Category Archives: Children’s books

WWW Wednesdays – March 19, 2014

WWW Wednesdays

Since I used my last WWW Wednesdays update to share the books I recently read, I thought I’d use this update to catch up on some of the books my kids have been reading and enjoying. Some children’s books make a more lasting impression than others. Below is a small selection of books that we really enjoyed, made us laugh or made us think in the past couple of months. If you’re looking for some children’s book ideas, I hope these are helpful.

By the way, one of my most favorite books, The Giver by Lois Lowry, is finally going to be a movie, 20 years after being published. Gosh, I hope the movie doesn’t disappoint. It has a lot to live up to.

Books we really enjoyed

Journey by Aaron BeckerJourney by Aaron Becker. I’m disappointed this book didn’t win the 2014 Caldecott Medal, as I think its illustrations were mind blowing and highly imaginative compared to the winner Locomotive (that book is still OK, by the way, but way too long to read out loud). In Journey, using a red marker (remember Harold and the Purple Crayon, except this book is wordless), a young girl draws a door on her bedroom wall and enters another world. There she experiences many adventures, including being captured by an evil emperor. The denouement reveals who comes to her rescue, making young readers understand that with a little imagination, anything is possible. By far one of the best books we’ve read in the past few months.

Mr. Wuffles! by David WiesnerMr. Wuffles! by David Wiesner. Poor Mr. Wuffles seems very uninspired by his many cat toys, except for one single toy, which happens to be a spaceship belonging to tiny aliens the size of ants. After Mr Wuffles damages their spaceship, the aliens must venture in the human and cat world to find a way to repair their aircraft so they can go back to their world. Except for a few speech bubbles featuring alien talk (and you can figure out what the hieroglyphics text actually says if you’re smart!), this book is mostly wordless, in a comic book format. There’s so much to look at on each page, this book will entertain curious kids for hours.

Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett. We enjoy reading Mac Barnett’s books and this is one of our favorite. Annabelle finds a box containing yarn and starts knitting for everyone in the town, somehow her yarn supply never running out. That’s until a greedy archduke decides to get the extra yarn for himself. My kids love the ending of this book, which clearly shows that mean people don’t get zilch by being nasty.

Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson. This book is magic for all readers, as it invites you to tap, rub, touch, and wiggle the lovely illustrations to make an apple tree bloom, produce fruit, and lose its leaves. What a smart and cute way to display a tree’s yearly cycle!

A Little Book of Sloth by Lucy CookeA Little Book of Sloth by Lucy Cooke. This is one of the CUTEST animal books I’ve ever read. And after reading this book, I dare you not to like sloths. Featuring many photos of baby (and adult) sloths, this book educates you about their fascinating world. It contains tons of facts my kids and I didn’t know, and it even inspired my son to write a non-fiction story about sloths for his writing period at school. Animal books can’t get any better than this one.

Books that made us laugh

Open Very Carefully by Nick Bromley. Imagine reading a quiet storybook when suddenly, a crocodile appears and wreaks havoc on the characters. Will you close the book shut, or take a peek inside to see what happens next? My kids and I love interactive books and this is a great one.

Warning: Do Not Open This Book! by Adam LehrhauptWarning: Do Not Open This Book! by Adam Lehrhaupt. This is another interactive book where the narrator warns you not to open it. And if you do, watch out for the many monkeys, toucans, and even alligators you release and the mayhem that follows. Er, how do you get them back inside?

Carnivores by Aaron Reynolds. It’s tough being a meat eater when you try to make friends with plant eaters but you feel misunderstood. Is it your fault that your diet includes the critters you’re trying to blend in with? This book is not for the squeamish (no blood, I promise) but it’s very funny!

The hiccupotamus by Aaron ZenzThe Hiccupotamus by Aaron Zenz. I haven’t had this much fun reading a book out loud for a long time, and it gets funnier every time. I mean, the whole book is like this:
There was a hippopotamus
who hiccupped quite-a-lotamus.
And every time he got’emus . . .
he’d fall upon his bottomus!
So what do you do to help a hippo who has the hiccups? You’ll have to read the storytamus to find the answeramus…

Books that made us think

Back Of The Bus by Aaron Reynolds. Rosa Parks’ defiance and arrest is shown from the eyes of an African American child sitting at the back of the bus with his mom. The child wonders why the bus doesn’t move when Rosa Parks stays in her seat at the front of the bus, and he hears his mom worry, “There you go, Rosa Parks, stirrin’ up a nest of hornets.” But both mother and child slowly realize that this time may be different. My kids both were studying the civil rights movement when we read this book, and it was a wonderful way to give them a child’s perspective.

Unspoken : A Story From The Underground Railroad by Henry ColeUnspoken : A Story From The Underground Railroad by Henry Cole. Unspoken is absolutely brilliant: just like its title, it doesn’t feature a single word, making its story even more powerful. A Southern farm girl discovers a runaway slave hiding behind the corn crib in the barn and decides to help him by feeding him on his journey. No a single word is spoken between the two, and the girl keeps his presence a secret from everyone, even when the confederate soldiers offer a reward. Even if you don’t read children’s books, you should grab a copy of Unspoken and find out how a picture really can be worth a thousand words.

On A Beam Of Light : A Story Of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne. This is a great book that Einstein’s life from his earlier years, showing how he always questioned the world and universe surrounding him, and how he never stopped imagining, which led him to make groundbreaking discoveries.

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Book review: Baby Penguins Everywhere and Baby Penguins Love Their Mama

A couple of months ago, I participated in the month-long PiBoIdMo challenge, where you had to come up with 30 picture book ideas in 30 days. If you read the daily posts and commented on them, you also had a chance to win some cool prizes. Well, I didn’t win anything but I still got lucky. One of the guest bloggers for the event was children’s book author and illustrator Melissa Guion, and she contacted me after I commented on her post, asking me if I would be interested in reviewing her two picture books, Baby Penguins Everywhere and Baby Penguins Love Their Mama. She thought it’d be a good idea of gather the perspective of a single mom (me), who also happens to be the main character in her book. Well, in the form of a penguin…

I want to apologize to Melissa Guion for taking so long to write and post my reviews of her books. I read them with my kids as soon as we received them. We really enjoyed them and read them a few times each. I just got wrapped up in the holiday frenzy and then my kids were off school for two and a half weeks, and then a new year started… You get the idea. So today I’m finally catching up and sharing these books with you.

First in the series, Baby Penguins Everywhere tells the story of a penguin all alone on the ice, feeling lonely. Until one day, when she sees a hat floating by in the water. Out of the hat popped a little penguin. And another. And another. And another. And many more! The hat looks like one of those magician’s hats where the guy can pull out 10 rabbits in a row.

Baby Penguins Everywhere by Melissa Guion

Baby Penguins Everywhere by Melissa Guion

So now, the penguin isn’t lonely anymore. In fact, she’s very, very busy. My kids had fun counting how many penguins she’s actually taking care of. I believe there are 29 little penguins in this book. Wow, I feel tired just looking at them waddling around. I just hope for Mama Penguin they’re not all boys…

Baby Penguins Everywhere by Melissa Guion

Baby Penguins Everywhere by Melissa Guion

You can imagine that after a while, Mama Penguin is a tiny bit tired, physically and mentally, so she needs to take a moment for herself before she goes back and enjoys her little penguins’ company. I love the message that moms need a break throughout the day when dealing with little ones. My kids did notice she was doing all of this alone and didn’t get any help. I personally feel for her. Obviously penguin moms have a lot more energy than human ones.

In Baby Penguins Love Their Mama, Mama Penguin has started educating her little penguins with different activities every day, which include swimming lessons, sliding lessons, and waddling lessons. Oh yeah, and let’s not forget the squawking lessons. Have mercy…

Baby Penguins Love Their Mama by Melissa Guion

Baby Penguins Love Their Mama by Melissa Guion

By the time Sunday arrives, Mama Penguin needs a nap. I wonder how long her little ones let her sleep but probably long enough because she looks refreshed after that. And then Mama Penguin asks her penguins what she’d become once they were all big penguins, a question most of us moms wonder. The answer? Their mama, of course!

Overall my boys and I found these two books very cute, and very funny. We enjoyed the soft watercolors and the simple way the penguins were drawn without getting in the way of the story. Next time my kids bug me when I’m trying to take a 5-minute break, I’ll tell them I’m Mama Penguin. And if that still doesn’t work, I’ll have to use the big guns and read Five Minutes’ Peace by Jill Murphy to them again.

A big thank you to Melissa Guion for sharing her books with me and my kids!

WWW Wednesdays – January 15, 2014

WWW Wednesdays

Wow, my last WWW Wednesdays post was two months ago… What can I say? The good new is, I read 61 books in 2013, not including the children’s books I read with my kids. I did read a lot of books in November and December, but somehow never got to write about them here. So I guess this is a catch-up post, for adult and children’s books, or at least a listing of our favorites in the past few months. I also want to put a list of my favorite books in 2013 very soon, and I hope you get to add to the list.

My bookshelf

– What I’m currently reading 
The Shining by Stephen KingThe Shining by Stephen King. I’ve read a lot of King’s books but I don’t think I ever read this one. Terrible choice for bedtime reading, especially on those nights I need the sleep. Oh well…
Goals! How To Get Everything You Want by Brian Tracy. As I’m still working on listing and organizing my many, many goals for 2014, I’m looking for ways to lay them out so they’ll be easier to achieve step-by-step. Quite a challenge.

– What I recently finished reading 
No Excuses!: The Power of Self-Discipline by Brian Tracy. If you’ve never read any of Brian Tracy’s books, this is a good one to start with. Full of quotes you might find insightful (or annoying if you’re not a fan of quotes), this book shows you how to implement self-discipline throughout the various areas of your life, including personal success, work, finances, health and relationships. Tracy makes it very clear that self-discipline is one character trait that differentiates the more successful people from the others. You can make small changes in your life to be more disciplined to get what you want.  Most women with children will want to take some of Tracy’s advice with a grain of salt or adapt it to their individual lifestyle.

Remarkable by Lizzie K FoleyRemarkable by Lizzie K. Foley. This first young adult novel was entertaining and easy to read. I enjoyed the variety of characters and how each of them played a role in the development of the story. I think many kids can identify with Jane Doe, who feels she’s nothing special among all these extremely talented people living in her town. She’s considered not as smart and gifted as the other kids, and yet, she’s the one who solves many problems and puzzles by the end of the book. A nice lesson for kids illustrating that when you’re too wrapped up in yourself, you miss out on the world around you. I just wish the pace had been a little more energetic in delivering the story.

Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs by Ellen Galinski. If you’re looking for a book full of insightful data on the life skills a child needs to develop, this is probably it. If you’re looking for a book that gives you a lot of practical advice on help your child develop those skills past the preschool years, this is not. Although I found the research interesting and valuable, I realized that the majority of this book is more theoretical than practical, and mostly focuses on infants up to preschoolers.

Eat Move Sleep by Tom RathEat Move Sleep: How Small Choices Lead to Big Changes by Tom Rath. If you’re looking for a miracle diet or type of exercise to help you lose weight, this isn’t the book for you. Tom Rath provides nothing earth-shattering or a deep secret only a few know about. Instead, he lists the many, many small choices we can make in our daily life to improve our health. Most importantly, he explains why you can’t just eat right, or move more, or sleep better, but rather you have to make changes to ALL three, as they work in unison to keep you healthy. For example, if you don’t sleep enough, you may overeat as well as feel too tired to exercise. If you don’t eat the right foods, you may not have the energy to work out but feel to stimulated to sleep well. I recommend you sign up for  a 30-day personalized challenge, which gives you specific recommendations for your diet, sleep and exercise habits depending on the answers you provide for the initial quiz.

Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo. This is another young adult fun adventure by Kate DiCamillo, this time featuring a squirrel that somehow acquires super powers, as well as intelligence and a gift for poetry writing, after being sucked up a vacuum. DiCamillo is a brilliant storyteller and you can’t help but root for her main character, Flora, who’s in desperate need of love, comfort and friendship after her parents divorce. And she will find all three in the several people she runs into, who all have their own story to tell. I love how DiCamillo shows that friendship and support can be found across generations – a great example of how much life can bring, if we care to look around. The hilarious illustrations are a wonderful addition to this fun story.

The Secret Keeper by Kate MortonThe Secret Keeper by Kate Morton. This book was such a slow read, I almost put it down after reading a third of it. Instead I decided to scheme through it so I could reach the end. I liked the premise of the story: a young girl witnessing a murder at her house, and fifty years later she tries to make sense of it all, going back in time all the way to World War II in England. The delivery of this story is painful: so many dialogs that seem to repeat themselves and go nowhere, so many words to describe the scenes, even when not much happens, so little character development. It’s as if the author was given a number of words to write and she had a hard time filling every page. Also, why do so many books today have to switch back between past and present storytelling??? Really, it’s getting old, especially when it adds nothing to the story. Oh, and the “twist” at the end of the book is nothing you can’t guess on your own halfway through the book. Unless you’re a big fan of Kate Morton, you may be disappointed with this book’s pace and style.

All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum. This is a very interesting collection of essays on a number of life subjects. I read the 15th anniversary edition, so the author updated it with new essays and removed outdated ones. He also added some comments here and then that added to the original story. All essays were drawn from his personal life and experience and most of them rang a bell. It is indeed true that everything you need to know about life, you learned it in kindergarten, including share, clean up your mess, say you’re sorry, don’t take what’s not yours, play fair, and my favorite one, wonder.

100 Secrets of Happy Families by David Niven. This book is a good reminder off what really matters to make your family relationships the best they can be. A few of my favorites are:
– Dedication matters more than occupation (deciding how your occupation fits within your family life and not the other way around is what matters most).
– Let your goals live with you (even if you can’t work on your goals at specific times, there’s no reason to abandon them; let them adapt to the life you live).
– You define a child every day (did you know a child’s feelings about his family relationship does more to define that child’s outlook and self-image than anything else?).
– Cherish traditions (hey, at our house we celebrate Christmas twice a year, in December and in July!)
– See the big picture (don’t see your life as tiny pieces but as a whole, to get a broader perspective and not let small frustrations overwhelm you).

100 Secrets of Healthy People by David Niven. This book is full of simple tips to live a healthier lifestyle, most of which you already know, while others are interesting to discover or remember. My favorite health tips? “Healthy living is an attitude” (seeing your health in a positive light helps you maintain healthy habits), “breathe right” (it’s amazing what proper breathing can do to you), “laughter really is medicine” (it reduces anxiety and pain), and “hug for health” (hugs relieve stress and provide comfort).

1984 by George Orwell1984 by George Orwell. This is the second time I’ve read this book (I was in high school the first time) and I’ve found it just as terrifying today. Orwell wrote this book in 1948, right at the end of the second world war, establishing England and its allies as Oceania, a land in state of constant war against changing enemies. The main character, Winston Smith, works at the Ministry of Truth, where every day he has to “rewrite” newspaper articles and books to change the news according to the latesst events, therefore rewriting history, even deleting the very existence of some public officials once in a while. A lot more goes on after that and I don’t want to spoil it for you if you haven’t read the book. The policy held by Big Brother’s party against the middle class and the lower class is chilling, and somehow not so far off from our world today, in many ways. A definite read.

The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People by David Niven. By “successful”, Niven doesn’t mean “rich”, but rather people who are satisfied with their career, enjoy what they do and are growing. Here are just a few secrets that spoke directly to me: “boredom is the enemy” (you need to find something you enjoy or your persistence and interest will quickly diminish), “don’t want everything” (choose what you really want out of your career and focus on that, rather than look at what others have and want the same), and “it starts and ends with you” (access personal responsibility for your decisions and be open to new opportunities). If you’re looking for some inspiration in the workplace, this is a great little book.

– What I think I’ll read next 
Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey. I also requested more books on goal setting, procrastination and children’s book writing from the library. This is going to be a busy reading year.

My kids’ bookshelf

What they’re currently reading
National Geographic Angry Birds: AnimalsMy youngest is really into Angry Birds and I discovered there are many, many books with those little pesky guys. Some of the books are for early readers and discuss Angry Birds Star Wars theme (Angry Birds Star Wars: Angry Birds Star Wars: Lard Vader’s Villains, and Angry Birds Star Wars: Darth Swindle’s Secret). They sure are a great way to motivate a young reader! Other books were made in collaboration with National Geographic. We’ve been reading National Geographic Angry Birds: Animals, which goes all around the globe to introduce some animals and their habitat. On each page, the birds talk to each other, while they’re looking for their eggs. Again, a great way to motivate a young reader to read all of the speech bubbles on each page. I’ve requested more books in the series from the library and I hope they’re as much fun.

My oldest recently discovered Calvin & Hobbes and he’s been reading and rereading the Calvin & Hobbes complete collection. This is a great way to keep a reader interested, but definitely not a quiet way. Lots of giggling and laughing out loud going around.

– What they recently finished reading
Down To The Sea with Mr. Magee by Chris Van Dusen
We’ve been reading so many books in the past couple of months, I’ll just list some of our favorite. We LOVE Chris Van Dusen’s gouache illustrations (they’re so precise and detailed, they look like they were made on a computer) and although he’s illustrated a lot of children’s books for other authors, including Kate DiCamillo’s Mercy Watson series, Van Dusen is quite a talented writer too, opting for rhyme for his very funny books, including Down To The Sea with Mr. Magee, The Circus Ship (we really, really liked this story), If I Built A House, and If I Built A Car.

We’ve also read some very funny books by Aaron Reynolds (most recently the author of Creepy Carrots), including:
Buffalo Wings by Aaron ReynoldsBuffalo Wings: farm chickens want to make them as a snack. While most of them take care of the sauce, one of them goes search for the main ingredient. That’s until the buffaloes tell him how buffalo wings are really made…
Chicks and salsa: chickens are tired of chicken feed and decide to try some Southwestern cuisine instead.
Pirates vs. Cowboys: what happens when pirates and cowboys speak two different languages and suffer from miscommunication?

– What I think they’ll read next
I don’t know but I’m sure it will be good stuff. What about you? Any books you or your kids are reading you’d like to share?

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Meet Wink, our elf on the shelf

A few years ago, I was tempted to get the popular Elf on the shelf. I thought, what better way to motivate my kids to be good the month before Christmas? But thinking of it, I wanted them to try their best every day, not just a few weeks before toy overload day. I never thought the day would come when BOTH my kids would ask me to get them an elf on the shelf. Apparently, there’s a lot of peer pressure at school, and when a bunch of kids in your class have their own elf on the shelf, you’d better get one too. Ah, what a brilliant marketing idea…

So a couple of weeks ago, we visited our local Target and purchased our elf. Of course, it had to be a boy (once again, I’m outnumbered). We brought the packaged book/elf box home, carefully took our elf out and put him up above our fireplace. After a few minutes debating, the kids decided to name him Wink. I’m a little disturbed by the fact that Wink doesn’t have feet but I understand that frostbite can be a result of living at the North Pole.

Wink, our elf on the shelf

Wink, our elf on the shelf

Doesn’t he look cute and innocent? I asked my kids if they thought Wink was nice or mischievous. They wholeheartedly agreed he was NICE! Apparently, all elves who report to Santa at the North Pole every night have to be nice. And for the first few days, I enjoyed catching my kids talking to Wink once in a while, asking him to report some things to Santa, even ask him for “the force”. I figure, when kids can believe in the magic of Christmas, why wouldn’t they think that the force is real too? Hey, I’d like some of that!

Wink was busy on his first night at our house. When he came back from his visit to the North Pole, he made the boys some paper snowflakes and left them a note. How nice!

Wink makes paper snowflakes

Wink makes paper snowflakes

I guess Wink saw us putting together the walls for our gingerbread house because during the next night, he took a look at the candy decorations for it. I should add that he didn’t eat any.

Wink helps us with the gingerbread house

Wink helps us with the gingerbread house

Another night, Wink couldn’t resist playing with the balloon decorations the boys got. Riding an airplane while holding a sword, how fun!

Wink on a balloon airplane

Wink on a balloon airplane

Wink discovered we were doing a Christmas countdown on our white board, so he decided to update the picture for us. The boys were very impressed with his idea!

Wink draws on our Christmas countdown white board

Wink draws on our Christmas countdown white board

We have so many Lego at our house, I guess it’s hard for an elf to resist. Here he is, playing with a Lego Legends of Chima speedorz. Zoom zoom!

Wink with Lego Chima speedorz

Wink with Lego Chima speedorz

After we finished our gingerbread house, Wink stopped by to inspect it.

Wink checks out our gingerbread house

Wink checks out our gingerbread house

He must have realized there was something wrong with this house’s decorations. Yep, that’s because Son #1 turned into Hans and started eating them one by one. The gingerbread house actually looked like this when we finished it. I’m so glad I took a picture of the intact model! Do you know how hard it is to make that stuff with two boys that try to sabotage your artistic efforts?

Gingerbread house decorations

Gingerbread house decorations

I guess all that candy made Wink hungry because he eventually found our candy stash in the kitchen. Yum, gummy worms!

Wink finds our candy

Wink finds our candy

My son left his book overnight on the couch. I hear it’s a very funny book and I think Wink agrees. Look, he even got to read it with his friends the polar bear and the husky.

Wink reads a book

Wink reads a book

And when I added more presents under the Christmas tree, guess who was there to tell the kids?

Wink under the Christmas tree

Wink under the Christmas tree

All this time, Wink stayed downstairs. Well, that was until last night, when he finally ventured upstairs into the boys’ bedroom (Mama, how did Wink open the bedroom door?). He must have been very excited to see a Lego Star Wars X-wing fighter.

Wink rides a Lego Star Wars X-wing fighter

Wink rides a Lego Star Wars X-wing fighter

And now the big question is, where will Wink be tomorrow morning? Will be stay upstairs in the boys’ room or will he go back downstairs? What do you think Wink should add to his list of adventures?