book review

Top Ten Tuesday…books we love…RIGHT NOW!

Posted by on May 4, 2011 in book review | 4 comments

Top Ten {Tuesday}As a kid, I remember going to the library and checking out huge piles of slightly musty books that I could barely carry out the door. The moment I buckled into the car, I would flip open to the first page and start devouring them, one after another.

I would like to think that we have passed on that love of books to our kids. We go to the library frequently and load up backpacks and my indestructible Envirosax with piles of books. Madi checks out dozens of chapter books, I head immediately to check out the “new” children’s books for the most recent titles, and the other two kids grab books off the low shelves and start flipping through the pages, bringing over their favorites for us to read together.

Between our library books and our ever-growing home library, we have quite the collection. So, I decided to take a “Top Ten” snapshot of some of our favorite books…right now…because it changes on a regular basis. Here’s what I came up with:

1. Max’s Chocolate Chicken by Rosemary Wells: For some reason, Fiona has attached herself to this Easter egg themed book. She likes telling me what Max finds instead of Easter eggs (ants, a spoon, a mud puddle) and counting Ruby’s eggs (1…3…4..6…).

2. Curious George’s First Day of School by H.A. Rey: Another bedtime favorite for Fiona right now, Curious George is especially charming in this book. She may be swayed by her mom a little bit, because I’m a fan too. I like reading pages like, “The children all lent a hand (and feet) to clean up the mess.” and “Kersplosh! The bucket tipped, the mop dropped, and George went sliding across the floor.” Gotta love that monkey.

3. Dolphins at Daybreak by Mary Pope Osborne: This is one of the books in the Magic Tree House series, which Madi is reading through with reckless abandon. And you know what? They are interesting for adults too – lots of historical facts, interesting plots, magic – can’t beat that! This is one of her favs…right now.

4.¬†Flat Stanley’s Worldwide Adventures by Jeff Brown: Madi is also reading the Flat Stanley series when she can find them at the library. Her class read the first book in class and sent Flat Stanleys to a friend or family member – Madi sent one to my sister Kristin in Vermont, and she returned it with a scrapbook, maps, magnets, and other surprises. Now Madi wants to read more and more of the books!

5. Get Me to the Ark on Time by Cuyler Black: When I asked Parker what his favorite book was, he didn’t even hesitate, but immediately grabbed this book. I wasn’t too sure, because I had never read it to him before, but he convinced me that Madi read it to him, so it makes the list. I guess we need to put it into the “Mommy reading” rotation!

6. I Can Do it Myself by Emily Pearl Kingsley: I found this book at a garage sale, and Parker is a big fan of it because he can “read” it all by himself. It has the old school Sesame Street characters throughout – you know, back when Big Bird had a tiny head – and it has easy reading phrases like, “I can button my buttons” and “I can pour my own juice”. Interesting note…I went to find the link on Amazon, and to get a new copy of this book is upwards of $700!! I guess it’s a classic!

7: The Story by Zondervan: We have been reading this for our small group Bible study, and once I got past the idea that it wasn’t a paraphrase…wasn’t a new translation…but definitely a different way to read the Bible…I started to get into it. It paints the scriptures in much broader strokes which allows the reader to see the big picture; who God is and how He relates to His people. It’s very cool.

8. The Happiest Mom by Meagan Francis: Back in March, my sister Renae and I checked out this book in Barnes & Noble and almost bought it, but I finally picked it up this week. I am already digging it – the first chapter was all about “taking the easy way out” – in Meagan’s words, “Remember that because it’s technically possible for us to pull off something…doesn’t mean that we should.” Words spoken directly to me, people. Renae and I are going to a book talk/signing with Meagan on Thursday – hooray!

9. & 10. Okay…this is where I would put Ben’s favorite books, but I don’t think the latest construction law literature would be very thrilling. So instead…what are the books you are in love with right now…please share!

Reflections on “The Help”

Posted by on Aug 11, 2010 in book review | 0 comments

It was the middle of the night, and I was propped up on the couch with a feverish little girl laying on my chest. My throat felt like it was on fire, and I tried to hold in my rattling cough, so I wouldn’t wake her up. On my knees, my iPad glowed with the book I was reading, The Help, by Kathryn Stockett.

The book, set at the brink of the Civil Rights movement, dives into the complex relationships between white families and the African American maids that cared for their children. It was hard to read, mainly because I knew that it probably only scratched the surface of the hardships that the maids faced working in often hostile environments.

Make one mistake, like using the wrong bathroom or misplacing a piece of silver, and you were not only fired, but you wouldn’t be able to get another job in town. Pour your life into raising the kids, and inevitably, they would grow up to “start thinking that colored folks ain’t as good as whites.”

One of the scenes that stood out to me was when Aibileen, one of the main characters, was trying to potty train her young white charge. The only thing that worked was showing her how to go, but unfortunately, she could only show her in the “colored bathroom” in the garage. When the mother came home, little Mae Mobley, when prompted to go potty, ran out to the garage to use Aibileen’s bathroom. Her mother was horrified, and punished her, telling her that she would “catch diseases” if she used that bathroom.

It broke my heart, both for Aibileen and Mae Mobley. They were both being oppressed…one for the color of their skin and the other for being willing to look beyond it.

I read late into the night, and it made me think…about the mistakes of the past and the discrimination that continues today. It also made me wonder how I would have reacted if I lived during that place and time. There were a few examples of women bucking the system in the book, but it was always in secret. If it got out that they were “blurring the lines”, they would be socially persecuted. I would hope that I would have been brave enough to stand up against the status quo, even while looking at my friends spending their days doing needlepoint and playing bridge.

It is impossible to say exactly what I would or wouldn’t do, especially with hindsight on my side, but two things came to my mind as I kissed the top of the sweaty little head tucked under my chin.

First, I wouldn’t want to cede the upbringing of my kids to anyone else. Yes, it stinks to lose sleep when a kid has a fever, especially when you are sick too. Yes, it is hard (and messy) work teaching a kid how to use the toilet. But it is my work, and I wouldn’t give up those moments for anything.

Second, I don’t ever want to act in a way that gives the impression to my kids that they are better than anyone else. It is an ugly thing when discrimination and negative stereotypes are passed on from parents to kids, and I want to be as far away from that as possible. I may not be able to understand what it feels like to be on the receiving end of discrimination, but I can control what is discussed and taught in our home.

As I flicked to the last page, I was thankful the book ended with hope of change, spurred on by ordinary people speaking the truth. May I have the strength to do the same…every day…regardless of the cost.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

All Things at Once…

Posted by on Mar 5, 2010 in book review | 0 comments

I recently read Mika Brzenzinski’s memoir, All Things at Once, which chronicles her journey to finding the balance between career, marriage, and family. Honestly, I was more than a little skeptical about her perspective after hearing an interview about her book on the Today show. But I spotted it on the Express rack at the library, and I was sufficiently intrigued enough to find out “the rest of the story”.

Once I got into the book, I had a hard time putting it down. Her story was painfully honest about the challenges of having a career in television media, brutally realistic about the impact it had on her family, and surprisingly refreshing to see the lessons she learned along the way. It was not a book just about being a working mother, or a book just about the ups and downs of her career, but about how all the parts of her life progressed together…hence the title of the book.

There is a passage in the book that details a conversation she had with her mother about balance. It struck me tremendously…

“Be honest,” I said, when we’d reached a point of pause in our discussion. “Do you see yourself first as a mother, a wife, or an artist?”

“Oh,” my mother said, with her wonderful strong European accent. “That is impossible to answer, because I am all those things at once.” (9)

“What I took away from this public exchange with my mother was that it’s right and good and necessary to carry all these different pictures in our minds as we move on in the world, but it’s also right and good and necessary to step back every once in a while and bring just one of those pictures into focus. To see everything you believe yourself to be, even if you can’t be all those things all the time…Yes, we can be all things at once, my mother told me. In fact, we must. But we must also accept that we can’t do everything all at once. It’s about mapping out, navigating, and constantly renegotiating your career, marriage, and family plans. All equally important – and all, ultimately, at once.” (10-11)

Great perspective…

Circle of Quiet

Posted by on Oct 2, 2009 in book review | 1 comment

My friend Kate has a list of books that she has recently read on her blog…it’s a nice little feature. I’m thinking about adding it to mine as well, mainly so I can keep track of my reading jaunts. Anyways, I saw that she had recently read Circle of Quiet by Madeline L’Engle, so I decided to pull out my own dogeared copy and give it another whirl. (Yes, it is where I got the name for my blog…hopefully L’Engle won’t mind)

The book was full of turned over corners, sticky notes, and numbered slips of paper. I used the book as one of the texts for a readers theatre piece I did in college, and I guess I never took out the markers. I also found a note inside the front cover from my Dad, who gave me the book. He said it was a book to read…and read again…

And it has been. I have rifled through the pages more than a few times, each time taking something new away from it…one of the marks of a good book.

It also has been interesting to read it at different stages of my life. Right now, I can appreciate it differently, because she references teaching experiences, parenting young children, marriage…all these things that I could only imagine when I read it in, say, college. Now…I get it.

When she writes about being unself-conscious and how it is like a child being totally absorbed in play, I can not only understand it theoretically, but I can also see it through watching my kids do that very thing. When she talks about finding that quiet place to work in a house full of children, I look around and see that in my everyday life too.

L’Engle masterfully creates these connecting points between her experiences and her readers. I am so looking forward to diving in to see what I can discover about myself this time around. I’m sure I won’t be disappointed.

— Post From My iPhone

Meditation…not just for monks…

Posted by on Mar 12, 2009 in book review, faith | 0 comments

My sisters and I recently read the book The Celebration of Discipline, which is kind of a how-to guide for the spiritual disciplines,like fasting, simplicity, and prayer. The chapter on meditation stood out to me, because it seems like such an improbable activity in my current existence. Well, I guess unless I got up at the break of dawn or something, which at this point? Yes…improbable.

However, I was proven wrong the other day. The kids wanted a tent…which I am honestly tired of building…but we dragged chairs into the living room, I grabbed a sheet from upstairs, and voil√†, a tent. Madi assumed her normal role, the mommy, and Parker and I were the kids. I am always Sarah, and Parker gets to keep his name for some reason.

After loading up the tent with the supplies from the “store”, she then became postgirl Madi, and started delivering mail. This took a little while, because she had to write out the letters, put them into envelopes, and then deliver them to me, who was sitting in the tent.

Yes, I was sitting underneath the sheet-covered chairs, waiting for my mail to be delivered, surrounded by play food and doll clothes, and I started thinking about what I should do. Should I crawl out and grab my phone or laptop to be “productive” while I wait? Should I skip it and just sit here? It felt so strange to just “be” without much to do or look at, but the chapter from the book on meditation jumped into my mind….why don’t I take this opportunity of doing “nothing” to reflect and pray? Amazing how the opportunities present themselves if you are open to them…

So, I reflected and prayed (for about a minute and a half) before my first mail delivery came, and then Parker climbed in and we played with the toys inside the tent, and my little moment of silence was over as quickly as it came. But it was a good reminder that while I probably don’t have the opportunity to sit, reflect, and pray for 20 minutes, that doesn’t mean that I can’t find those brief quiet moments, even if it is the three minutes that I spend in the bathroom or the five minutes when Ben takes them upstairs while he changes his clothes after work. I just need to be careful to not fill them ALL up with distractions like my phone or the television, which tends to be my default behavior if I have some time to myself.

I guess it made me think about how I set expectations for myself – I don’t have to be Mother Teresa, but I can reach out to a friend – I don’t have to spend two hours a day on personal devotions, but I can pray while I wash the lunch dishes – otherwise, I get so overwhelmed by all the things I “should” do that I don’t do it at all, which is not the point, right?

What to Read at Bedtime?

Posted by on Jun 18, 2008 in book review | 3 comments

Reading to my kids is one of my favorite things to do. We read at the breakfast table, read before naptime and bedtime, or any old time at all.

Board books…picture books…flap books…scratch & sniff books…High Five magazine…gotta love it!

Unfortunately, there are quite a few poorly written children’s books out there. Maybe some publishers focus on quantity rather than quality or think that the kids don’t care? Also, once you get into the “early reader” books, they are so stilted that I find myself adding extra words to make them flow better. The Amelia Bedelia books are a good example of this. I loved them growing up, but the repetition and awkward phrasing gets me every time. Yes, I know these qualities make the books appropriate for kids just starting to read, so that is why I’m always on the lookout for books that meet my “read out loud” criteria, including a natural rhythm, an actual storyline, and a good balance of words vs. pictures.

So, here is the short list of my favorite bedtime stories. (I compiled it in my head while I was reading to Parker tonight.)

  • Kiss Good Night by Amy Hest
    • My favorite part of this book, which takes you through Sam’s bedtime ritual, is when Mrs. Bear bends “way down, kissing Sam once and twice and then twice more”
  • Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
    • Such a classic book – Parker likes to “moo” whenever we get to the part where it talks about the “cow jumping over the moon”
  • I Love You When by Leslie Jonath
    • This book was actually distributed by babyGap, and when it says “I love you when we sing big songs and when you hold my hand” – I always have my kids grab my hand.
  • Just Like You by Jan Fearnley
    • At the end of this book, Little Mouse has just asked his Mama what she can do for him when she is just a little mouse, and she ends the list with “But most of all, I promise I will always love you and care for you. And I’ll do it with all my heart.” So precious.

That’s my list for now. What’s your favorite bedtime story?

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