Thursday, July 20, 2017

The appeal of limited choices... and the irony of my overflowing bookshelves

Last week I was away on my family's annual summer beach vacation to Ocean City, NJ. It's not as well-known as Ocean City, MD, but it holds a special place in my heart. I was there for my first birthday (not that I remember it!) and in my (almost) 32 years, I think I've only completely missed the trip one summer. To be honest, there's nothing fancy or even terribly unique about it, it's *just* a family-friendly beach town far enough from home to be a getaway, but not so far that the drive is miserable. And while it may not particularly stand out compared to any number of other beach towns along the coast, I absolutely love it. For me, it really doesn't get much better than sitting by the ocean with my feet in the sand and a book in my lap (and hiding under the umbrella, thank you very much). 

The beach photos aren't current, but it pretty much looks the same :)

My husband knew Ocean City is pretty much my favorite place on the planet which is why he chose to propose there (10 years ago!) And while I love lots of beach "activities" as my brother likes to call them, this year was all about the relaxation. Little man had lots of people to play with and look out for him, so mama got a much needed break (even if we were up at the crack o' dawn every morning.)

This is all basically a long-winded way of saying that I read a bunch of books last week! I had a bag packed with Newberys, novels-in-verse, a poetry collection, and a couple of really beautiful chapter books. I chose all of them from my own shelves and focused mostly on ones I'd excitedly acquired recently, but hadn't gotten around to reading yet. I did make a last minute stop at the library on our way out of town (literally) to pick up my hold for book #4 of The Naturals series, but that was the only library book I had with me. I was really looking forward to reading it after finishing book #3, so I couldn't resist diving into that one first on vacation. Despite it being a real page-turner, it did take up a big chunk of my vacation reading time. (And this means I actually FINISHED a whole series! You guys, that's kind of big for me. Anyone else feel me on this?)

But what I really want to talk about is what happened on the last few days of my vacation after I finished that library book. First, I picked up the two chapter books (My Happy Life and Princess Cora and the Crocodile knowing something light was just what I needed after a dark and twisty mystery. They were beautiful and delightful and I couldn't believe I hadn't read them sooner after buying them. Next, I picked up the poetry collection (recommended on Orange Marmalade!) and was treated to 21 gorgeously illustrated poems. I took my time with them and read many of them more than once -- and while they may not all be new favorites, I enjoyed the reading experience immensely.

Next up was Inside Out & Back Again, a Newbery Honor novel-in-verse inspired by the author's real life experience as a refugee during the Vietnam War. It was a beautiful and inspiring book full of both sadness and hope. Being able to read it straight through in a single afternoon without distractions was such a gift. Next up was a lighter middle grade anthology, Funny Girl which was a bit hit or miss for me, but do yourself a favor and read/listen to some Carmen Agra Deedy (like her Scholastic Reads podcast episode or TEDx Talk) -- she's such an amazing storyteller and her contribution was my favorite by far. Lastly, I picked up Newbery Medal winner Sarah, Plain and Tall. Admittedly, I chose it over others in my bag because it was so slim (and I didn't quite finish it while I was away), but it certainly qualified as a book I owned and had been meaning to read.

I ended my vacation thinking to myself: Reading from my own shelves is so great! They may have been short and easy, but I read almost six of my own books in three days! I can do this reading-from-my-own-shelves-thing! I'm going to keep this ball rolling when I get back home for sure!

And then I got home. And I saw the library stack(s).

Riiiiiight. That's why I always have so much trouble reading from my own shelves most of the time. Hmmm.

So I've been home almost a week now and I have read from those library stacks. I've ordered the Sarah, Plain and Tall sequels because I really want to read the rest of the series straight through. I've visited the library, but (so far) only borrowed picture books. I've visited both of my local bookstores (looking for the Sarah, Plain and Tall sequels, which they didn't have, but you don't think I left empty-handed now do you?) I have not picked up any more books from my own shelves (yet). But I have been thinking it all over and trying to figure out how to better balance my reading. And I think it all comes down to the appeal of limited choices. It was so easy to read from my own shelves on vacation because I had one bag of books to choose from. Simple as that.

Continuing with that logic, you'd think the public library with its thousands upon thousands of titles would leave me with too many choices, but once I take a stack home... I once again have limited choices. It's easy to read from my library stack partly because due dates help me prioritize, but also because I'm picking from only a handful of titles -- far fewer than when I take a peek at my own overflowing bookshelves and don't know where to start.

So where does this leave me? It's pretty embarrassing to admit I have so many books it's hard to decide what to read next. It's pretty embarrassing to admit that having so many books hasn't stopped me from getting more when I hear great recommendations on podcasts or blogs or find a great deal or go down a rabbit hole with a new-to-me author/series/topic/award. It's pretty embarrassing to admit how many books I get (mostly children's) with the intention of building a home library for our family, even though so many are far above my son's level and I can't possibly keep up with them all myself. BUT I think I do have a solution.

Book buying bans don't work.

Library bans don't work.

Making reading into a chore or a job or a thing to check off a to-do list doesn't work.

But what does work? Filling a bag with books (mostly) from my own shelves that I'm really excited about and letting those be my "short-list" when it's time to pick my next read. I can't be on vacation all the time, but just maybe I can approach my reading as if I were packed for vacation all the time. I think it's worth a shot!

* * * * *

P.S. I love Jade's idea for seasonal reading lists and it strikes me as sort of a variation of what I'm trying to do here.

P.P.S. Can I go back to the beach now? Pretty please?

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Blog Love: Orange Marmalade

Some months ago, I stumbled across a blog that has fast become a favorite of mine. I really hadn't subscribed to children's lit blogs until this one and there are only a very select few others I follow. While I get some good info and recommendations from BN Kids, Brightly, and Imagination Soup, my far and away favorite is Orange Marmalade. I look forward to new posts from this blog more than just about any other -- and my library list explodes on a regular basis as a result! I've been paring down how many sites I subscribe to, but this one is staying in my Feedly queue for the long haul.

If you are a parent looking for children's book recommendations -- or even just interested for yourself, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Jill has a real heart and love for children's literature and it shines through in all of her posts. Her focus is on picture books through middle grade and she covers a very wide range of titles -- from classics and Caldecotts to brand new releases, books newly translated into English, poetry and art, the occasional graphic novel, and much, much more. She values kindness and compassion, opening our minds and exploring our world, building bridges and nurturing empathy, getting outside and using our imagination.

Her posts have gently nudged me to expand my reading comfort zone and dive into poetry books and art books and all sorts of other books I might not have picked up before. Largely because of this blog, I visit the children's section of my library not just for my son, but also for myself. I never really stopped reading YA books, but I had almost completely stopped reading picture books and middle grade until I had my son. I now may have read more books Jill has recommended in these past few months than I have from any other single blog I follow. Sure, the brevity of most kidlit makes this much less of a time commitment, but the variety and quality of her book recommendations just continue to pull me in time and time again.

Her archives go back to 2010 and are a veritable treasure trove. She has a very helpful subject index as well as a title index. Realistically, I probably won't read though all those posts, but any time I search for something -- by topic, or book type, or title, something good always seems to come up. The most dangerous thing I can do is take a peek at the site to check on something before finalizing a Book Outlet order -- all of a sudden a bunch more books have landed in my cart!

But enough waxing poetic! I thought I'd share some of my favorite posts to give you a little taste of Orange Marmalade and see why exactly I love it so much. I also asked Jill to share some of her own favorite posts and she graciously agreed. Since I've only delved into the archives sporadically, her picks take us a bit further back than I've been able to explore. I hope some of these posts pique your interest, and apologies (sort of) in advance if I send you down a bit of a kidlit rabbit hole :)

First some of her "Musings" posts -- these aren't recommendation posts, but I think they paint a picture of where Jill is coming from, why she values children's books, and why she's created an entire blog dedicated to them:
* In a World of Sorrow, Shall I Dish Up Green Eggs and Ham?
Reading as An Act of Listening
On Never Outgrowing Picture Books
Art Helps Us See Differently
Books are for Wonder and Wondering
Reading Beyond Baked Chicken

Best-of lists for the past two years:
Orange Marmalade’s Juicy Book Awards 2015
Orange Marmalade’s Juicy Book Awards 2016

Some of Jill's favorite posts:
Sowing seeds of peace and refuge…some thoughts and book lists
Turning over a new leaf?…a list of five books encouraging fresh paths for the new year
The last homely house…a list of five brilliant books about building houses
Flashlights and moon jumping…five books aglow with darkness
Cold hands, warm hearts…five icy tales warm with love
There’s a summer place…five nostalgic pieces of summer

Some of my favorite posts (so far). I have not read all the books, but I just love the variety of subjects covered. I tried to pare this list down, I really did, but it's still long :)
Compassion ought not be political: read about refugees (Also featured here.)
They also wrote a kids’ book…a list to celebrate my daughter’s graduation
Words that dazzle, sizzle, nuzzle, puzzle…April is National Poetry Month!
Tantalizing, electrifying, art history and appreciation
Quiet wonderings, wild imaginings…five for kindling curiosity
Mothers of the world…we salute thee!
Can we do it? yes, we can!…books for Women’s History Month
Each little flower, each tiny bird…books to inspire delight and care for the Earth
Need a smile?…five books with miles of smiles
Ancient stories for modern children
Five quick peeks at artful alphabets
Quietest and most constant friends…five books about books
What the world needs now is love, sweet love…five full of love for Valentine’s Day

Lastly, I'm very much looking forward to her upcoming series for the summer -- come follow along with me!
Buckle Up for a Tour of the World!…Books for Exploring Global Cultures with Kids

Monday, June 19, 2017

Review: Being There

Being There: Why Prioritizing Motherhood in the First Three Years Matters by Erica Komisar, LCSW
Date: April, 11 2017
Format: hardcover
How did I get this book? borrowed from library
Goodreads | Publisher | Author

I imagine the title of this book alone elicits one of two reactions from most people -- nods of agreement or it gets their hackles up. As a general rule, I don't read a lot of parenting books and only picked this one up from the library because I really liked an article the author wrote on the children's book site Brightly (affiliated with the book's publisher): How Reading to Your Children Helps You to Be a Present Parent. Parenting advice in general stresses me out, but how books and reading help us be better parents is the kind of advice I find encouraging (imagine that!) Reading is just one example of how we can better connect with our kids, but this book goes way beyond that and is a rather forceful argument for the need for more present parenting (with a HUGE emphasis on mothering) when kids are very young.

I did find this book interesting and useful, but as a whole, it was a bit hard to swallow. I guess that is sort of the point and Komisar says right in her introduction that readers who already have kids may not like what she has to say and may feel guilty or uncomfortable. She has a point when she says, "As a therapist, I am in the business of making people feel uncomfortable so they can change and ultimately live happier and more satisfying lives." She is also hoping to reach readers before they become parents, but I don't honestly know how many non-parents are going to pick up a book like this. If any do, it certainly gives plenty to consider and it does an admirable job of conveying the enormity of parenthood, its responsibilities, and the fact that a lot of things change when you have a kid. Believing your life will go on exactly as it was, just with one more along for the ride, is (in my opinion) a pretty dangerous -- and unachievable -- illusion.

Komisar asserts we would all do well to confront and work through any of our own childhood traumas or difficulties before we become parents ourselves. I'd venture a guess that very few people put "see a therapist" on their list of things to do before starting a family or while pregnant. And while I see the author's point, without a HUGE sea change in how mental health is viewed in this country, this seems like the kind of thing only a privileged few realistically would (or could) do.

Komisar also asserts she is not anti-feminist and is not anti-working moms. She is a big advocate for better family/maternity leave policies and legislation and the need for more flexible workplaces. She argues this makes economic sense for companies as well as being good for families. She also gives zero free passes to stay-at-home or work-from-home moms -- even if you're physically around more, according to Komisar's research and experience in her practice, there is a whole lot you can still screw up. (My husband thinks reading this was a bad idea because I'm already too hard on myself -- and he's probably right.) She addresses ways to best handle daycare or other caregiving arrangements, how to better understand how young children process your absence, and how to help them with those transitions in a healthy way.

As someone who is primarily home with my son, I had a lot of questions about how to actually do what she is asserting is best for babies and toddlers. She does give a lot of practical, concrete examples and advice, but I was still left feeling a bit like she is saying that (ideally) everything should be done by the mother all the time and that you should avoid as many distractions as possible during waking hours. She mentions the need for a support system and laments the rarity of extended family support with child-rearing, but I was having trouble figuring out what exactly she envisions this support system doing because she is so, so focused on interaction between mother and child. She mentions the importance of fathers too, but again, I'm a bit at a loss for concrete examples of the role she feels these other people play in a child's life from birth through age two.

I think it is excellent advice to be less distracted when we are with our children. I already know I need to be on my phone less and it's something I am working on. But when she talks about moms needing support and not being isolated, I think she is overlooking the fact that phone contact is one way to be in touch with loved ones and friends during the day when you are otherwise alone with your child. It's not face-to-face, but sometimes messaging is all we have. Even recognizing my own need to cut back (and asking my husband to do the same), I'm a bit tired of vilifying phone use. And the way this book discusses moms on their phones just reinforces the idea that everyone is watching you and judging you -- like you need a sign on your head justifying why you are on your phone to the rest of the world or you're just another mom who's ignoring her baby, like everyone these days, isn't technology just terrible?

And she even cites things like washing the dishes or cleaning as distractions that don't allow us to be present. I am all for dumping the expectations of a spic-and-span house when you have littles in the house, but there is only so much you can let slide. You're going to run out of dishes at some point or you're going to start sneezing your brains out because it's been way too long since you last vacuumed (or is that one just me?) I understand we should limit our distractions, but if we focus almost entirely on our child during his waking hours, there just are not enough hours remaining to leave the rest of everything to when he's sleeping. And if she acknowledges a need for moms to rest and recharge (which she absolutely does), there has to be time for that somewhere too, not just frantically cleaning, catching up on work, showering, and (maybe) getting a halfway decent amount of sleep. I really would have loved to see a sample schedule for a week that shows how she suggest we fit it all in -- and by "all" I really do just mean the bare minimum of what is needed to keep things reasonably afloat, not the "all" that means everything is perfect all the time.

She repeatedly says that it is never too late to change or repair our relationships (which is encouraging), but over and over and over again, there are statistics that make it seem as if you don't get those first three years right, your kid is (probably) in big trouble. Oh, and any of your own emotional issues can likely be traced to how you were mothered yourself, which I think is rather unfair. She tries really hard to not play the guilt or blame game, but (to me), it seems to be there in between the lines anyway, to some extent. She says there is no such thing as a perfect mother, that children don't actually need a perfect mother, but rather a "good enough mother," and that babies are generally forgiving of our mistakes as long as we continue to try to meet their needs. But I'm having a really hard time determining what exactly "good enough" is when there are so very many things we shouldn't be doing (and things we should be doing better) and she's throwing around terms like "subtle forms of emotional abuse and neglect."

I also had a really hard time distinguishing between what she describes as perfectly normal for a toddler and what she describes as problematic behavior or symptomatic of deeper issues. I could read one section and think "phew, OK, all that toddler stuff we're dealing with is just par for the course" and another section and think "or maybe my kid is completely screwed up already?" There seems to be a fine line, at least to a lay person who does not have a background in child psychology and development.

She also says things like the pain and hardship of being sleep-deprived in order to make sure your young children feel safe and secure, especially at night, is worth it. She maintains that the worst sleep deprivation is in the earliest newborn days, but that night waking (and night comforting) are normal through the first three years. In my own personal experience, it is really hard to be engaged and present in the way this book describes when you are exhausted all the time (and what about people with more than one kid?!) I hate letting my son cry at night (and we've tried waiting varying amounts of time before going in depending on his age and other factors), but my ability to concentrate and be more engaged definitely suffers when I am chronically not getting close to enough sleep.

The best parts of this book? The Debunking the Myths of Modern Motherhood chapter was very interesting and a more general discussion of the principles found in the book as a whole. I think those are really great conversation starters in terms of how society views motherhood, babies, children, and what is truly best for families. (And I don't mean a one-size-fits-all solution or a return to some past era that gave women less choices -- that's no good for anyone.) The other chapter that really got me thinking was Why Don't We Value Mothering? In general, society tends to devalue "women's work" and that is problematic. I'm really trying to let Komisar's bold statement that "All mothers are working mothers" really sink in -- because I need to hear it and because it is true. We all have differing circumstances, desires, choices, etc. but parenting is hard work, period. No matter how much or little else you do in addition.

The book is well-written and engaging -- I read it in just 2 days (partially thanks to the fact that it was due back to the library the day I started it and I couldn't renew --oops!) It was very thought-provoking and is making me re-examine how I interact with my son on a day-to-day basis. There are plenty of things I can do better, but I feel like there is a lot of pressure to mother the right way and it's really overwhelming. This book tries very hard to be a balanced, realistic view of varying family circumstances and I think it more or less achieves that despite my rambling criticisms and questions. I do think it's my own perfectionist tendencies (and, of course, she has something to say about perfectionism too!) that views many of her recommendations as overwhelming (if we shouldn't be so distracted when we're with our kids, we should really never be distracted, right? But of course that is completely unrealistic and impossible.)  I would really, really love to talk to someone else who has read it, so if you do, please let me know!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Reading with Kid: A Work in Progress

My son turned two at the end of April. I don't know how my baby is now a full-blown toddler -- he has been for quite a while now to be honest. Looking back at "1 year ago today" or "2 years ago today" pictures on my phone kind of kills me. It's such a cliche, but the time really does fly by so fast. And, no, I was not prepared for toddlerhood. AT ALL. I thought having a baby would be the biggest life adjustment, but now I'm not so sure. Going from having a needy, cuddly baby to a stubborn, ants-in-his pants toddler has been an education for sure. Babies and toddlers change so rapidly that whenever I feel like I sort of have a handle on a particular stage, it's onto a new one! I feel like the same thing has happened with my reading since he was born. I figured my reading habits would change once I became a mother, but I didn't anticipate how frequently they would continue to change as the months went by.

In the early days, I read far more than I thought I would because I read when I was pumping. I really hated pumping, so getting to read a book was a bit of a treat to help the time pass. I wasn't reading anything heavy or difficult, but I really surprised myself with how many print books I was finishing during the newborn days. It also helped that I was awake for way more hours than usual, so while I was so very tired, I was reading quite a lot as well.

After that short-lived phase, when he was completely on formula, I would sneak a few pages while feeding him or rocking in the rocking chair. These were oftentimes when he was sleepy -- and small enough to basically fit in one arm. I'd prop up a book and read so long as he was content, which was pretty often. There wasn't much better than snuggling up with my baby and a book during that stage.

Then, as he got a bit bigger, but wasn't verbal yet, I went through a big audiobook phase. I read aloud and talked to him SO MUCH throughout the day, that I didn't feel bad popping in headphones while we were out on walks and he was happily looking out at everything around him and soaking it all in. (I think we both needed a break from the sound of my voice, to be honest!) I listened to multiple Diana Gabaldon marathon audiobooks with no trouble at all over the course of several months. And if I could get the audiobook for my book club selection, I never had any issues finishing before our meetings. I did have a really hard time getting through print books though -- they were taking me forever because I didn't have much time for sitting still, non-audiobook reading.

Now at two years old, my son is talking up a storm, so I no longer listen to audiobooks while he's chatty -- which he always is when we go on walks. Occasionally, I will put on a children's audiobook in the car or on my phone with the speaker turned up, but it doesn't happen all that often. At this stage, he's much more engaged when a real-life person reads to him and he has pictures to look at. So for now, I'm back to a slower pace for audiobooks since I am mainly listening when I am not on solo kid duty, doing housework, after he's asleep, or on the occasional kiddo-less walk or drive. But when it comes to print books, I'm finding I have more time again! My son is getting better at playing on his own (as long as I'm in the room or nearby), but I can't be on my laptop or he's all over it trying to push buttons and "play" with it. So that means I can't get any work done during playtime, but it's a lovely "excuse" to read a chapter of a novel, dive into a graphic novel, or even to read some more "advanced" picture books for my own enjoyment. I think it's good that he sees me reading rather than on a screen and will be even more important as he gets older. As it is, I still think I spend too much time on screens and it's something I am trying to work on. Just yesterday he came over to me at my desk in the evening and said "no more computer!" Out of the mouths of babes, right?

So, if you're a parent, I'm curious how your reading has changed since your kiddo(s) came along? Any tips or tricks to cut down on distractions and screen time also appreciated!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Scholastic 2017 Reading BINGO

I'm taking a break from all the poetry posts (though I have a couple more I'm still mulling over!) to share one more 2017 reading challenge I found. I'm super late to the party here, but when I took a look at Scholastic's 2017 Reading BINGO, I knew it was too fun to pass up. I know I'm supposed to be limiting my challenges this year, but I'm failing pretty miserably at my Sherlock Holmes challenge, so I'm thinking I'll go ahead and replace it with this one :)

I heard about this challenge on the most recent episode of the Books Between Podcast. This is a recently discovered podcast I really love all about middle grade books. The host Corrina Allen presented this as a summer reading idea, but the challenge itself is actually running all year. The idea is to read children's and young adult books that fit the categories and fill in a row vertically, horizontally, or diagonally to get a BINGO. Of course, you can get more than one BINGO or even go for a full card which would be 49 books total. (And having worked in therapeutic recreation at a nursing home in the past, my brain can't help recalling all the other BINGO's one can get -- the letters T, H, L, X, large round robin, small round robin... OK, I'll stop now!)

I've been crossing off some squares with books I've already read since January, but there's still plenty of reading left to do (and I may have missed a few!) Picture books certainly work for this challenge (there's a Caldecott category and a bunch of the other award categories have picture book winners), but I'm trying not to rely on them too heavily. The only category I'm totally stumped on is A book about someone that is your age. Hmmm. Not sure what to do about that one exactly. Maybe I could read an adult book for that one? But then again, ages are not often stated after the teen years, so that could still be tough! I could flip my age and read a book with a 13 year old instead of a 31 year old? Or just call it a no-go? I'll have to see what I can come up with. Though I do wonder what the Scholastic folks are doing for this one, because the (adult) writer of the post is definitely participating!

Anyone want to join me?

Download the BINGO card PDF here!
More info about the challenge here!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Review: Eat This Poem

Eat This Poem: A Literary Feast of Recipes Inspired by Poetry by Nicole Gulotta

Publisher: Roost Books
Date: April 2017
Format: paperback
How did I get this book? free from publisher via my work for Eat Your Books
Rating: 5 of 5 stars
GoodReads | Author | Publisher

What a unique concept! There is plenty of poetry about food and there are even more cookbooks out in the world, but I've never seen a book quite like this one. It blends poetry, stories, and recipes in such a beautiful way. Nicole has a pretty extensive background in poetry and I really appreciated her insights and discussion of each poem, as well as her personal stories that thread throughout the book. I read this one with pencil in hand and did a whole lot of underlining -- there were just so many little nuggets of wisdom, I couldn't help myself!

I know I will be revisiting this slim volume again and again -- and hopefully I will be cooking or baking out of soon, too. Admittedly, I haven't made any of the recipes yet, but so many sound delicious without being overly complicated -- or as my mom likes to say "fiddledy." Some are certainly special occasion dishes, but there seems to be a nice balance of those and more everyday type recipes. A few I have my eye on:

Cornmeal Waffles
Blueberry Buckwheat Pancakes 
Simple Corn Soup 
Almond Poppy Seed Scones (excerpt + recipe!) 
Olive Oil Pumpkin Bread 
Earl Grey Shortbread Cookies 
Strawberry Birthday Cake 
Roasted Carrots with Sweet Tahini Sauce 
Mushroom and Brie Quesadillas (excerpt + recipe!) 
Mushroom Pizza with Taleggio and Thyme
Risotto with Asparagus, Peas, and Basil Pesto

This book focuses on nourishment -- of body, mind, and soul -- and I think Nicole really succeeds in reminding us that the ordinary and everyday experiences of eating -- and reading -- are important and can be more meaningful if we allow them to be. With a toddler underfoot, most days that seems an impossible bar to reach, but this approach to cooking, eating, and living, doesn't seem to really be about perfection, but presence. And I think that is something I am capable of improving upon, if only I slow down every once in a while to remember! Making room in my day for some decent meals and restful reading time (of poetry and other forms) seems a worthwhile endeavor.

A lot of people think poetry is not for them, and that's OK. I'm not the reading police and I am the last person to judge the literary merit of other people's reading choices. But if you don't pick up poetry because you think it's always esoteric or inaccessible, I think books like this one really help show that doesn't always have to be the case. Even the poems I struggled with a bit on my first time through, I was able to read again with new eyes after reading Nicole's commentary.

BONUS: As a parent, I really, really love the poem Make the Ordinary Come Alive that Nicole recently shared on her blog. (I'm new to the Eat This Poem blog, but already a fan!)

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Some Non-Intimidating Poetry Recommendations

At the end of April, I shared some poetry books I'm in the midst of reading in honor of National Poetry Month. April is long over, but I still have lots more poetry to share! So I thought today I would gather together some collections and novels-in-verse I've already read and would recommend. I'm still pretty new to poetry and think all of these are accessible even if you don't normally read or enjoy poetry. I am certainly no aficionado, but I'm learning as I go and finding that "children's" poetry is a great place to start!

Shel Silverstein is a fairly obvious choice. These poems are mostly silly and just plain fun to read, though if I recall correctly, there are a few more serious ones included as well.

* * * * *

Poetry for the littlest ones! I've enjoyed reading these collections with my son. Little Poems for Tiny Ears is aimed the youngest, but the others could be staples on our shelves for quite some time yet.

Read-Aloud Rhymes for the Very Young, edited by Jack Prelutsky; illustrated by Marc Brown
Mother Goose, illustrated by Tomie dePaola
Little Poems for Tiny Ears, by Lin Oliver; illustrated by Tomie dePaola

* * * * *

A beautifully illustrated out-of-print children's poetry collection I borrowed from the library. It's really lovely if you can find it!

First Poems of Childhood, illustrated by Tasha Tudor

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The title says it all -- I loved this collection!

BookSpeak! Poems About Books, by Laura Purdie Salas; illustrated by Josée Bisaillon

* * * * *

I wouldn't call myself a particular fan of dragons, but this was such a fun collection! Looking forward to reading it many more times with my son.

The Dragons Are Singing Tonight, by Jack Prelutsky; illustrated by Peter Sís

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These are picture book editions of single poems that we enjoyed during winter/Christmastime.

Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem, by Maya Angelou; illustrated by Steve Johnson & Lou Fancher
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, by Robert Frost; illustrated by Susan Jeffers

* * * * *

Nikki Grimes is a new favorite author/poet of mine. I loved all three of these and am delighted to know there are plenty more backlist titles of hers to explore. Words with Wings and Garvey's Choice are middle grade novels-in-verse and One Last Word is a poetry collection featuring classic Harlem Renaissance poetry and Nikki's original poetry side by side. She uses a really interesting (and difficult!) poetry technique to tie the old and the new poems together. Just fascinating!

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Two excellent novels-in-verse and a memoir-in verse (Brown Girl Dreaming). FYI: To Stay Alive is about the Donner Party, so you may want to proceed with caution, though it is very well done and doesn't sensationalize the story.

The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander
Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson
To Stay Alive, by Skila Brown

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A thought-provoking YA poetry collection based on classic fairy tales that looks at young women, society, expectations, and more. It's been a while since I read this one and I'd like to revisit it. Read an excerpt to get a bit of a feel for it.

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I'd love to hear your poetry recommendations -- from picture books to classics or anything in between!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

National Poetry Month

In the US, April is National Poetry Month. To be perfectly honest, I did not read much poetry at all until recently. There were a few poems I read in high school English classes that made me want to like poetry, but any time I tried it on my own without the guidance of a teacher, I ended up feeling pretty lost. Why did those few Emily Dickinson poems resonate so much, while other ones (including other Dickinson poems!) left me scratching my head? Well, I don't fully know the answer to that question, but I think part of it was giving up too soon or expecting to always "get it" on the first try.

On a recent episode of the What Should I Read Next podcast, the guest poet made a really thoughtful point about poetry not being a type of literature we "consume" like we do a page-turning novel, but rather that we can contemplate (paraphrasing here.) I think I was doing a lot more contemplation when I studied these poems in school than when I tried to pluck a poem out of a collection on my own. My teacher didn't analyze those poems to death either (which can really ruin poetry for a lot of people), but she certainly helped us gain more insight and understanding about what we were reading.

So after a few half-hearted tries to read poetry on my own post-school, I mostly abandoned the idea until my son came along and I started reading "children's" poetry. And it kind of felt like a breath of fresh air. I love rhyming poetry which is so common in children's works. Of course, I love poets like Shel Silverstein who write specifically for children, but I've come to realize I also really love poetry collections that are curated/selected for a younger audience from the world of "adult" or "classic" poets. These poems tend to be about subjects particularly resonant for children and/or are just a bit simpler to understand. Well, I think they are also a really excellent place to start for adult readers intimidated by poetry who want to give it a chance.

National Poetry Month ends today, but I think I have more than one post in me on the subject! So I'll start now with a few collections I currently have bookmarks in that I've been enjoying:

Julie Andrews' Treasury for All Seasons: Poems and Songs to Celebrate the Year, selected by Julie Andrews & Emma Walton Hamilton; illustrated by Marjorie Priceman

This is by far my favorite of the books I'm listing today. It's a bright, colorful, and beautiful collection divided first by season and then by month. I've really loved reading this one to my son a little at a time throughout the year. I'm always looking for baby shower book gift ideas that aren't the same classics everyone else thinks of -- and I think this collection would be a really great gift. It covers all sorts of occasions throughout the year and in terms of holidays it includes Christian and Jewish ones as well as secular ones. There are also poems for Ramadan, Kwanzaa, and Chinese New Year.

I have the Audible audiobook in addition to the print which is narrated by Julie Andrews and her daughter. What I've listened to so far is so very lovely, but it's currently mislabeled as unabridged -- there are definitely poems in the print book that are not on the audio. Still a great listen though! I find poetry in general really great to listen to and a talented speaker/performer can help me understand and appreciate a poem better than just reading it on the page.

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Days to Celebrate: A Full Year of Poetry, People, Holidays, History, Fascinating Facts, and More, edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins; illustrated by Stephen Alcorn

Divided by month, this collection has some real gems in it. Overall, I'm liking the Julie Andrews collection better, but this is still a very nice collection to read throughout the year.

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A Poem for Every Night of the Year, edited by Allie Esiri

I've liked some poems much better than others in this collection. I tend to read them a week or two at a time though, so I probably am going through them too quickly to really appreciate each one. I hope to revisit this in future years and think I will get more out of it each time. While published under a children's imprint, I think this one is aimed more at older kids or teens, though it can most definitely be enjoyed by adults. 
(P.S. It's published in the UK, so I got my copy from The Book Depository. 
P.P.S. While writing this, I came across what looks like a companion anthology coming out this summer! A Poem for Every Day of the Year with another gorgeous, complementing cover!) 

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Poetry Speaks Expanded, edited by Elise Paschen & Rebekah Presson Mosby

 This one isn't a children's collection, but I think it's very well done in terms of helping you get a pretty good introduction to various famous poets and their work. I've only read one of the 47 poets so far and keep meaning to get back to it. The best part is the accompanying recordings of the poets reading their own work. Every poet has at least one recording, but not every poem in the collection has a recording, FYI.

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If anyone has any poetry recommendations for me -- children's or otherwise -- please share in the comments!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Reading Charlotte's Web as an Adult

Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
Date: 1952
Format: B&N collectible edition (omnibus)
How did I get this book? purchased
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Charlotte's Web is one of the (many) classics I can't believe I never read as a kid. In fact, there are A LOT of classic children's books (chapter books, novels, and picture books) I "missed" growing up. Even some I may have read, I unfortunately don't recall very well. But instead of looking at them as missed chances, I'm taking the opportunity now to enjoy them as an adult -- and hopefully someday share them with my son. With that in mind, some months back, I revised my Classics Club list to focus on children's classics. Finally reading Charlotte's Web confirms this was a wise decision for me at this stage in my life.

Sure, there are plenty of more "difficult" classics I aspire to tackling someday, but that really isn't where my head is at right now. It's not just that children's classics are "easier" or shorter, though they often are -- and my tired mommy-brain is grateful! Wanting to focus on children's books is more about my frame of mind and priorities right now. Diving head first into picture books with my son as an infant, baby, and now toddler has reminded me how rich and engaging good children's literature can be. So many of these stories (and their artwork!) can be enjoyed by people of all ages, even if they aren't the first thing we might gravitate to as a "grown-ups."

My son may still be too young to appreciate a lot of the books I've been picking up lately, but that's not really the point. The point is that the more I learn about children's books, the more I want to experience them for myself and fill in some of the gaps in my own childhood reading. I know my parents took me to the library and read me picture books, but mostly I just remember reading Nancy Drew, The Babysitters Club, spooky books by Mary Downing Hahn, and the occasional school assignment I actually enjoyed, but that was later in my childhood. I remember my highschool reading vividly, but my younger years are understandably a bit foggy. So why not read those children's classics now? There is no good reason not to read them now, so that is exactly what I am doing and I'm really loving it.

The only (sort-of) downside to reading these childhood classics now is that there isn't any of the nostalgia factor. Charlotte's Web likely would have gotten 5 stars if I had read it as a child, but it was still a very well-written, engaging, and enjoyable story about friendship, determination, and loss. I never was much a fan of spiders, but this fictional tale has helped this scaredy-cat look at them a bit differently and reminded me of their purpose in the natural world. I appreciated that this story didn't sugarcoat some of the harsher realities of life and death on a farm, but it is ultimately a hopeful and uplifting book. It didn't turn me into a vegetarian, though at times I was wondering if the author was trying to! More E.B. White books are on my TBR for sure, namely Stuart Little and The Trumpet of the Swan -- both of which are also in the omnibus edition I read Charlotte's Web from.

In addition to the story, the illustrations for Charlotte's Web are just wonderful and I am fast becoming a fan of Garth Williams' work. Our bookshelves and library basket are filling up with his many picture books and we've found a few new favorites. My son and I have both enjoyed My First Counting Book and Home for a Bunny in particular and look forward to exploring more of this prolific illustrator's books.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

And the winner is...

A tie!

Charlotte's Web had been in the lead almost the whole time my Classics Club (sort-of) Spin poll was open, but The Borrowers slowly gained votes to tie things up in the end. I was ready to start a new book last night, so I closed the poll after two weeks and plucked Charlotte's Web off my shelf. Since there was a tie, I actually still had a bit of choice here, but I decided to go with the early favorite. Also, I think I'll want to continue with the rest of the Borrowers series, so I figured it would be better to go for the stand-alone title first.

Thank you to everyone who voted! I really appreciate your help and enthusiasm on this little project of mine. The fact that I've already read three chapters goes to show this works better for me than a traditional Classic Club Spin. I was a little surprised Wizard of Oz got zero votes, but that's OK, I still plan to get to it eventually (and that series has 14 books, so maybe it can bide a while longer!) I will definitely try this again in the future, but for now I'll be reading off this list in the order you guys voted :)