starting and finishing books?

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