Thursday, May 25, 2017

Juvenile Pile: Many Half-Read Books

I don't know if Christopher is getting burnt out on chapter books or what. I feel like he's been struggling to finish books recently. We keep starting new ones and then never making it to the end - whether it's because they're due back to the library or I just pick them all up and put them back on his shelf.

I just went through my "Kids Books - Want to Read" list on Goodreads and reserved a bunch of picture books from the library. I'm thinking maybe we'll go back to shorter books over the summer, so we can get through some complete stories. Maybe the break will help him get more interested in story vs. just reading to complete his minutes. We'll see.

Here are some of the books we've been reading lately.

Mr. Pants: It's Go Time! (Mr Pants! #1) by Scott McCormick

This book was really strange, but Christopher really seemed to enjoy it. It's a very easy to read comic book style story about three cats and their "mom." The boy cat, Mr. Pants, wants to play laser tag, but his sisters want to do girlie things. There's a lot of shenanigans in this story. I can't remember if we finished it before I returned it to the library.

3 Stars

The Great Pet Escape (Pets on the Loose #1) by Victoria Jamieson

Christopher got this book from the Easter Bunny. It's a cute comic book story about hamsters who are class pets at an elementary school. They concock a plan to escape. I didn't realize it was the beginning of a series. We haven't finished it yet, but we were enjoying reading it. The story is decent and the reading level is pretty perfect for Christopher right now.

3 Stars

Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute (Lunch Lady #1) by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

I love that this series is about lunch ladies! I'd forgotten about them until my son started kindergarten last year, and I went and had lunch with him. In this series the lunch ladies are superheroes. There's a lot going on in this book even though the text is fairly simple. A substitute teacher is an evil cyborg, and the lunch ladies save the day. I assume. We didn't finish this one. Or maybe Christopher did, but I missed the ending.

4 Stars

Junie B. Jones and That Meanie Jim's Birthday (Junie B. Jones #6) by Barbara Park

We bought this book from Barnes and Noble as a reward for Christopher finishing his first chapter book (also Junie B. Jones) several months ago. It's a pretty typical Junie B. book. She's not invited to a birthday party, and she wants to move I think. Again, I didn't get to hear all that he did read, and we've only made it about half way through. We're going to see the Junie B. play this week at the local children's theater, so maybe that will inspire us to keep going.

3 Stars

Junie B., First Grader: Boo...and I Mean It! (Junie B. Jones #24) by Barbara Park

Christopher borrowed this book from the school library, and we only got to keep it for a week. We made it half way through, and I was really enjoying this one, so I'm sad we didn't get to finish. Someone told Junie B. about bad things happening on Halloween, so now she's afraid to go trick or treating. Her fear was real and relatable. I wanted to know how she was going to figure out what to do.

4 Stars

What has your family been reading lately?

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Kid Lit: Different? Same!

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

Different? Same! by Heather Tekavec

Goodreads Summary:
This clever picture book introduces the concept of animal characteristics by highlighting how there can be both differences and similarities within a group. For example, the zebra gallops, the bumblebee flies, the lemur leaps and the tiger prowls --- ? But look closer now... We all have STRIPES!? And so it goes. Again and again, readers will be surprised to find that a group of four seemingly different animals all have one trait in common --- whiskers, horns, shells and the like --- for a total of thirteen traits in all. Observant children will notice that one of the animals from each group also appears on the following spread with three new animals that have a different characteristic in common. Finally, all forty of the featured animals are shown together, and readers are asked to search for those with specific characteristics not already covered in the book --- for example, those with spots, those who live in the ocean or those with six or more legs. 

My Thoughts:
This book is so clever. Each two-page spread features 4 animals with different characteristics, but then it groups them together based on one similarity. For example, squid swim backwards, jellyfish drift, snails slide, and star-nosed moles dig, but they all have tentacles. I enjoyed trying to guess the similarities as the book went on, so I know kids will too.

The last page in the book features all of the animals on a spread with questions asking the reader to find animals fitting certain characteristics. I loved these kind of seek and find type books when my son was younger. This book is perfect for ages 2-4. The end notes include evolutionary benefits of stripes, shells, etc. I always love this part of a book. It makes it a great resource for parents or even something that children will enjoy as they get older.

The illustrations are colorful and fun while still being accurate to the physical descriptions of the animals, so the features being highlighted are easy to see. I loved the smiling faces and knowing eyes on the animals. There are many small details that children would delight in reading this book over and over again.

My Rating:  4 stars

Monday, May 22, 2017

Book Review: Nature Girl (MG) & Interview with the Author

Nature Girl by Jane Kelley

Goodreads Summary:
Eleven-year-old Megan is stuck in the wilds of Vermont for the summer with no TV, no Internet, no cell phone, and worst of all, no best friend. So when Megan gets lost on the Appalachian Trail with only her little dog, Arp, for company, she decides she might as well hike all the way to Massachusetts where her best friend, Lucy, is spending her summer. Life on the trail isn't easy, and Megan faces everything from wild animals and raging rivers to tofu jerky and life without bathrooms. Most of all, though, Megan gets to know herself--both who she's been in the past and who she wants to be in the future--and the journey goes from a spur-of-the-moment lark to a quest to prove herself to Lucy, her family, and the world.

My Review:
When I heard Jane Kelley describe Nature Girl at my library's Local Author Fair, I knew I had to read it. I hiked part of the Appalachian Trail with camp when I was in high school. In Nature Girl, Megan is dragged to Vermont with her family and forced to participate in mandatory art time each day. She's not at all artistic, unlike her parents and sister. Megan just wants to watch TV, and most of all, she wants to talk to her best friend on the phone. Neither activity is allowed by her parents. They want her to spend time outside, which is why they force her to accompany her sister and her boyfriend on a hike. When Megan gets lost in the woods and overhears a couple talking about hiking from Mount Greylock, Massachusetts, where her best friend is staying, Megan decides that if they can do it, why can't she. Thus begins her grand adventure.

This book was very well done. Megan was pretty obnoxious in the beginning, but I knew she was hurting. Her best friend was supposed to spend the summer with her in Vermont, but she had to cancel because her mother got cancer. Megan didn't understand, but I did. Also, I knew she was ripe from some serious character development, so I decided to give her a chance. I think kids would identify with Megan right away. She's from the city, and she has little experience with nature. Yet, she and her dog embrace the woods (over time). They even take on a bear!

Megan spends a lot of time alone during this book, but because she has her little dog, Arp, with her, she is able to talk aloud to him without it being weird. We get some dialog (albeit one way) in addition to the thoughts inside Megan's head. She also encounters some other characters along the way that add to the story. My favorite was Trail Blaze Betty whose brownies and sage advice keep Megan going when things are rough.

I enjoyed reading the story of Megan's growth while also reminiscing about my own time on the trail. Jane's writing was compelling and fun. She was able to get inside the mind of an 11 year-old girl in a way that works for adults as well as kids. I look forward to reading more of her writing.

My Rating: 4 stars

Interview with Jane Kelley:

1. How did you get the idea for this novel? Have you hiked the Appalachian Trail?

When I began Nature Girl, my family was renting a vacation house in Vermont. Since our 10-year-old daughter was growing up in New York City, I wanted her to learn to love being in nature the way I had in Wisconsin. She didn’t. But she did love reading what I had written each day during our “art time.” After we got lost taking a short hike from our house, I had the start of a story. I have only hiked short sections of the Appalachian Trail, but I knew its challenges would provide comedy, adventure, and a sense of accomplishment for a kid who doesn’t think she has any talents.

2. Why did you choose to have Megan's dog accompany her on this journey?

I wanted Megan to hike on her own, but all that solitude would be deadly for a novel. I gave her the little dog Arp as a companion. In caring for him, she learned important lessons. I put animals in all my novels because I think they connect us to our emotions and to the natural world. Both themes are important in Nature Girl.

3. Nature Girl was published in 2010, and yet it was the book you choose to talk about at the New Berlin Library Local Author event. Why was that? Is it your favorite book? Do you have a favorite?

I often talk about Nature Girl at events because Megan’s journey parallels my own as a writer. I had to overcome self doubt and survive the long, lonely hike to finding an agent and a publisher. But, as Trail Blaze Betty says, the only way to fail is to quit. My first published novel has a special meaning for me, but I usually love the one I’m currently writing the best, because that’s the world I’m immersed in.

4. What are you working on now? Can you share anything about your current projects?

My newest books are The Escapades of Clint McCool, a series about a boy whose imagination gets him in and out of trouble. I plan to write more adventures for him in the future. I’m also working on a novel called City Kid – in which a girl from the country gets lost during a black-out in New York City. She must journey through New York’s eclectic neighborhoods to find her family and herself.

Thanks so much for the interview, Jane. I'm so glad to have met you last month.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Great Reads from March & April 2017

I forgot to write this post back in April, so I'm combining the last two months. This list includes the 4-star and 5-star books I reviewed in the last two months. Click on the book title to read my full review over on Opinionated Book Lover.

When We Were on Fire by Addie Zierman

Evangelical poster child Addie Zierman wore three bracelets asking what Jesus would do. She also led two Bible studies and listened exclusively to Christian music. She was on fire for God and unaware that the flame was dwindling—until it burned out.

This memoir was such a fun trip down memory lane to my Christian high school days. I read the whole thing in one day.

4 Stars

The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

After her mother's suicide, fifteen year-old Lane Roanoke came to live with her grandparents and fireball cousin, Allegra, on their vast estate in rural Kansas. When she discovered the dark truth at the heart of the family, she ran fast and far away. Eleven years later, Lane is adrift in Los Angeles when her grandfather calls to tell her Allegra has gone missing. Did she run too? Or something worse? 

This book is the ultimate dysfunctional family story. I loved it!

4 Stars

The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak

A dazzling debut novel—at once a charming romance and a moving coming-of-age story—about what happens when a fourteen-year old boy pretends to seduce a girl to steal a copy of Playboy but then discovers she is his computer-loving soulmate.

This adorable geek romance was so fantastic that I actually read it twice. Once alone and once with Jim. We both loved it.

4 Stars

The Leaving by Tara Altebrando

Six were taken. Eleven years later, five come back--with no idea of where they've been.

Written in alternating perspectives (my favorite writing style), this story hooked me in right away. I needed to know what happened to these kids just as much as they needed to remember. Tara Altebrando's writing was so addictive. I need to read her other books ASAP.

4 Stars

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

An unforgettable and sweeping novel about one classic film actress’s relentless rise to the top—the risks she took, the loves she lost, and the long-held secrets the public could never imagine.

This book is more character-driven than TJR's other books, but it still worked for me. Evelyn's life and husbands make a fantastic tale, and of course there are many secrets. I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

4 Stars

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

A girl named Rose is riding her new bike, when she falls through the earth. She wakes the palm of a giant metal hand. Seventeen years later, the mystery of the bizarre artifact remains unsolved.

The audiobook is amazing! The whole story is told in interviews and journal entries. It's the mildest forms of science fiction. Kind of like The Martian or Dark Matter. I'm so glad I bought this on Audible because I'll listen again.

4 Stars

What great books have you been reading lately?

Friday, May 5, 2017

Kid Lit: The Thing Lou Couldn't Do

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

The Thing Lou Couldn't Do by Ashley Spires

Published on May 2, 2017.

Goodreads Summary:
Lou and her friends are BRAVE adventurers. They run FASTER than airplanes. They build MIGHTY fortresses. They rescue WILD animals. But one day, when they re looking for a ship to play pirates in, Lou s friend has an idea: Up there! The tree can be our ship! Ummm...says Lou. This is something new. Lou has never climbed a tree before, and she s sure she can t do it. So she tries to convince her friends to play a not-up-a-tree game. When that doesn't work, she comes up with reasons for not joining them her arm is sore, her cat needs a walk, you shouldn't climb so soon after eating. Finally, she tells herself she doesn't want to climb the tree. But is that true, or is this brave adventurer just too afraid to try?

My Thoughts:
I love this book! Lou loves adventures. She and her friends go on many make-believe adventures, and she's very brave. But when her friends suggest making a tree their pirate ship, Lou thinks of every excuse why she can't climb the tree. She's afraid. She's never climbed a tree before.

Finally, with her pirate costume on, she works up enough courage to try. And the best part? She can't do it. She will have to come back and try again until she can. I loved that she couldn't just climb the tree. It shows the struggle kids really face with trying new things. And it talked about persistence and trying until you succeed.

The illustrations in this book were adorable and completely appropriate. They added a lot to the tale. The kids' facial expressions were terrific. The text was placed all over the pages too because several pages has multiple images. This made the book more interesting to read.

I'll have to get this book from the library, so I can read it with my son. It's too hard to read the eARC with him on my laptop.

My Rating: 5 Stars

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Our First Solo Family Vacation

We go on vacation a lot, but we don't often travel to places we've never been, and we've never gone somewhere new just the 3 of us. Usually if we're going somewhere new, we meet someone there - my sister, my parents, etc.

On our way home from FL this past Thanksgiving, Christopher asked if we could go somewhere we'd never been before. That got me thinking and brainstorming ideas for spring break. After much deliberation and cost-research, we settled on Atlanta. Jim had been there once in high school for a band trip, but it was cheap to fly to, and his uncle lives there, so I thought it would be a fun city to explore on our own.

Planning our vacation

I booked the airfare during a Southwest sale, so we got our 3 round-trip tickets for just a little more than $500, which was amazing. I selected a hotel by the airport with an indoor pool - cheap entertainment if we needed it - and lower prices than staying downtown. Then I booked a car using Costco Travel. All said and done the travel and accommodations came out to around $1200, so not really that cheap after all, but much better than the $2500 or so I'd estimated if we went to Oregon, which you know is on my travel bucket list.

An afternoon on Google led me to a lot of fun things to do with kids in Atlanta, including a list of playgrounds from a mom blog. I also put together a list of kid-friendly restaurant (again, I love mom blogs!) since Christopher is a picky eater and not always well behaved at restaurants.

I considered a day trip to Savannah as well because I've been wanting to go there since I missed Read Savannah last fall, but it was a little too far away. I learned from a former classmate that Chattanooga wasn't too fair away, so I researched things to do there as well.

The night before our trip I finally built a rough itinerary for us. I wanted to be flexible and spontaneous as much as possible, but I didn't want to feel lost or stuck when we were starving or bored.

The real fun - the vacation itself

We left town on Christopher's 7th birthday, so we gave him his presents before leaving for the airport. I told him he could pick one to bring with him, knowing he'd choose the Kindle Fire tablet we got to replace the iPad that broke at Christmas time. Jim had pre-loaded it with movies and games, so he was set for the flight and for driving around Atlanta.

Christopher with his new tablet.

Here's what we ended up doing:

Tuesday (Atlanta, GA)
AM - flew to Atlanta (We picked up a birthday donut on the way to the airport.)

Christopher on the train at ATL airport.

Lunch - McDonald's - Boring, I know, but we were hungry after our flight. Happy meals at $1 cheaper in Georgia. Amazing!

PM - Stone Mountain Park - We didn't get to go on the Summit Skyride because of a thunderstorm, but we did get to explore the houses in the historic village until they closed from the rain as well.

Waiting out the rain on the porch of the Adams House.

Hotel Check In and Swimming

Dinner - Steak n Shake - I'd promised Christopher a milk shake for his birthday dinner. We all loved this place, and it was crazy cheap.

Birthday milkshake!

Evening - We went to see Smurfs: The Lost Village. It wasn't great, but Christopher enjoyed it.

Wednesday (Atlanta, GA)
Breakfast - We stayed at the Country Inn & Suites by ATL. It was a nice enough hotel with a great continental breakfast - make your own waffles every morning. Yum!

AM - Georgia Aquarium - We saw everything. We had lunch there, so we could keep exploring. We lasted 4.5 hours, and we were totally wiped afterward. I liked the whale sharks the best. Christopher enjoyed the dolphin show, and Jim liked the sea lion show.

Christopher and Jim in the whale shark tank tunnel.

PM - DH Stanton Park playground - It was pretty nice, but not in the best neighborhood. We left when some unsupervised kids showed up with a toy gun. Yeah.

DH Stanton Park - We played "who can stay up the longest". I always lost.

(I'd planned for us to explore Centennial Olympic Park, but it was closed off because of an event happening over the weekend.)

Dinner - Chick-a-Biddy - Amazing banana bread waffle. Decent chicken.

Evening - Swimming/reading and WiiU in the hotel

Thursday (Chattanooga, TN)
AM - Ruby Falls - We did the cave tour, which was pretty cool. Christopher had never been in a cave before. He was a little nervous, but he enjoyed it. Although he didn't really appreciate it like Jim and I did, but at least he didn't complain.

Ruby Falls cavern.

Lunch - Blue Plate - I found this place from another mom blog article. We sat outside under an umbrella thankfully because it started raining 5 minutes after we sat down. It was warm and sunny though other than one cloud, so we stayed outside and ate. The fried chicken was SO good. Jim got the fried chicken sandwich, and I had a fried chicken Caesar salad. We both loved our food. Christopher had pancakes and sausage, but he hardly ate anything. Oh well!

PM - We walked across the river using the Walnut Street Bridge, which is a footbridge converted from an old railroad bridge. It was so pretty. When we got to Coolidge Park, we rode the carousel. Then I had to give Christopher a piggy back ride all the way back to the car (probably about a mile).

Walnut Street Bridge

Coolidge Park Carousel - Jim and I rode once; Christopher rode 3 times.

Dinner - We ordered food and had it delivered to the hotel. I was so excited to find Romeo's Pizza and Bistro via Yelp because they had pizza and hamburgers. Christopher doesn't eat pizza. The pizza was delicious, and Christopher enjoyed the burger/fries, although of course he didn't eat much.

Evening - WiiU and a movie (Kubo and the Two Strings) in the hotel

Friday (Atlanta, GA)
AM - Sandy Springs Playable Art Park - This place was beautiful and so fun. The sculptures were designed with play in mind. They were laid out in a winding park that is right next to a divided highway. There were gorgeous gardens as well. Sandy Springs is a really nice area of Atlanta. I'd live there! We spent about an hour here. We may have stayed longer if it had been a weekend and other kids were there, but Christopher did find one boy to play with.

One of six playable structures at Sandy Springs Art Park.

Lunch - Jimmy John's and McDonald's

PM - Dunwoody Nature Center - This free, small nature center is nestled among neighborhoods. It has really nice hiking paths with a hammock garden, teepee, tree swings, and amazing playground. We hiked all around, but it only took about 1 hour.

Hammock Park - We each laid in our own hammock for a good 10 minutes.

Swimming/reading/packing at the hotel

Dinner/Evening - We went to Jim's Uncle Chuck's house and met up with them. Then we went out to dinner at Nic and Norman's in downtown Senoia, which is apparently where The Walking Dead and Fried Green Tomatoes were filmed. The food was amazing!

Uncle Chuck and Jim - Can you see the resemblance? 
Maybe not since Jim's not looking at the camera.

AM - flew home - We ran into some friends in the airport in Atlanta, so Christopher got to hang with them for a little bit before the flight. And then we sat in the row behind them. It was pretty fun.

Airport fun

How it turned out

I was worried about how it would go being on our own. Would Christopher be bored without another kid to play with? How would we handle all sharing a hotel room without another room to hang out in after Christopher went to bed?

It ended up to be fine. Other than one tense evening after Christopher refused to eat dinner at a fried chicken and waffle restaurant, we all got along great. We had a lot of fun together. Jim swam in the pool with Christopher, while I read and got a little introvert time. We played games (board games and video games - Jim brought the WiiU) in the hotel when we needed down time.

We kept Christopher on central time, so that allowed him to stay up until 9:00 PM or 9:30 PM. And then Jim and I listened to an audiobook together in the dark for about 45 minutes each night once he was asleep. Jim takes sleeping pills every night, so he was able to go to bed early without a problem, and I always go to bed early anyway. We were able to wake up around 7:30 AM each morning and get going without issue.

Wrap up

I call our trip a success! And in fact I've already booked our Disney cruise for next spring break. We decided we didn't need to wait to find another family to go with us (although we won't deny them if someone wants to come along). We know we can go on a vacation alone.

What did you do for spring break?

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Juvenile Pile: Ridiculous and Wonderful

Life has gotten in the way of blogging lately, but thankfully not in the way of reading. Although, Jim and I recently adjusted our bedtime assignments, so he's now doing 4 nights a week with Christopher, and I only put him to bed 3 times a week. Factoring in babysitters, I feel like we've been reading together a lot less frequently lately, which is sad. But the extra evening time to get things done is quite nice.

Anyway, here're some books we've been reading together lately.

The Adventures of Captain Underpants (Captain Underpants #1) by Dav Pilkey

I read this book long ago with my nieces and nephew, but it was fun to revisit it with Christopher. We'd read some later books in the series already, so I enjoyed going back to the beginning. The origins of Captain Underpants were different than I remembered. Pretty ridiculous actually, but Christopher enjoyed this book. I'm very much looking forward to the movie.

3 Stars

Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilets (Captain Underpants #2) by Dav Pilkey

I'll admit, I didn't get to read this full book. Christopher started reading it aloud to me, but then he finished with Jim or the babysitter. Again, this book is rather silly, but it does the trick and keeps young children interested in reading. We've been making our way through this series in preparation for the new movie that's coming out in June. I love movies, especially those based on books, so we'll be going ASAP once it comes out.

3 Stars

Super Mario Adventures by Kentaro Takekuma

Christopher picked this book out at the book fair at school. We gave him $20 and let him buy whatever books he wanted. He chose this and a Zelda book, which Jim's been reading to him. These comics is pretty insane. They're actually related to plumbing, which is funny. We haven't read much of this book, but so far it's not fantastic. He and Jim should really read this book together because I'm sure it'll have nice nostalgia for Jim.

2 Stars

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

I've been reading this book out loud to Christopher for about the last month or so. It's slow going, but he's pretty into it (although he struggled with Via's section). We're almost half way through the book. We borrowed the book from a friend after Christopher was reading a little at her house. I read this book back in 2014 and loved it. We're both excited for the movie coming out this fall, so we're pushing through. I don't remember much of the details of this book, so it's to be re-reading it.

4 Stars

Another note on Wonder. I listened to an interview with the author on an older episode of 88 Cups of Tea podcast yesterday, and my mind was blown. R.J. Palacio is a woman! The interview was super interesting - all about where the idea came from and her writing process, but I couldn't reconcile her female voice with the image in my head of this author as a man.

What have your kids been reading lately?