Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Kid Lit: When We Were Alone

I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

When We Were Alone by David Alexander Robertson

To Be Published: January 6, 2017

Goodreads Summary:
When a young girl helps tend to her grandmother's garden, she begins to notice things that make her curious. Why does her grandmother have long braided hair and beautifully colored clothing? Why does she speak another language and spend so much time with her family? As she asks her grandmother about these things, she is told about life in a residential school a long time ago, where all of these things were taken away. When We Were Alone is a story about a difficult time in history and, ultimately, one of empowerment and strength.

My Thoughts:
Wow. This book is powerful. A young girl is helping her grandmother garden, and she asks innocent questions about why her grandmother wears such colorful clothes and wears her hair so long. She learns that her grandmother, an Algonquin from northern Canada, was sent to a boarding school where she was forced to wear a uniform, cut her hair short, and speak English instead of Cree. Now she does all of the things that were denied to her when she was young.

When We Were Alone tells an unpleasant bit of Canadian history, but it's important to share these stories with our children. Here in American we have our own horror stories of discrimination and trying to force people to be the same. This book introduces these ugly truths in a digestible manner. It's a story that children can understand, but it's a perfect conversation starter for some hard discussions we should be having with our kids, so that history doesn't repeat itself.

My Rating: 4 stars

On the blog last year...

Christmas Ornament Stories: Volume 1

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Movie Review: Moana, Disney's Best Animated Story Yet

For years we've been complaining about Disney cartoons. Why are the girls always stick thin? Why is there always a princess story? Why is the man always the hero? Even in Frozen, where the sisters save each other and Elsa is a strong female character, there is a still a romance. We saw Moana over the weekend, and Disney has FINALLY gotten it right.

If you haven't taken your children to see this movie yet, go ASAP. It's amazing! I honestly wasn't expecting much because the previews really hadn't shown anything other than Maui, the tattooed demigod. I had no idea I was in for such a treat.

8 reasons Moana is my new favorite Disney movie

8. Both of Moana's parents are still alive

OK, so Moana's grandmother dies early in the movie, but it's of natural causes. No one dies prematurely in any horrific accident in this movie. It's so refreshing! Her father is a little overbearing, but he's just doing what's worked for his people in the past, and he's trying to keep his family safe. Her mother is incredibly supportive. Both of her parents love her fiercely.

7. Moana is not a size 0

Finally! A Disney "princess" who isn't sickly skinny. Granted, she's still thin - I'd guess about a size 8, but she looks so much more average than any other Disney princess. And she was gorgeous! And so strong. So healthy.

6. Moana, a female, is going to inherit the chiefdom from her father

In this particular South Pacific society, the chiefdom can be pass from father to daughter. I loved that Moana isn't exactly a princess, and that she was going to be the ruler of her people. And her parents never once mention picking a man to marry to help her rule.

5. There is no love story

I love romance as much as the next woman, but do we need a love story in every kids movie? No! Geez. Children don't need to be concerned with romance and marriage. This movie has a great friendship story, and I think that's enough for kids.

4. The music

One word: amazing! Check it out on YouTube. All songs were written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the writer of Hamilton. I don't know anything about music, but it seems that the songs were much more complex (as far as musical composition) than any recent Disney movie. But at the same time they were catchy, upbeat, and so fun. I'm listening to the soundtrack as I write this post. It's the perfect mix of ethnic music, quirky bad guy songs, and one amazing power ballad.

3. The diverse cast

All of the characters in this story are people of color, and Disney had a diverse cast play those characters. Unlike Kubo and the Two Strings, which was an Asian tale filled with white actors, Disney tried to stay true to the characters for the most part.

2. Moana is SO brave

I don't want to give away too much of the plot, but she faces some very intense stuff. She is so brave. She doesn't need a man. She defies her father, and she is determine to do what is best for her people. My son even said he'd be scared to do everything that she did. I said I would have been too. What a great role model!

1. Moana saves herself and her people

Yup. Moana saves everyone in this movie. Not the guy, Maui. Sure, he helps, but she's the one that doesn't give up. She is phenomenal. 

I was almost in tears at the end of this movie. Disney finally, FINALLY, got it right. As a woman who grew up loving Disney movies but believes that woman should be independent and powerful, just like men, this movie is everything I ever wanted.

Have you seen Moana? What did you think?

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Cybils Fiction Picture Books - Batch 11

As of November 14th when I am writing this post, I have now read 185 Cybils nominees for fiction picture books and board books. I have only 68 more books to go, but I'm waiting for the last books to come into the library and arrive from the publishers, so at this point I have read all of the books I can read. There are no more piles on my bedroom floor, and I am feeling pretty great about that.

By the time you read this post, we will have likely narrowed out short list down considerably, but I cannot share the finalists with you quite yet anyway, so it's fine that I am writing this post well in advance. Here are 11 more nominees for Fiction Picture Books for Cybils 2016.

A Moon of My Own by Jennifer Rustgi (ages 4-6)

As a little girl travels the world, the moon seems to be following her. She thinks the moon has come out just for her. This book has cool activities at the end for parents/teachers to do with kids. It's a cute story with great illustrations of the phases of the moon and many famous places around the world.

3 stars

A Night of Great Joy by Mary Engelbreit (ages 4-8)

Children act out the story of Jesus' birth in this adorable picture book. The illustrations include some great details from facial expressions to small mishaps. I enjoyed looking at the pictures while reading this fairly traditional story of the nativity scene. It's a great book about the true meaning of Christmas for believers. Be warned though, there's glitter on the cover.

4 stars

What Noise Do I Make? by Brian McLachlan (ages 3-6)

This book will have families cracking up trying to read and imitate these crazy animals sounds. There are animals in here that I have never even heard of, and many sounds that I wouldn't have known for animals I have heard of. It's a great expansion on the typical sounds shared in a board book for younger children.

4 stars

The Bear Who Couldn't Sleep by Caroline Nastro (ages 4-6)

A little bear cannot hibernate like everyone else. He just can't fall asleep, so he goes walking through the woods until he comes to a large city, NYC. He is fascinated by all the activity, and he can't stop exploring, but then he finally gets sleepy. He cannot find a place to rest, and he ends up going home. This is a cute story with fun illustrations of NYC. It's good exposure to the idea of hibernating and the concept of large cities.

3 stars

What Do You Do With a Problem? by Kobi Yamada (ages 4-8)

This book illustrates how ruminating on a problem can just make it worse. Anxiety can grow, and it can become hard to think about anything else. The best thing to do is to tackle the problem head on because hidden within the problem may be an opportunity. This book contains great advice for readers of all ages. I think it's a must read for everyone.

5 stars

The Storm by Akiko Miyakoshi (ages 4-8)

The boy is this story is very much looking forward to a trip to the beach with his parents, but when a huge storm rolls in, his mother tells him they may not be able to go tomorrow. The rain comes hard into the night, but the boy dreams of a large ship with propellers to push the storm away. When he wakes, it's a beautiful sunny day. Perfect for the beach. This book has just a touch of magic, but I really enjoyed.

4 stars

The Sleeping Gypsy by Mordicai Gerstein (ages 6-8)

This book is inspired by the author's fascination with Henry Rousseau's famous painting, The Sleeping Gypsy (1897). In this story he has imagined a dream Rousseau may have had that could have inspired him to paint this piece. It's creative and unexpected. I don't think I'd ever seen that painting before.

3 stars

Monkey with a Tool Belt and the Maniac Muffins by Chris Monroe
(ages 4-8)

This book was too strange for my taste. It's pure chaos. Clark the elephant is making food for a party he's throwing, but in the process he is completely destroying the house. Chico the monkey can't help but try and clean up. When Clark makes maniac muffins that start destroying the town, Chico has an idea. Using all of Clark's other failed cooking, he manages to save the day. Maybe kids would find this funny?

2 stars

You Look Yummy! by Tatsuya Miyanishi (ages 4-6)

When a baby ankylosaurus hatches, a tyrannosaurus rex is ready to eat him, but the baby calls him "Daddy" and he freezes in his tracks. He becomes very protective of the baby because he says he wants to be just like him. It's cute. But the ending is a little strange. The T-rex teaches him everything he knows and then tricks him into leaving. Luckily, the baby finds his real family.

3 stars

Why? by Nikolai Popov (ages 4-8)

This wordless picture book attempts to explain the reasons for war. The author lived in Russia as a child when the Nazi invaded, and he struggled to understand. The characters in this book attack each other for what appears to be no reason. Perhaps it's illustrating that we never know another person's motivations? I won't be sharing this book with my son because I think it's a little too dark.

2 stars

"Oh, No," Said Elephant by A.H. Benjamin (ages 4-8)

This is a great book about flexible thinking. Elephant is bad at all of the games his friends suggest, but he tries them anyway. Then when he wants to play tug-a-war, the other animals agree because it's only fair and finally elephant wins at something. I enjoyed this book a lot. The illustrations were great as well.

4 stars

Have you read any of these books? Which is your favorite?

On the blog last year...

Friday Fiction #7: Playground Dad Part 1

Friday, December 2, 2016

Month in Review: November 2016

November flew by in an election haze and then the frenzy of Thanksgiving in FL. I was in shock yesterday when I said the date for the first time. How is it December already?

- I finished 15 books (5 paper, 4 Kindle, 6 audio) - including 3 re-reads.

- I continued eating Whole 30, and I lost 3 more pounds...until Thanksgiving. Earlier in the month I stuck with my 1 cheat meal per week, but then over Thanksgiving I had beer and pizza and stuffing and BW3s three days in a row. When I came back home I'd gained back the 3 pounds. Thankfully by this morning, I'd lost them again.
- I went to kickboxing 3 times this month, but no other classes at the gym.

- I submitted my Book Club column for Country Woman April/May 2017. Woohoo! And now I'm reading beachy books for consideration for June/July.

- We attended my nephew's choir contest when he had a rocking beat box solo!

Me, Christopher, Ben (our nephew), and Jim

- We spent Thanksgiving weekend in Florida with my family. The weather was perfect, so we got a lot of beach time and swim time in. Christopher had a great time with his cousins, and it was nice for me to hang out with my mom and sister.

My family on the beach in Nokomis, FL 

- I had dinner with a former coworker and caught up on the last couple of years.
- We went ice skating as a family. Christopher has been begging to go again since his field trip with camp this summer.

Jim and Christopher ice skating

- My girlfriends and I went to see The Edge of Seventeen and indulged in some pumpkin cheesecake!
- We went to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It was probably a mistake to take Christopher with us because it was rather slow and adult, but Jim and I enjoyed it. We didn't love it, but it was a decent movie.
- We hosted our monthly game night with friends.
- My friend Sarah and I went to see Marissa Meyer speak about Heartless!

Sarah and I with our copies of Heartless before seeing Marissa Meyer

- Jim and I have not recovered from the election results. I'm in denial. He's just angry. We've been donating money to worthy causes, sharing hopeful news on Facebook, and he even attended a anti-Trump meeting in Milwaukee. It's been a rough couple of weeks.
- Christopher participated in a Fun Run fundraiser at school. He was SUPER enthusiastic about it. He called all of his relatives and checked his pledge site every morning for a week. He won a ton of prizes and had an absolute blast at the run.

Christopher at the Boosterthon Fun Run at his school.

Even though I'm almost finished my Christmas shopping, I'm not ready for the holiday. We have Christmas events starting tomorrow, but the thought of getting out our decorations is making me cringe a little. I'm not a huge Christmas fan. I never have been. Thanksgiving has always been more my speed. I love traditions and family. I can do without the greed and the overplayed music. Call me Scrooge, but aside from the gift giving, I'd like to skip right to January.

How was your November? Are you embracing the December insanity?

On the blog last year...

Book Review: All In (YA)

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Cybils Fiction Picture Books - Batch 10

Included the books in this post, I have now read 151 of the 212 nominated fiction picture books. I only have 12 more currently out from the library. The other 49 on are on hold at the library or hopefully headed my way from the publishers. I guess it'll take through the end of the year to get all of these round up posts in the schedule for you all to read.

I'm noticing some trends. Bears, lions, and cats are popular animals for children's books. Ninjas and dragons are pretty trendy as well. Rhyming stanzas make up a lot of books, although thankfully less than half. Many nominated books deal with true subjects in fictionalized ways, and these realistic books are usually my favorites.

Vroom! Kevin's Big Book of Vehicles by Liesbet Slegers (ages 3-6)

This book moves beyond a simple vocabulary book and asks more questions about the vehicles on the road. Where are the quick responders going? What are the parts of a car? It's full of a lot of great information, and it's interactive. But it's a lot of text for the age range. The content is best for ages 3-5, but the text is really long. Perhaps some 6-7 year olds would still be interested in sitting and listening to it all if they really love vehicles.

3 stars

Rosie the Raven by Helga Bansch (ages 4-6)

When a nest of raven's eggs hatches, one of them is a little girl - Rosie. As she grows up, she realizes that she's different, but she decides not to care. Sure she can't fly, but she can do other things. Let people stare, her parents don't care. It's a cute story.

3 stars

Can I Eat That? by Joshua David Stein (ages 3-6)

This book asks questions about whether or not things can be eaten, and then it goes on to explain why or why not and where those foods are consumed. It's very interesting and educational. It seems more like nonfiction, but I really liked it anyway. It's a good read for kids curious about the world or perhaps for picky eaters to see what other people eat.

4 stars

Penguin Problems by Jory John and Lane Smith (ages 4-8)

A little penguin complains a lot. After pages of his issues, he encounters a walrus who gives him some advice. He tells him to appreciate the good things in his life instead of focusing so much on the negative. He tries it, and he finds that the walrus does have a good point. But then he's right back to complaining. It's humorous and may help kids put their own problems in perspective.

3 stars

Tough Guys (Have Feelings Too) by Keith Negley (ages 3-6)

This book tries to break down the stereotype that boys/men should be tough and try to hide/suppress their feelings. It's pretty simplistic. It shows various tough guys and talks about how they have feelings too - they feel sad and cry and love. It's cute, but I would be wary of reading it to young boys that may not even have been exposed to that stereotype yet because it could plant the idea in their heads.

3 stars

Secret Tree Fort by Brianne Farley (ages 4-8)

On a beautiful day, two sisters are sent outside by their mother. The older sister wants to sit under a tree and read her book, but the younger sister imagines a secret tree fort that becomes more and more amazing as she starts describing it. Finally in the end she goes too far and says it's made entirely of candy, so the older sister knows it isn't true. But instead of giving her a hard time about lying, she says they should build the tree fort together.

5 stars

Tinyville Town Gets to Work! by Brian Biggs (ages 5-8)

Tinyville Town has a problem. Traffic backs up in the morning because the bridge over the river is too small, not enough cars can drive over at once. They need a new bridge. The town works together to build one. This book is so interesting. It's about city planning and teamwork. It's about community and coming together to solve a problem. It's a great read.

4 stars

Alan's Big Scary Teeth by Jarvis (ages 4-8)

Alan the alligator has a secret. His big, scary teeth, the ones he polishes everyday and uses to scare all of the animals in the jungle, are fake. When Barry the beaver discovers the teeth, Alan tries scaring without them. It doesn't work. The animals give his teeth back if he promises to put them to good use. He does. It's cute and funny. A very fun book.

4 stars

Swap! by Steve Light (ages 3-6)

This book is so creative. Two pirates have an old ship that needs to be fixed up, but they don't have any money. They trade (swap) their way from a button to all the supplies they need for the ship. It's pretty clever and lots of fun. It's sort of mathematical, and the black and white with some color illustrations add to the appeal.

4 stars

Hannah and Sugar by Kate Berube (ages 4-6)

Hannah is afraid of dogs. Everyday after school her classmate Violet's dog Sugar is waiting for her at the bus stop. Violet's mother asks Hannah if she wants to pet Sugar, and she always refuses. Then one day Sugar is missing. All of the families help look for her, but no one can find her. That night Hannah hears whimpering in the bushes in front of her house. She faces her fear and helps Sugar. And they become friends. It's sweet.

4 stars

A Well-Mannered Young Wolf by Jean Leroy (ages 5-8)

The young wolf is this story has been taught to always honor his prey's last wish. But after being lied to 2 times, he's getting angry. Then he meets a well-mannered little boy who keeps his promise to stay put while the wolf runs home to draw something for the boy. The boy is rewarded for his honesty, and the previous offenders are eaten. The humor is subtle, but I think older children will get it and find it funny.

4 stars

Tito the Magician by Guido Van Genechten (ages 4-6)

Tito the clown watches Manu the magician's show over and over again, and he dreams of being able to do magic. When he tries it on his own, it doesn't work. Finally he asks Manu for help, and Manu shows him the steps to pull a rabbit out of his hat. Tito joins Manu on stage during the next performance, and with a little help from Manu and a lot of believing in himself, he performs magic. It's a cute story.

3 stars

Which of these books would you kids like the most?

On the blog last year...

Month in Review: November 2015

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Kid Lit: Cinderstella

I received this book for free from the publisher. That fact in no way influenced my opinion of the book or the content of this review.

Cinderstella: A Tale of Planets Not Princes by Brenda S. Miles & Susan D. Sweet

Published on October 17, 2016.

Amazon Summary:
Cinderstella has plans for her own happily ever after. A future princess she is not. Her calculations and equations are simple enough—she'd rather be an astronaut!

Read along in this modern retelling of a beloved fairy tale, as Cinderstella challenges what is expected of her to pursue her true passion and find a universe of opportunity in planets and stars. Includes a "Note to Readers" that provides suggestions for parents, caregivers, and educators to spark children's interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields and related careers despite lingering gender stereotypes and biases that exist.

My Thoughts:
What a great book! Cinderstella takes the Cinderella story and turns it on its head. During the day, Cinderella helps her stepsisters get ready for the princes ball, but at night she makes her own plans. She looks at the stars and dreams of being an astronaut. When her fairy godmother arrives to get her ready for the ball, Cinderstella tells her she has other plans. The fairy godmother instead gives her a spacesuit and a rocket ship. And the stepsisters decide they have other dreams as well, and the three sisters go into space together.

I love this story. It's so important to tell our girls stories that aren't tales of princes and princesses living happily ever after. It's important for them to dream of careers, especially those in the STEM fields. This book is not preachy, but it does contain some additional resources for parents at the end on how to encourage girls into STEM pursuits, or at least how not to discourage it. This book is a truly a Cinderella story for the next generation. Cinderstella is a girl after my own heart.

My Rating: 5 Stars

On the blog last year...

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Cybils Fiction Picture Books - Batch 9

I don't know if I can take another rhyming stanze picture book...

...yet here we go.

There's a Bear on My Chair by Ross Collins (ages 3-6)

This book is silly. A bear sits in a mouse's chair, and he does not like it. Told completely in rhymes, he expresses his dissatisfaction to the readers, but never to the bear. Finally he cannot take it. He leaves and goes somewhere else - the bear's house. When the bear finds him, he is quite surprised.

4 stars

The Knowing Book by Rebecca Kai Dotlich (ages 6-10)

A great gift book for older children (even college bound), this book reminds children to admire the world, to trust their feelings, and to explore the unknown paths. The message of being true to one's self and always look up to the stars or the sky is timeless.

4 stars

Stripes the Tiger by Jean Leroy (ages 3-6)

What a cute story. Stripes the cat wants to be a tiger. He imagines and pretends by roaring and sharpening his claws on the couch. One day his owner gets sick of it all and takes Stripes to the zoo to see a real tiger. The tiger longs to be a house cat, so the two switch places. They both get what they want, and they're happy.

4 stars

More-igami by Dori Kleber (ages 5-8)

Great book about persistence and determination! Joey loves things that fold, so when his classmate's mother comes and shows them origami, Joey asks if she can teach him. She does, but she says he'll need to practice a lot to become a master. He uses all the paper in the house, and his family does not like it. His friend at a restaurant lets him fold napkins there every day until he masters the crane.

5 stars

Grandad's Island by Benji Davies (ages 3-8)

This book can be read two ways. For younger children it may just be an adventure that a boy and his grandfather take together to a desserted island. But older kids may see it for what it is, a metaphor for death. Syd's grandfather decides to stay on the island and so he is apart from Syd, but never truly gone.

4 stars

Motor Miles by John Burmingham (ages 3-6)

Miles is a difficult dog. He doesn't obey, but he loves driving in the car. His owner decides she cannot drive him around all the time, so her neighbor builds him his own car and teaches him to drive. Miles and his master Norman go driving all over the place until Norman is too big to fit in the car, and over time Miles becomes an easier dog. It's silly and fun.

3 stars

Herbie's Big Adventure by Jennie Poh (ages 4-6)

Herbie the hedgehog is growing fast, and his mother says it's time for him to go on a foraging adventure. Herbie is nervous at first, but his confidence grows as he begins to explore the world. He stays away just long enough to be happy when he comes back home again, and his mother is happy as well. I enjoyed this story, but it kind of feel flat at the end.

3 stars

Bears Make the Best Reading Buddies by Carmen Oliver (ages 4-8)

This book outlines all of the reasons that bears make the best reading buddies. It will encourage young readers and help parents learn to be more patient with their children who are just learning how to read. The pictures that accompany the words and really adorable. This book would be a perfect gift for a kindergarten or 1st grade teacher. I may just buy it for my son's teacher.

4 stars

Isaac and His Amazing Asperger Superpowers by Melanie Walsh (ages 5-10)

Isaac has Asperger's, and other people don't always understand him. In this book he explains his "superpowers" so that kids can understand what it means to have Asperger's. He says things when they pop into his head, he doesn't always get jokes, high pitch noises hurt his ears, he doesn't like to make eye contact, etc. It's a great book to help explain this condition.

4 stars

One Big Family by Marc Harshman (ages 3-6)

A multi-generational family gathers at the grandparents summer house, and they do all kinds of fun things together - swim, fish, eat, take a family photo. The drawings were wonderful, but the writing style was strange. Each page ended with a word being said, no rhymes, instead of telling an actual story.

3 stars

When Penny Met POTUS by Rachel Ruiz (ages 5-8)

Penny's mom works at a big white house and her boss' name is POTUS. Today Penny is going to work with her mom, and she imagines what POTUS will be like. Her imagination is far from the reality, since POTUS stands for President of the United States. This book is a nice introduction to the white house, secret service, and the president (in this case a woman).

4 stars

The Whale by Ethan and Vita Murrow (ages 5-9)

In this wordless picture book, two kids set out to prove the existance of a giant spotter whale. When their boats crash, they have to work together to get the proof. It's a tale of adventure and excitement, but it may take a parents' explanation for younger kids because the pictures are dark and a bit confusing.

3 stars

What's your favorite picture book of 2016? 

On the blog last year...

Book Review: A Step Toward Falling (YA)

A to Z Bookish Survey