My beach to be read list is a little ambitious. We’ll see what my preschoolers have to say about it.
It’s time to pull out the books that make your kids gush with ideas of what to do this summer! I historically have no trouble thinking of summer activities because summer and I are the best of friends. But this year I’ll be pregnant through July, most likely, it gets really, really hot here, and my children are not taking naps much anymore. The days might seem a little longer come July and a new baby. Here are the books we like for sparking imagination. A note: these books are mostly for kids ages 3-6. If you have ideas for older kids, please share!
One Busy Day by Lola M. Schaefer is my favorite find of the month. The illustrations by Jessica Meserve are beautiful and illuminate for the readers what the children were doing in real life and what they were imagining they were doing at the same time. Big brother Spencer starts out disinterested in the activities of Mia, his younger sister. Mia wants him to play with her, but she gives up after a while. When Mia decides to have fun by herself, Spencer becomes enthralled with her imaginative play. By the end of the book, they are side-by-side fighting dragons and saving their castle. Oh, I love it! My two-year-old son and four-year-old daughter enjoy this book, too. =)
The very popular Ladybug Girl series is also great for showing children how much fun can be had with a little bit of creativity. In the first book of the series, Ladybug Girl, Lulu’s family is too busy to play with her and she has to find some things to do by herself. My children’s favorite is Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy. I appreciate how it shows two children working out their differences in what they like to do for fun. By the end, Lulu and her friend, Sam, are having so much fun, other children ask if they can play along. Apparently, I am a fan of books where children make their own fun and bring other children into the realm of imagination, too.
There have been days when Ella uses A Fire Engine for Ruthie as a to-do list. Ruthie is a little girl who has a penchant for trucks. Her Nana has other ideas of what would be fun. Ruthie turns dress up into a rescue operation, paints fire trucks instead of flowers, and so on. Finally, Nana comes around to Ruthie’s way of thinking. It’s a fun book for any girl, tomboy or not (and my little girl is decidedly not a tomboy), and an especially good book for girls with brothers who need ideas on how to mesh their play styles together.
Speaking of play styles, my husband and I generally agree that TV and movies dumb down our children’s ability to entertain themselves. The more they watch, the less they can think of anything to do when the TV is turned off. However, I’ve got to say that one viewing of Disney’s Tangled provides at least a week of imaginative play for both our children…together! Especially if we turn on the soundtrack. Somehow, Tangled is the perfect mix of a princess movie with guy things like a a cool horse named Maximus and a daring hero that plays more than a fleeting part in the story. It’s our movie of choice for those days when we just need some down time. We just went to the library this morning and loaded up on more books. I’m hoping those will be inspiring to my children, too. If you have any ideas of other books that bring out the best in your children’s creativity, let me know!
Need more ideas for children’s books? Check out the 31 Days Series for lots of great read-aloud books for kids!
Ready for a weekend read? Over the past weekend, I started and finished The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. This book came highly recommended by NPR and is the April book selection for shereads.org‘s book club.
A.J. Fikry is a bookseller on a remote fictional island called Alice Island, somewhere near Boston. He is a loner and an intellectual, but he is about to realize that his “no man is an island” theory on books actually applies to all of life. Through many sharp ups and downs, Fikry’s life becomes quite remarkable.
This was a fast read, and not really what I was expecting. It is nothing like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, though goodreads.com makes that comparison. The biggest pro for me from this book was the book talk. If you’re a fan of the short story, you’ll probably like this book even more than I did, as each chapter begins with a short story synopsis and A.J.’s thoughts on what he thinks are the best short stories of all time.
Beyond the many references to literature, A.J. Fikry had several cons in my reading philosophy.
Con #1 – A.J. Fikry is a prickly character that I don’t feel much empathy for at the beginning and my sentiments towards him don’t change as much as they probably should as he evolves through the novel.
Con #2 – While I’m thankful there are no graphic descriptions, the development of romantic relationships between characters begins with the physical side of romance.
Con #3 – Strong language and some substance abuse
Con #4 – There’s a general feeling of meaninglessness instead of hope, as if The Universe is at war against the characters for some reason that no one can know and that no one tries to discover. One quote in particular stands out to me from the end of the book (not a spoiler, FYI): “I love Island Books [Fikry’s store] with all my heart. I do not believe in God. I have no religion. But this to me is as close to a church as I have known in this life.” When you read that at the end, knowing what the characters have been through, even a book lover like me (who sheds real tears when a bookstore closes) can’t help but sensing there’s an emptiness to the meaning of life presented in the book.
Getting beyond the cons, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry has a comfortable narration style, a few lovable characters, and will be a favorite for readers who enjoy literary fiction. I thought this book had a lot of similarities in style to The Time Traveler’s Wife. It also has the feel at some parts of a The Fault in Our Stars for grown-ups. I wouldn’t give A.J. Fikry more than three stars, but as Levar Burton says, “Don’t take my word for it.” I think it’s a book lots of people will love, and it’s an easy weekend or beach read that won’t feel like a waste of time, whether you end up liking it or not.
Hello! How’s life? Let’s just say, things have been busy around here. Busy with good things, but still busy. But I carved out two “we-are-going-nowhere” days this week and they are just what the doctor ordered. (Seriously, we’ve been so busy, we actually ended up at the doctor’s office with ear infections and sinus infections and he said, “You’ll probably be fine if you get some rest, but here’s a prescription if you think you need it.” He’s a great doctor.) Yesterday I vacuumed, dusted, cleaned bathrooms, and played with kids, and today I finally have a chance to think.
I read an all time low of three books last month. Yowch. I mean, really, that is an all. time. low. But it’s okay! I did some other worthwhile things, and one of the books was a book I really needed to ponder. It’s called Restless, by Jennie Allen.
A small group of women introduced me to Jennie Allen’s study, Stuck. I get chills even now when I think of how we all started with that book study focused on getting past the places where we feel like we just can’t make any progress, whether it’s anger, sadness, busyness, discontent, or feeling broken. Some of us in the group realized some places we didn’t know we were stuck. And then my awesome friend who also blogs decided to host the IF: Gathering at her place in February. It’s amazing how we all were feeling stuck in various ways, then we were ready to move on from being stuck, and the IF: Gathering was timed right then. Because the IF: Gathering was all about moving into a place where we cast of fear and realize God has put us all here on this earth for a reason and it’s time to pursue that reason. Christine Caine talked about moving from being delivered to being free. Rebekah Lyons talked about how simple the word “calling” really is. And there was so much more. It was all awesome. Now I’m almost done with the book Restless, and it has been a continuation of that theme of realizing God knit us together in such a way that we each have something unique to offer. I highly recommend it. I’m not a Jennie Allen junkie (yet), but her stuff is really honest and relevant to women today and it’s worth looking into.
On the fiction side of things, I was excited to read Looking for Me by Beth Hoffman, author of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt. I’m sorry to say, it was quite lackluster compared to her debut. Poor authors whose first books are amazing! That’s a lot of pressure. But this is an honest review, and Looking for Me seemed a little winding, wandering, and overall lacking on major themes. I’m not even sure if the main character, Teddi Overman, found herself in the end. She found a guy and bought a house, so I guess that’s something. ??? I was not a fan. But I’ll admit, I kind of checked out on searching for the deeper meaning about 3/4 of the way through when it seemed like Teddi was going in circles. I’m not against circles…as long as there’s eventually a really good ending point.
The book that pleasantly surprised me was Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay. “What in the world?” you may ask. “Why did you read another one of those Jane Austen knock offs you hate?” Despite the title, this novel is not actually a continuation or even a variation on Emma or any of Austen’s books. It’s actually a modernization of Jean Webster’s Dear Daddy Longlegs, which is a great book if you like old-fashioned goodness. Dear Mr. Knightley is about Samantha Moore, an orphan who grew up in foster care and books. Her reading was her world for a long time, but as she enters adulthood, she finds she has to set aside the book personas she so easily dons and embrace her real life story. What I liked the most about the book (besides all the references to classic literature), was how Reay wrote a quality book with strong characters that eventually points her heroine to God, without writing the (forgive me) often predictable Christian novel. This book was predictable in ways for me because I read the classic it’s based on, but it had a gritty realness to it mixed with the change that takes place in a person when they start to understand unconditional love. I don’t know if I can make any sense in explaining it, but it was a good read. I felt empowered as a writer by reading a book that was both clever, well-written, and based on the love of God.
So that’s what I’ve been reading lately. Now I have to scramble to find some vacation reads for two trips coming up later this month and in May. Hurrah for beach reads! Please, send me your recommendations ASAP.
A couple of weeks ago, someone mentioned in a forum about D.E. Stevenson that “if you like D.E. Stevenson, you should try M.M. Kaye.” Well, if you’ve been around this blog, you know D.E. Stevenson is my most recently discovered favorite author. Of course, I requested an M.M. Kaye book from the library. I was a bit surprised when I got it, though. M.M. Kaye wrote a variety of different books, but most of them are whodunit murder mysteries set in Africa and other foreign locales. I wasn’t sure why a person would think Stevenson’s homey, warm, character driven novels were comparable to murders on the African plains. It was as if someone told a Jane Austen fan, “Well, if you like Jane Austen, you should definitely read Agatha Christie.” But Kaye’s novels looked interesting in their own right, so I gave Death in Kenya a try.
Death in Kenya is set in the 1950s, during the British colonial period in Kenya. Em DeBrett is a matriarch of the Kenyan Colonials, but she is getting frailer in her late years and her estate, Flamingo, is entrenched in a mysterious set of circumstances, culminating in a murder. She asks her niece, Victoria, to come help her with the running of the estate. Victoria comes, but does not realize how dangerous the setting has become until the very day she arrives. As the book unfolds, each character is developed and the reader can never really rule anyone out until the very end. It’s a very satisfying mystery novel. Kaye is similar to Agatha Christie in a lot of ways, but where Christie has a mastermind like Poirot or Miss Marple solve the mystery, Kaye makes the crime path unfold a bit more slowly and naturally. The “ah ha!” moment does not take quite so much explaining as it does in a Christie novel, though it does take some. Also, Kaye actually lived in Kenya for a while and the descriptions of Flamingo and the surrounding area are enthralling. I felt that set her apart a bit more from the typical murder mystery writer.
One way I could relate to the main character, Victoria, was in her desire to move somewhere warm. If I had lived in sunny, arid Kenya as a child and was moved to London as a young adult, I would be planning my getaway from that fair but chilly, damp city as soon as I came of age. Victoria was more patient than I would have been, but I completely applauded her choice once the opportunity came. The fact that this tiny bit of the book stood out the most to me should not tell you that the rest of the book is boring; it should tell you that I am really sick of winter. Aren’t we all.
I will probably pick up another Kaye mystery someday, but what is higher on my To Be Read List is her highly acclaimed novel, The Far Pavilions. At 955 pages, it may be on my list for quite some time.
What are you reading to beat the late winter blues?