Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Start of a new year

The two weeks of winter break do something to me. I start feeling the need to gather and hoard reading material for the long, cold winter ahead. Armed with the credit card, my husband and I sent the girl to daycare on Monday and made the trek out to Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville. I also went to Half Price Books a few different times to stock up for the new year. Often, I try to convince myself that the books I am buying are for my reading list of the new year.

My husband is fantastic about making a reading list for the new year and sticking to it. For me, I get side tracked. Someone will mention a great book and the next thing I know I have it in my hand and the books on the bedside table get forgotten. Eventually, I get tired of them sitting on my bedside table and I put them away on a shelf and forget about them.

I have the best intentions. The books on my list really ARE books I want to read. There are just so many others that I want to read too. My Amazon wishlist has at least 10 other books on it. My Goodreads ‘to-read’ list has at least 20 others too. There are just so many great stories that it is hard to know where to start. And, I don’t usually abandon a book. I think I’ve abandoned maybe half a dozen in my life. Even if the book is bad, I usually want to know how it ends. So once I start, I’m generally committed.

Regardless, I’ve created my ‘2014 Reading Pile’. This is just a start. Books will be added (and most likely subtracted), but it’s a start. The pile also doesn’t include the books waiting to be read on my Kindle. *sigh*

Here’s a peek at 2014’s pile.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Higher Vocabulary

Talking to a 14-month old sometimes feels like speaking a foreign language. While I try to model appropriate sentence structure and words, I have to admit I find myself saying ridiculous things like, “Sit down for your sippy” and “Shoes. Shoes. I got shoes. I got shoes on my feet.” The latter is a song that we regularly sing in the morning.
I think that there is definitely a time and place for appropriate sentence structure and higher level words, but when I’m trying to cram tiny toes into a shoe that was clearly not constructed to bend to the will of a writhing, slippery child perched precariously on top of a changing table, that is not the time when I remember to say, “Please, insert your phalanges into this athletic footwear so that we can proceed to the lower level of our dwelling.”
I point this out because I think that we need to be aware of a time and place to introduce/use higher level vocabulary with our students. While I love the concept of using books with higher level vocabulary, if we don’t take the time to explain the words to students so they will understand them, I think it is similar to us using a foreign language. They may pick up on the ‘gist’ over time, but they may not gain a true understanding of the word.
However, if we choose a book that has so many words that are unrecognizable, the meaning of the text may be lost since we will have to spend so much time explaining vocabulary that the students will be using their brain power to remember word meaning.
I am wavering on the book Stardines by Jack Prelutsky. I still can’t decide whether I love it or hate it.
The poems in it are filled with great higher level vocabulary (fourth grade and above. However, reading some of the poems is like wading through a mud pit. The poems are filled with such big words, it can be hard to slog through. But, for the most part, this book is filled with interesting gems that capture the reader and make it a delight to teach interesting vocabulary.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Best of 2013

The web is currently inundated with the “Best of 2013” lists. I always find myself looking through the different book lists to see which ones I have read and agree with. I don’t often agree with the books that the critics have chosen. Usually I feel like there are more worthy books that were overlooked.
This year, I found that I had considerably less time to read. I am sure that is the product of having a small child to run after and keep an eye on. I’m looking forward to the days when we can enjoy family reading time.
For now, here are some of my favorite books that I was actually able to squeeze in time to read during 2013.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell has to be my favorite book of 2013. I can't even begin to express how this book stuck with me long after I finished reading it. I finished reading it and immediately wanted to start it again. I couldn't believe that it was over and I wasn't going to be living with the characters anymore. It has been a long time since a book had affected me like that. I lent it to a friend after I read it and felt physically sad that the book was not in my house and the characters were not around for me to check in on. I ended up buying a second copy, just to have them close again. Read this book, you won't be disappointed.

I don't know if I was joining the party too late by reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. I really enjoyed the book and have to say I have not yet seen the movie. I feel like the movie will probably ruin it for me (most movies do) so I will just stick with the book.

I will admit it took some coaxing for me to read The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen. I initially read about a third of this book and returned it to our library. I couldn't get into it and frankly, I didn't really care what happened. My librarian told me to take it again and give it another chance. It definitely got better the second time I tried to read it and it turned out to be one of the better books of the year for me. 

I waited and waited for Allegiant by Veronica Roth to come out. I bought it the day it came out but refused to read it until I had time to devote to the whole book. I knew that once I started, I wouldn't be able to put it down until I knew how it all ended. I had to wait three weeks after it came out to actually read it (Veterans Day) when I had a day to myself and the girl was in daycare. I sat on my couch with a blanket and read from the moment she left for daycare until I was done. I think the trilogy was wrapped up nicely. Divergent was still my favorite of all the three books, but I think Roth did a great job extending the story across all three books.

Monday, August 12, 2013


“There's not a word yet, for old friends who've just met.” - Jim Henson

This past week was our daycare intake. At our daycare, the parents go with their little ones for a few hours the first few days to help them acclimate to the new surroundings. There were quite a few tears on the first couple days, but less so as the week went on.
One of the things that struck me was that as soon as we walked in, everyone is immediately referred to as a ‘friend’. The teachers, the other kids, the lady who buzzes us into the classroom. Everyone is a friend.
It made me realize how simple things would be if we went into all situations with the idea that we were meeting new friends.
Of course, as adults, this is far too simplified an idea to work, but for now, I like the idea of introducing the girl to all her new ‘friends’ in the world.

Jessica by Kevin Henkes

Don't Need Friends by Carolyn Crimi

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Missed Opportunities

I spend a lot of time at Target. It's my 'go-to' place. When the girl was first born, she cried all day, every day. She would cry sometimes for over 10+ hours a day. I was sure that I was doing something wrong (stay tuned for that story!). I didn't get out of the house with her until she was almost 3 months old. She just wouldn't stop crying. So, when we finally did venture out together, Target was where we went. 
The girl loves it there. I don't know if it is the lights, the people, the bright displays or what, but she loves it. Now that she sits up in the seat, she is easily entertained just by walking around the store. This is great for days we don't have a lot to do - we walk around and point out people and things we see. Not so good for trying to get multiple errands done, as she likes to eat my list and credit cards.
But, Target is a great place to observe and people watch. Before the girl was born, I had lots of ideas about how people should be raising their kids. Now that I am a parent, I find myself biting my tongue a lot more and reevaluating what I think. 
A few years ago I was given a book copy of David Foster Wallace's commencement speech to Kenyon College class of 2005. One of my personal take aways from reading this speech was to really try and think differently about every day (especially boring/aggravating) things. While I certainly don't pretend that I do this well, I try.
I remind myself that who am I to judge? When the lady in Target has 3 kids that are running through the aisles screaming at each other, I would normally think that she just has no control of her kids, but I try to think differently about it. I imagine that perhaps their father is at home very ill and they have to be quiet all the time, as not to disturb him. So, running around Target is the first chance they have to actually be kids. Would I blame them for acting like kids in that situation? This thinking usually reminds me to have a little more compassion and a little more patience with people. Besides, for the most part, people are doing the best they can. I know I am. Hopefully, others are having the same patience and grace with me.
But, let's be honest, for all my wanting to be a good person, I do judge. I try to limit it to people who I think clearly deserve it (and after all, what do they care what I think?) but I do find myself judging people out in the world.
The girl and I were returning to our car, after a particularly fun trip to Target, when I noticed a woman and her son (approximately 11-years-old) returning to their car. They had made the choice to park in the farthest away aisle from the store (there were many closer spots available) and were unloading their bags.
When all the bags were loaded, the mom pushed the cart over into the next parking space, climbed into her car and drove away. This incident (which happened more than a week ago) has stuck with me because it seems like such a missed opportunity for this mother.
I will be making a grand assumption that her son did not possess any physical or mental disabilities that would make it difficult for him to return the cart 100 feet to the nearest corral. I realize it is impossible to know this family's situation, but as I have seen this exact episode happen more than 30 times, I am going to make a sweeping generalization that he was of sound mind and body.
All I could think was what  a lost opportunity to teach her child responsibility this woman had just given up. Not only had she lost the opportunity to teach him about being responsible, she has actually taught him that it is okay to be irresponsible and expect someone else to clean up after you. This boy was old enough to be sent across the parking lot to return the cart to the corral and now he has learned that if you just leave your stuff lying around, someone else will clean up after you.
Of course, it is easy to imagine that I'll remember to do all these things correctly, but I know that is not realistic. But I do know that the girl is constantly watching everything I do to find out how the world works and her place within it. I hope I'm providing her with a consistent model of being a responsible citizen and community member.

Books that I think will be good for a discussion about responsibility:

Pigsty by Mark Teague

Piggybook by Anthony Browne

David Goes To School by David Shannon

The Paperboy by Dav Pilkey

Sunday, July 28, 2013


The girl and I were approached today in the parking lot by a panhandler. He sort of startled me because I was trying to strap the girl into her stroller and he came up on my blind side. Fortunately, he stayed a good distance away, otherwise I would have probably freaked out at the thought of someone approaching me while my back was turned while my kid was with me.
Anyway, he asked for money. He had some story about being homeless and living in his car. He said he was from a town about 40 minutes away and they had a doctor appointment out here and now they needed money to buy gas to get back. I have to admit, my mind shut down as he told his story about five seconds into it. But not for the reasons that you would think. 
First, I am 99% sure that the money I gave him was for drugs. There is very little doubt in my mind that the young man took the money I gave him and promptly drove to wherever you buy drugs from and bought a hit/a score/a whatever. I am fairly certain of this because you don't ask random strangers for money unless you are in bad shape. Bill Hicks had a bit about someone telling him not to give money to panhandlers because it was probably for drugs. He replied that "You've probably never been a drug addict. Drugs are pretty important to a drug addict." This bit was running through my head the whole time the guy was talking. I'd like to think that if I hadn't given him money than he would have realized what a bad path he was down and turned his life around. However, this is not a movie. Life doesn't really happen like that. I hope that he gets help. I hope that he does turn his life around. But it will not be because I did/did not give him a few bucks in the parking lot of Whole Foods.
Second, this guy was young. I am a terrible judge of age. But he couldn't have been more than 23 at the most. In his story, he had some part about taking care of his mom and then she lost her house. That was when it hit me. This guy, no matter how old, was someone's kid. This could be MY kid. I can't control her life choices. I hope that I can help her to make better choices than what has led this young man to be asking for money in a parking lot, but I can't control it. I can't be certain that this outcome won't be her. And if by some unknown chance it is, I hope that someone is kind enough to help her out. So, as that is running through my head, I made my decision to give this guy some money. 
I can already hear the conversation happening with the girl, once she is old enough to talk. 
"Mommy, do you know that man?"
"No, honey. I don't."
"Then why did you give him money?"
"Because honey. Our job in this world is to make people's day a little better. Sometimes that means being a little extra kind to people that we normally don't want to be kind to. Sometimes that means we help those who can't help themselves. And we hope that by helping them it makes them a little happier and a little stronger of a person."

A Chance To Shine by Steve Seskin
A boy is changed after interacting with a man down on his luck.

How To Steal A Dog by Barbara O'Connor
Georgina is looking for a way to help her family find a home since they are living in their car.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Explaining Family

Now that the girl is growing up, I'm starting to think ahead to conversations we are going to have with her. I think books and stories are a great way to try and explain many of the important things in life. Especially to help explain the values and beliefs we have about how to treat people and the world. Even if the stories aren't exactly about the 'topic' I want, there are so many conversations that can be started from one little book. 
So, diving right in, I am picking one of the harder topics for me because it is such an emotionally-charged subject. While I realize that our family is more 'traditional', the girl has friends (or she will, she just doesn’t know it yet) and other family members who do not have a stereotypical family. I want her to know that families don’t all look the same and that it is her duty as a human to support all different families.
There are so many different kinds of families in the world today. Back when I was a kid, no one ever talked to us about being adopted, divorced, having a blended family, having a biracial family, having same-sex parents, being raised by grandparents or aunts/uncles, or any other nontraditional family unit. Talking about differences makes them seem less elusive and mysterious. When I was a kid, there was a family with three different last names living together. No one ever talked about how all the people went together so it was this big mystery and of course rumors start. If someone had talked about it with me, it would have been less mysterious and I could have been more of an advocate for the families when rumors came up.
As you can see, this does not bring me any closer to helping me understand what I am going to tell the girl when she wants to know how to define a family. I think I will have to tell her that there is no one definition of a family. That family, when you are little, is the people who love and care for you and try to help you become a great person. As you get older, you get to choose to expand your family, if you want. Then, family becomes those people that you love and care for and try to help become great people. 
Hopefully, by the time that conversation comes around, I will have figured it out. After all, the girl is only 9 months old right now. I think I have a bit of time.

Some books that we will read

Allison by Allen Say
Allison is an adopted girl who has a difficult time adjusting to her new family.

The Family Book by Todd Parr
Parr shares about all the wonderful kinds of families there are.

In Our Mothers' House by Patricia Polacco
The family on the block is different but it is filled with love, just like any other family.
buy this book

Fred Stays With Me! by Nancy Coffelt
A little girl's dog stays with her as she goes back and forth between her two homes.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Wordless Books for Older Readers

I think that wordless picture books are often overlooked for older readers. We often use wordless books with young readers because there is no text that they are required to read in order to understand the story. However, I think that there are some fantastic wordless books for older readers that invite the reader to really ponder what the author is trying to say. Because the whole story is told through pictures, there are often subtle hints that the reader must notice in order to fully understand the story.
These books invite rereading and are definitely suited for more mature readers.

The Flower Man by Mark Ludy

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

Voices in the Park by Anthony Browne

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Wordless Books

We've heard over and over how important reading is to kids. There are so many benefits to reading, but one that may be overlooked is inviting children to understand how a story works. In a story, there is a beginning, middle, and end. I think this is why chapter books/novels in a series make me angry. There is no ending. Or rather, the ending is weak - it leaves the reader hanging so they will want to read the next book. When helping children understand the concept of a story, these books do not bog the reader down with text, rather they give a clear story using only images.
So, here are a few of my favorite wordless picture books that can be used with young children to help develop the concept of a story. While these can be used as a class discussion/lesson to develop the concept, I also think they could be used for reluctant writers. For a small child, coming up with their own fiction story to write can be daunting (especially if they are expected to come up with a beginning, middle, and end). However, these books provide the frame of the story, but the children would be able to write the text, use good word choice, and define the characters.

Pancakes For Breakfast by Tomie DePaola

A Ball For Daisy by Chris Raschka

Frog On His Own by Mercer Mayer

South by Patrick McDonnell

Trainstop by Barbara Lehman

Wave by Suzy Lee

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Best Books I Read in 2012

I had time to read in 2012. Apparently, lots of time. I read 85 books (YA and big people). Now that the little one is here, it does not look like I will have much time in 2013 to read, as I have only read two books so far, but I am trying.
Below is a list of my favorites from 2012. They are in no particular order.

Divergent and Insurgent by Veronica Roth

 The Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (I didn't love Mockingjay enough to reread it)

The Girls by Lori Lansens

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn 

 Love, Aubrey by Suzanne LeFleur

Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth

The Year Money Grew On Trees by Aaron Hawkins

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren

Powerless by Matthew Cody

Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes

 The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle

 The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Trash by Andy Mulligan

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Leopard and Silkie

I have to admit that when I first saw this book, I was not excited. I figured it would be another book about two animals that become 'friends'. There are already several of these types of books (Owen and Mzee and Tarra and Bella) and I wasn't sure I was ready for another. 
The title of this book is very misleading. While Leopard and Silkie are in big type across the top, the book is actually more about the boy trying to save the seal pups. Although this information is written in the subtitle, it could easily be missed.
I really liked this book because it showed how even children can be activists. When trying to empower young children to do something good for the world around them, this book is an inspiration.
Of course, there are adults involved, but it was refreshing to find a book that showed even young people can make a difference.
There is also a website about the seal pups.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Big Words for Little People

New years are always a chance to start again. So, I'm starting over with this blog and attempting to begin posting again about books.

I picked Big Words for Little People by Jamie Lee Curtis because I love the idea of using sophisticated vocabulary and language with all children. While the book attempts to explain the meaning of each word, this is a great launching point to have a discussion about what the words mean and how to use them. Often, we read a book once and think that the children are done with it. This book is funny and rhymes, so it can easily be read over and over. 
I worry when picking books to read aloud that if there are more difficult words, children will not enjoy the book. However, I think reading aloud to children is the way that they will encounter these words so that they become part of their vocabulary.