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.

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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

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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

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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

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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 :)

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Classics Club Spin #15 (sort of): A Poll

If you're not familiar with The Classics Club's Spin events, basically you list 20 books from your list and then read whichever one corresponds to the randomly selected number for that round. I've attempted to participate in two previous rounds and both times, I never ended up reading my chosen book. I do want to pick up a classic as one of my next reads though, so I thought I'd do my own spin on the Spin!

Last summer I participated in a Make Me Read it Readathon and it really worked for me in terms of choosing my next book and actually sticking with it. So I thought I'd do a version of that by putting 6 of my Classics Club titles up for a vote here on the blog. With only 6 choices instead of 20, I can focus just on books I realistically want to read next. By leaving the final decision up to you guys, I think it retains a bit of the Spin's element of surprise. And best of all, I know hearing what book YOU are most excited about will provide an extra boost of motivation and encouragement. So, help a bookworm out? I'll keep the poll open for a week or two -- or until there have been at least a few votes and I'm ready to read :)

UPDATE: Voting is now closed! THANK YOU to everyone who voted :)

What children's classic should I read next?

Mrs. Piggle Wiggle
The Borrowers
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Charlotte's Web
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Bedknob and Broomstick

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Take Control TBR Challenge: Sign-Up Post

I'm supposed to be reading more from my own shelves this year, so this month-long challenge is perfect for me! Any book with 100+ pages (or the equivalent on audio) published prior to March 1st counts. Though I do want to read from my own collection, that isn't actually a requirement for the challenge, so reading from my library stack is OK too. The challenge officially started yesterday and there is plenty of time left to sign-up if anyone else wants to join in. This will be my fourth time participating since 2013 (I skipped when I was 8 months pregnant -- haha!) Thanks to Kim of Caffeinated Book Reviewer for hosting again! 

I'm not making a TBR list for this challenge because I always end up changing my mind anyway. But I will post again once the challenge is over to share what books I ended up reading. Happy reading everyone :)

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Show and Tell: Exploring the Fine Art of Children's Book Illustration

Show and Tell: Exploring the Fine Art of Children's Book Illustration by Dilys Evans
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Date: March 2008
Format: hardcover
How did I get this book? borrowed from library
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a very informative exploration of picture book art focusing on 12 different illustrators. As the author states, this is not meant to be a "best of" list, but rather she chose a group of artists she felt offered "a wide range of styles, technique, and content" and I feel she certainly delivered on that. All of the featured artists may not be my particular favorites, but I definitely learned a lot by reading more about their work, background, inspirations, and process.

Only three of the featured artists were completely new to me (Trina Schart Hyman, Petra Mathers, and Harry Bliss), but this book piqued my interest in their work -- particularly the prolific Trina Schart Hyman whose chapter I found particularly intriguing. The other nine illustrators (Brian Selznick, Bryan Collier, Paul O. Zelinsky, Hilary Knight, David Wiesner, David Shannon, Betsy Lewin, Denise Fleming, and Lane Smith) I had previously read at least one of their books, but oftentimes it was their most popular work or their Caldecott award-winning work. So even for those artists I previously was somewhat familiar with, I've now been introduced to a broader range of their work. While I probably won't seek out every single one mentioned, I have certainly added to my picture book TBR list! I've already borrowed quite a few from the library and (shocker!) ordered used copies of two out of print titles my library system didn't have.

This sort of deep-dive into picture books and illustration won't be for everyone, but as someone who reads a ton of picture books these days -- both with my son and now on my own -- it is an area I want to learn more about. Out of habit, I still tend to focus on the text more than the art when I read a picture book. So the more I learn about illustration, the more I feel I can appreciate and understand it in its own right.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Current Events & Children's Lit: Sharing Two Book Lists

I don't really talk politics here. And if I'm perfectly honest, I'm pretty sick of politics lately. I both do and don't want to stick my head in the sand. I want to be informed and involved, but it's all pretty overwhelming. And I know it's a privilege to just feel overwhelmed and take a break or tune it out because I am not directly affected by a lot of what has been happening lately. I am not afraid for my life or my family's lives, I'm not worried about getting deported, and I am not the target of hate crimes or hate speech. I don't always know the right thing to do in response to everything happening in my country right now. In fact, I hardly ever know the right thing to do, but there is one thing I know I can do: read. It doesn't feel like enough, but it still feels important. There are a multitude of issues we can be reading up on, but two related posts showed up in my blog feed yesterday I wanted to share:


The first is from a new-to-me children's literature blog I've really been loving called Orange Marmalade. The beginning of the post is so thoughtful and spot-on, and it is followed by a recommended reading list. I have only read two books on her list, but will definitely be reading more. Good children's books excel at expanding our worlds and our hearts, teaching us about other people, helping us metaphorically walk in another person's shoes, and grow in empathy -- no matter how old we are. So it's no surprise the other post was also on a children's blog -- a commercial one, but one I'm a fan of and read regularly nonetheless -- BN KIDS. Of course there are lots of adult books relevant to the issues of our times, but I think great children's books have a knack for cutting to the heart of things.

If you've written or seen any other reading lists relating to current issues, particularly children's book lists, please share in the comments!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Thoughts From Last Weekend's Readathon

Last weekend, I participated in the most recent 24in48 Readathon which was a lot of fun. I messed up keeping track of my time the second day, but I think I read around 4-5 hours. Add that to 6 hours on the first day and I do believe this was the most I've ever read for a weekend readathon. So, I've been thinking some things over since then and wanted to share a few thoughts on the experience and reading in general.

1. Timing/tracking my reading is not for me. I don't mind doing it for a special event like this, but I thought maybe I'd want to start using the Bookout app more regularly after trying it out for the Readathon. But, no, I absolutely do not want to start doing that. It works for some people and that's great, but I don't like have a timer running while I read. I don't like stopping and starting that timer on my phone if I get sidetracked or need to take a few minutes break. And I'm on my phone more than enough as it is. I really don't need to also be going on and off my phone while I'm reading, even if it is just to tap a button. Also, I already know I am not a fast reader. I don't need digital proof of it, nor do I feel the need to "improve" my speed -- so I really don't see any sense in tracking my reading this way. Keeping track of what I read on Goodreads is more than enough data and tracking for me.

2. I miss reading in longer stretches. Usually my more sustained reading happens on audiobook these days because I "allow" myself to read for longer amounts of time if I am also doing something else like walking or housework (laundry, dishes, cooking, etc). I don't often just sit and read a print book for significant lengths of time anymore. I try to read a bit at night before bed and I try to sneak a little in here and there, but with a kid, a house, and working from home, there is always other stuff to do. I don't intend to start neglecting my responsibilities, but I do think with better time management, I could find some more reading time during the week. Far too often, when I do have a chance to take a break, I waste it on my phone or computer. If I am more intentional about my break times, I definitely could make it a habit to pick up a book instead -- like I used to when I had a more conventional job. I also have realized I don't take advantage of weekend nap times to read for longer stretches as often as I could -- that was really lovely and I'd love to do it more often on those quieter days.

3. If I spent less time planning, researching, browsing, etc., I would have more time to actually read! I very often read a blog post or article and then go down a Goodreads/library catalog rabbit hole of looking up titles, adding them to my virtual shelves, and/or requesting them. That's all well and good, but it takes away from reading time. And if I keep replenishing my library stack at the rate I have been lately, it's not going to help me read what I have at home. (Not to mention that I've also spent far too much time browsing Book Outlet and, ahem, seem to want to really challenge myself for Read the Books You Buy this year, especially considering it is still only January!) I wrote about this in my 2017 bookish plans post and I must admit I have not yet made any improvements in this area. Habits are hard to break, so I'm acknowledging it here as something I would like to work on more. Over the readathon weekend, I steered clear from the book browsing/research and it definitely made a difference.

4. I love the feeling of pulling an unread book off our shelves and sitting down to read it. Whether it is a picture book or a novel, I got those books for a reason. It's far too easy to favor the library books because they have a due date, but I shouldn't forget our own shelves. This is another thing I've been working on for 2017, but the readathon weekend reinforced the idea for me. I finished two middle grade books and most of a picture book treasury from our collection last weekend and it was wonderful. Library books are great, but they don't have to take priority simply because there have to be returned -- they can be borrowed again!

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Now we are almost one month into the New Year, I can already see areas I am doing well on in terms of my plans/goals for the year and areas I definitely am struggling in. This readathon just sort of helped clarify those areas for me. How is your reading going so far this year?