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

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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!

* * * * *

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.

* * * * *

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!) 

* * * * *

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!

* * * * *

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?

Friday, January 20, 2017

24in48 Winter 2017 Readathon

When I signed up for the last Bout of Books, I mentioned that more intensive readathons had been a bit of a bust for me last year. So, I ignored all the announcements for the next 24in48 up until practically the last minute...and decided to sign-up! We were going to be out of town this weekend, but the little man has been in an extended sleep regression and we are feeling pretty worn out. Plus I did something funky to my back the other day and my husband had a pretty rough week at work. So I felt bad about cancelling our visit, but we very much need a travel-free weekend at home. So why not sign-up for a readathon?

Sign-up here!

The idea is to read for 24 of the 48 hours of Saturday and Sunday. I have zero ambitions of completing that with a toddler running around, but I figured this would be a good opportunity to see how much I can squeeze in if I make a point to read during more of my downtime. Because let's face it, with a house and a kid, there's always stuff to do, but I'm going to try to really take it easy this weekend. And cleaning landed me with the sore back sooo... reading it is!

I hope to be sleeping when this kicks off at midnight, but I'll be joining in tomorrow. I have a bunch of picture books, poetry books, and middle grade books on my radar. I have plenty of choices -- the challenge might be reading something from my own shelves rather than just the library stack! I do hope to finish Brown Girl Dreaming though, which is from my collection.

If I do any updates, it will likely be on Twitter. And I'm toying with the idea of tracking my time with the Bookout app. When I first heard about it, the idea of an app to track my reading seemed too stressful and like I was turning a hobby into a job. But for one weekend for a readathon? I figure I just might try it out.

Anyone else read-a-thoning this weekend?

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Reading Paddington as an Adult

As a kid, I had a Paddington Bear stuffed animal -- in fact, I do believe it's still at my parents' house! We have pictures of me carrying him around (at the park, no less!), but I don't have any memory of reading the Paddington books as a child. If we did read any of them, they likely were the picture book adaptations and not the full-length novels. The picture books are lovely -- and I have a treasury of them on my son's shelves -- but I really wanted to read Paddington's full story and experience it for myself. 

Picture Book Collection

Once I saw that the audiobook of A Bear Called Paddington was narrated by Stephen Fry, I decided to go with that format. He is such a fantastic narrator (and boy do I wish I could listen to the UK audiobooks of Harry Potter he narrates!) and delivers this classic story flawlessly. The only thing missing is the illustrations of the print edition, so I ended up getting a lovely hardcover anniversary edition for our shelves as well. I'd love to get the full series in print someday, but have held off so far since I already have the next few books queued up in my Audible library. 

First full-length novel

The second novel, More About Paddington, is the only other one narrated by Stephen Fry and that is as far as I've gotten in the series thus far. In fact, I've now read them twice and they were just as good the second time through. While the first novel is surely the most well known and widely read, the follow-up was an equally wonderful reading experience for me. Although the books are divided into chapters to be read in sequence, most feel like they can be read as their own stories as well. Particularly once you are past the initial few chapters that introduce Paddington and the Brown family, they start to read more and more like individual adventures within the established framework. I feel much the same about the Winnie-the-Pooh books, as a matter of fact.

Paddington is an endearing character and I can certainly see why his popularity has endured through the decades. He has a knack for getting himself into trouble and it's always interesting to see how he gets himself out of that trouble -- one way or another. Like many well-loved children's book characters, he means well, but mishaps, misadventures, and misunderstandings happen -- and make for great storytelling along the way. The novels are definitely still far above my son's level, but I do look forward to sharing them with him someday. In the meantime, I will continue reading/listening to the rest of the series myself and I'll have to remember to pull down our picture book versions at storytime!

Classics Club Review #10

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

2017 Beat the Backlist Challenge Sign-Up

OK, this is my last year-long challenge for 2017. For real this time -- I'm sure everyone is sick of all the sign-up posts by now!

So at first, I thought this was too similar to the ShelfLove Challenge I am already participating in and didn't think another TBR-type challenge was a good idea. BUT this challenge includes all books published prior to 2017, so I can include my library reads. AND there is a Harry Potter House Cup mini challenge element and, seriously, how fun is that?!?

You make your own goals, there is no specification about type of books, and you earn points based on the number of pages in each book read, so I don't think they are excluding children's picture books (which I read a ton of), however, for my own sanity I am not including them for this challenge. It would be too much to keep track of, and honestly, I think they would start to exclude them if they had to deal with my gazillion picture book submissions!

I logged into my neglected Pottermore account and got myself sorted, so I'm going to join as a Ravenclaw. And while I won't be making a specific list of titles, I will set an overall number goal.

Hosted by Novel Night
Goal: 50 books published prior to 2017

On the one hand, 50 feels overambitious, but on the other hand I listen to a lot of audiobooks and am in two book clubs that typically don't read new releases. So I think 50 is reasonable without being too easy. Anyone want to join me?

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

2017-2018 Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge Sign-Up

I thought I was done when I signed up for *just* four year-long reading challenges, but I found two more that are just too fun to pass up -- and technically this one is not a year-long challenge since it runs for 16 months :)

The goal is to read all of the Sherlock stories in order. The pace is set at one per week with three weeks allotted for each of the novels. A story a week just seems like the perfect way to enjoy these tales. Though there is also plenty of leeway in the schedule to play catch-up if I fall behind. And if I get some momentum going, I'm sure it can't hurt to read a little bit ahead to build in a bit of a buffer for weeks I may be extra busy. Several Sherlock books are on my Classics Club list and I've basically been procrastinating since high school when I first read and enjoyed a few stories for freshman English. I will procrastinate no more! I have all of Sherlock in both print and on audio, so I can alternate formats -- and may even try both for some stories -- I shall see what works!

I'll post my sign-up for the other challenge I found tomorrow -- and then that is it for challenges. For real this time :)

Monday, January 2, 2017

Bout of Books 18 Sign-Up

For 2016, I really wanted to take a break from week long read-a-thons and give the more intensive ones a try -- like Dewey's 24 Hour or 24in48. Well, that was a bust! They really don't work for this mom of a toddler, so I am happily jumping back on the Bout of Books bandwagon to start off 2017. For anyone unfamiliar, here are the official details:
The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda Shofner and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, January 2nd and runs through Sunday, January 8th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 18 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team
Low pressure is key! For me, this is about finding some extra time to read during the week and getting the new year off to a good start. I have two book club audiobooks to listen to for next week, I started Brown Girl Dreaming in print last night, and I'm sure I'll also be reading lots with the little man. Happy reading everyone!

P.S.  I'm planning to update on Twitter, but may also do a wrap-up here on the blog at the end of of the week. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Bookish Plans for 2017

I started writing out long-winded explanations for each of these "goals," but realized that is so completely unnecessary. By keeping this list short and sweet, it's more likely I will actually refer back to it from time to time throughout the year!

1. Continue writing short reviews on Goodreads, but...
2. remember I don't have to review every book!
3. Read more Newbery & Caldecott books
4. Read a variety of picture books
5. Read poetry and short stories
6. Read classics
7. Read at least five new-to-me authors (thanks Jade!)
8. Read (A LOT) more from my own shelves (#ShelfLove!)
9. Read new books I buy during 2017 in a timely manner
10. Use the library, but not as much as I have been (to help with #8)
11. Implement a book buying ban for YA and adult titles (exceptions for books to be read right away)
12. Use my wishlist shelf on Goodreads as a sort of waiting period to discourage impulse purchases
13. Spend less time researching, browsing, and shopping for books
14. Better curate my bookish email subscriptions, newsletters, and blogroll
15. ENJOY reading and sharing books with my son

Thanks to everyone who shared their ideas about book buying bans, limits, etc. I've taken bits and pieces from various suggestions and it is my sincere hope that by focusing on that last one -- the joy of reading -- the rest will fall into place. My free time is limited, so I need to make a conscious effort to spend that time wisely and many of the items on this list are there for that very reason. When I am tired or lacking focus, it's super easy to just browse lists and book sites and keep adding to my TBR, but that is not doing me any good. I learned a LOT about children's literature this year which I am happy about, but enough with the research already!

One final note -- for the new year, I have reset my "starting" TBR count on my sidebar to my number for the beginning of the year. This number now includes the individual titles from all my omnibus/treasury type books that collect multiple works in one binding (which really made that number jump!) This is probably only of interest to me, but I've decided on a "new year, new start" philosophy and wanted the most accurate starting number possible -- hopefully record-keeping errors and accidental omissions have been kept to a minimum. If I manage to get that number going (and staying!) in the right direction this year, I will consider that a success!

Wishing everyone a happy and healthy New Year!