Saturday, March 2, 2013

Anna Karenina Cleans My House

Jessica at Quirky Bookworm is hosting a Classics Catch-Up Challenge. Somehow I missed reading most of the novels on her list, so I thought I’d make myself a more well-rounded, cultured individual by taking part in the challenge. A little positive peer pressure, right?

The first book up is Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. And I failed. I read 34 of the 800+ pages. Here are some of the things I did instead of reading Anna Karenina:
  • crafted with Toddler Train Man
  • read blogs and lots of books
  • played trains. a LOT!
  • cleaned the bathroom
  • scrubbed the floor. on my hands and knees.
I just couldn’t get into the book. The book was originally published as a series in a magazine, so it probably needed to have a lot of repetition in that format. In a book, not so much. I thought the story line—love, hijinks, families—would be right up my alley, but I guess my 21st century expectations were too fast for the 19th century novel. I think if the action could be distilled to its essence—maybe 200 pages or so—I’d enjoy it.

My secret is out. I’d rather clean my house than read this classic. I was reminded of a post I read on Edge of Story about required reading. When you have to read something, is some of the joy automatically taken out? And does calling a book a “classic” make it more scholarly/less fun? And how clean would my house be if I’d persevered through all of Anna Karenina? We'll never know. 

Have you read Anna Karenina? What are your favorite classics?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Dr. Seuss: Virtual Book Club for Kids

Dr. Seuss is a special author at our house.

First, Dr. Seuss’ birthday is Toddler Train Man’s half birthday. Here’s a picture from TTM’s first half birthday:

My Many Colored Days is also special to us.

This is the book I read to my class and the book they made the first time I met the Professor. Have you ever considered Dr. Seuss a matchmaker? Me neither, but it happened! (Abbreviated version: the Professor was a special education consultant in my district, I was a 5th grade teacher. He came to my classroom to “consult” on some students, and then we consulted on other matters…)

Today I read My Many Colored Days to TTM—both the Seuss version and my class’ version. Their activity (oh so long ago: those 5th graders are in their 20s now!) was to paint—using mostly one color—then describe the kind of day it represented. As I looked back at their work, I was really impressed with the ideas they had.

“Blue days make me feel like the leaves getting swooped up by the wind.”
“Blue makes me feel like a rainy day, but I like it anyway.”
“On purple days I feel like I can spread my wings and fly.”
“On black days, I feel like a squirrel running in the night.”

So TTM had a go at it. (Ok, this was really just an excuse to paint. Caught.) I asked him what color day he was having and he said, “White. It makes me happy.” That could have something to do with all the snow still in our backyard??

Here’s his painting. It seemed like more of a red/pink day to me, but he assured me it was definitely a white day. As for me, my day seems a little more like this:

What color day are you having? Do you have any special Dr. Seuss associations?

I'm linking up to the Virtual Book Club for Kids at Ready-Set-Read!...check it out!

Saturday, February 16, 2013


Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy is hosting a “Twitterature link-up,” so I’m giving it a try. I’m not a tweeter and I learned that trying to write a review in 140 characters is trickier than a full length one! And yes, I cheated a little with bonus comments in parentheses. I'm working on concise!

Notorious Nineteen by Janet Evanovich. 3.5 stars
Fiery, fast, fun Jersey girl/bounty hunter finds trouble everywhere aided by former ho Lula and crazy Grandma. Two hunks thrown in for kicks.
(If you’ve read the others in the Stephanie Plum series, you’ll know just what this is about; if you haven’t you should start with One for the Money!)

No Place Like Home by Mary Higgins Clark. 4 stars
Pretty girl with a past has it thrown in her face then faces danger herself. Handsome detective helps her overcome.
(I just can’t give up MHC, but I realize that this summary can be copied for most of her other books, right?)

When in Doubt, Add Butter by Beth Harbison.  4 stars
Private chef nurtures clients, vows not to marry. But life changes things. Clients are strange, kind, unexpected. Is her psychic client right?
(Fun author I happened upon—I liked her writing style!)

A Single Thread by Marie Bostwick. 4.5 stars
Divorce. Cross-country move. New quilt shop. Cancer. Evelyn Dixon experiences all of this and somehow makes it through with help from new friends.
(This is book 1 in a series that I just found. I’ve already requested book 2!)

Any of these sound good to you? What are you reading?

Friday, February 8, 2013

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Snow Storm Nemo is raging outside our house right now, so I wanted to share a book that I just loved that might help you get through whatever weather you're having! 

Read while home alone? yes
Tissues needed? yes
Overall rating: 5 stars

Middle school is tough. Especially if you’ve been homeschooled until then. Especially if you were born with a craniofacial abnormality. This is August Pullman’s life. He’s used to the stares and startled responses—he doesn’t like them, but he’s used to them. To ease the transition into school, the principal selected a “welcoming committee” to help August adjust to his new school, but what happens when the welcoming committee isn’t welcoming?

You should really read this book…it’s fantastic! The story is told from a variety of perspectives, including August, some classmates, and his sister. I love that writing technique—it gives a fuller picture of the story. There’s plenty of compassion, but there’s also some cruel reality, and it was good to read both. As I read about students’ reactions to August I wondered about how I would have acted as a middle schooler in that situation. There was little diversity (ability, race, economic, etc.) in my middle school, so I’d like to think I would have been one of the kind people, but I’m not sure—middle school is a weird time of life. It did give me goals for my little guy, though—I want to be sure he’s the boy who’s kind to everyone.

Wonder is considered Juvenile Fiction; it’s Palacio’s first book, but I’m hoping for more!

What’s the latest book you’ve read and loved? 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Love Anthony by Lisa Genova

Read while home alone? sure
Tissues needed? definitely
Overall rating: 4.5 stars

Love Anthony is the story of two women whose lives entwine in an unexpected way. Olivia moves to Nantucket following the death of her young son who had autism. With her marriage crumbling, Olivia tries to find the sense in all that has happened. Just down the road, Beth’s world is rocked by her husband’s affair. She has to make some big decisions for herself and her three daughters. Beth remembers that she used to enjoy writing and finds herself pouring out a story that proves to be just what she—and Olivia—need to heal.

This was a lovely book! I chose it because I read another of Genova’s books, Still Alice, a year or so ago. That one was about a woman with early onset Alzheimer’s, and one thing I enjoyed about both books was Genova’s compassion for and knowledge of the conditions featured: autism and Alzheimer’s. Though I know people with both conditions I’m not an expert on either; if you have more experience it would color your reaction to the books, I’m sure.

The stories of Olivia and Beth were well-crafted and they were characters I felt I’d like in real life—kind but quirky. And I’m always drawn to stories set in places like Nantucket—I think I’d enjoy living in a summer place year-round. The story flowed between the two women easily and kept me interested in the book—I knew their paths would cross, but it was interesting to read about when it actually happened. There were a few issues I had to reconcile for myself (Beth’s book had a sort of eerie source and Olivia didn’t have a job for quite awhile after moving—how did she get groceries?) In all, though, I highly recommend Love Anthony!

Do you enjoy books about “in the news” conditions like autism and Alzheimer’s? Do you know “enough to enjoy” or “too much to believe” them? Could you live in a summer place year-round?

I'm linking up to Bookin' It!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Echoes by Robin Jones Gunn

Read while home alone? absolutely
Tissues needed? nope
Overall rating: 3.5 stars

Interesting things seem to happen to Lauren: she decides to get a perm and it ruins her hair. She gets a computer and regularly sends messages to the wrong person. Her fiancĂ© gets a job in New York City and forces her to choose between coming along and ending their relationship.  Lauren ends things, and then continues to converse with her new online pal. Eventually she’s forced into another decision: should she risk the online friendship for a real life interaction?

This is the third book in the Glenbrooke series. I haven’t read any others, so I’m not sure if having background would make this a more enjoyable book. The story was fun, but it was pretty predictable and fairly cheesy—I found myself rolling my eyes a few times. I was annoyed with Lauren for a bit with her lack of computer knowledge, but then I realized that the original copyright was 1996, so I was able to forgive her that. Echoes is Christian fiction, so there are references to God, but generally not in an overly-preachy way. In all, this was a quick and easy read, but not one that I have to read the rest of the series.

You can read about Robin Jones Gunn here. And get more info on the book here.

This is another book I did NOT get at my library. I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review, but the opinions are mine.

Do you always read series in order? What are your thoughts about online relationships? 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Children's Books Playscapes

Reading is just something we do at our house. We visit the library, we have bookshelves full of choices for everyone, books are part of our bedtime routine, reading is a fun thing to do. Most of the time. Then there are times when I realize that the only books Toddler Train Man read in a day were the ones before bed. Sometimes those trains just can't be left alone! 

To get back into the reading-is-fun groove, sometimes I just bring out the books at some point during the day. We read. Problem solved. Other times I've created "playscapes" to go with certain books. It's pretty easy to do and it literally brings books to life. Here's an example:

I picked a book that TTM knows, then gathered props to help him act out the book. Easy, right? 

Here's another:

I didn't have all the props I wanted for this book, so I printed out a few pictures from the internet, glued them to cardboard, added a cardboard "stand," and presto! And yes, that's a tree made from a paper towel tube with tissue paper tucked into the top. Perhaps it isn't pretty, but it's functional!

Usually I put these together at night, then leave them out for discovery the next day. When I forget and start gathering while TTM is awake, he gets interested and helps me get what we need. Also fun. 

My favorite part is listening in while he "reads"/acts out the book. I'm always amazed at how he remembers some of the phrases and even uses the expressions he's heard as the book was read to him. 

I did a REALLY simple playscape when TTM was 6 months old or so. It was one of those books with a big, bright picture of a toy and its name on each page (train, ball, teddy get the idea!). My memory is sketchy from that time (let's blame sleep-deprivation, shall we?), but I'm pretty sure he was surprised that the objects in the book could be real.

Kara at Simple Kids gave me the "playscapes" name with her post. You can read her ideas here.

How do you help children interact with books? What are some of your favorite children's books that could be retold this way?