Tag Archives: children’s books

Accentuating the Positive


Poor Philip.  Being 4 can be rough sometimes.  Lots of rules.  Lots of expectations.  Lots of emotions.

Sometimes, his emotions erupt like a volcano.  I understand.  I feel that way sometimes and I am still a work in progress on “turning the wheel” and keeping my emotions under control.  Today, in fact, I felt a rumbling of anger when he had drenched himself with the rainwater (irresistible!) while I walked the dog.  I had this big plan.  It was a cloudy day so we were going to relocate some of the 4′ x 4′ garden beds from the back garden and put them in the front garden.  But, a soaked child in cool, persistent wind is no good and I was not in the mood to dress him in fresh clothes, stick his feet in plastic bags to allow him to wear his sodden boots and layer him in a fleece and a windbreaker since his winter coat was dripping.  It was so disappointing.  We were going to be EXCAVATORS!  We were going to unearth these beds and haul them.  He was going to get wonderfully worn out and I was going to tackle a chore.  But, it drained me.  I lacked the reserve to be resilient about it.  We went in.  I removed all of the wet items, made sure he was warm and dry and relocated myself to make a bed while he listened to Poetry Speaks to Children in the kitchen and read along with the book.

As I made the bed, I argued with myself about whether or not this was a major big deal (not really) or just a learning opportunity (probably) and what I could do about it (get calm, move forward).

When I got downstairs, he was still listening to poetry, and I was still feeling pretty negative.  So, I grabbed a notebook and a pen and just started writing.  I sat on the chair near the window (trying not to think about all of the seeds that I have not yet planted) and I got my mood back in order after about 2 paragraphs (I wasn’t given much time for more).  He came up with some games to play, we had book-and-a-snack on the chair a bit later, then enjoyed reading the graphic novel version of The Little Prince over dinner.  Afterwards, he had a fabulous splash fest in the bath followed by a bedtime book, then lights out.

As I gave Philip his bedtime hugs and kisses, I told him how much he helped me get chores done (he helped me vacuum and he helped me clean dishes), how hard he worked on controlling his emotions (He and I worked on a list together.  For example, “When I get angry, I will stop and think quietly.”), how gentle he was with the dog (lots of pets and a reminder to brush the dog’s teeth) and so on.

He was grinning ear to ear.  He even said he was blushing.

As Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish point out in How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and How to Listen So Kids Will Talk, lecturing, preaching and harping about mistakes are ineffective motivators for positive change.  When the situation has passed, when the milk has been spilled, when the brains (both the parents’ and the child’s) are back in normal mode, it’s time to talk about ways to do things differently.  It can be really hard.  Parenting is a selfless act, but not all parents are selfless (nor, I think, should they be).  But, having faith and trust, leaning on patience and collective plans really can help ease the burden on all in the family.


Children’s book recommendations


As usual, Philip and I have been reading a lot.  Here are a few (OK, a few is 3; this list turned out to be way more than 3) gems that we have been enjoying lately:

Electrical Wizard: How Nikola Tesla Lit Up the World by Elizabeth Rusch, illustrated by Oliver Dominguez.  Wonderful book.  Beautiful illustrations.  I don’t know why Thomas Edison gets all of the acclaim he receives and Nikola Tesla receives so very little.  Tesla was clearly a genius and had some hard times in his life.  I think I AM a bit biased since Edison electrocuted animals to demonstrate the safety concerns of AC current.  Clearly, very visual.  But, truly awful.  I also learned that Edison refused to let Westinghouse use his light bulbs for the Chicago World’s Fair (sore loser or just jerk or both?) that Tesla was contracted to design and implement.  Anyway, all of these thoughts are spurred after we read this book and it is worth exploring!

Baby mammoth mummy : frozen in time! : a prehistoric animal’s journey into the 21st century by Christopher Sloan, Bernard Buigues and photography by Francis Latreille.  Fascinating, fascinating.  While I will say that it is sad what happens initially to the recovered baby mammoth (and no, I am not going to tell you what happens–read it yourself), this book is wonderful.  It highlights the scientific collaborators–and that scientists HAVE to collaborate to approach a problem from many angles (awesome lesson!) and also gives a glimpse of what the world of Siberia looked like when Lyuba lived about 30,000 years ago.  Well worth the time to delve into this one.  And, OK, it is published by National Geographic Kids, so the photos are captivating.

Dig, wait, listen : a desert toad’s tale by April Pulley Sayre, illustrated by Barbara Bash.  This book provides a wonderfully poetic glimpse of the desert world while the spadefoot toad waits for the sound of rain.  You meet kangaroo rats, javelinas, scorpions, snakes (and probably others…I forget now) and learn a bit about each of them along the way.  Always intriguing to read about the desert when you live in the Midwest.

Explore night science! by Cindy Blobaum, illustrated by Bryan Stone.  This book is structured using the 5 senses as ways to explore the night world.  It is chock-full of great activities to do both inside and outside.  We did the “Touch Test” exercise.  This involves placing objects into paper bags and trying to extract them simply by feeling them.  While Philip couldn’t reliably be trusted to not look, I felt it was a good start in understanding how different the world seems when you only use your fingers to explore the objects in it.

Perimeter, area, and volume : a monster book of dimensions by David A. Adler, illustrated by Edward Miller.  I should start by saying that I really like David Adler’s work.  He manages to balance entertainment with education well.  While Philip certainly isn’t ready to do most of the calculations in the book, I feel it was very useful in introducing the basic concepts in a fun and approachable way.  There is nothing scary about this book even though it is full of monsters.  A good door opener to these mathematical concepts.

The Wing Wing brothers math spectacular! by Ethan Long.  I am including this book even though I don’t personally love it because Philip seemed to learn a lot from it…and he genuinely enjoyed it.  I spent a lot of my time trying to figure out who each of the five brothers were.  All of their names start with the letter “W” and, if you take the time, you can differentiate them.  But, you do need to be a keen observer.  For me, it detracted from the joy of the book.  But, for Philip, it was completely irrelevant.  There is a section in the book with a vanishing cabinet that helps the reader with basic addition and subtraction between 0 and 5.  If you do manipulatives with your child, you’ve probably played “Pigs in the Pen” or a similar game where the pigs go in and out to reinforce the same concepts.  If you don’t do manipulatives, this section does a good job of simulating the game.

King Arthur’s very great grandson : Henry Alfred Grummorson was the great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandson of King Arthur, the noblest knight to ever wield a sword by Kenneth Kraegel.  What a great book with a message all parents (especially of boys) can embrace!  Young Henry launches on an adventure to challenge a dragon, is redirected to a cyclops who suggests he visits a griffin who tells him to go visit a sea serpent.  At each turn, Henry wants battle and the creatures have something else in mind.  As a parent, you feel somewhat refreshed after you read this book with your child.  Finally, you think, a book with a palatable pro-social message!

As always, we continue to read our favorites: Mo Willems’ Elephant & Piggie series and Cynthia Rylant’s Mr. Putter & Tabby series.

We just embarked on Jon Scieszka’s Trucktown series (not in love, but the series does help Philip feel confident reading by himself, so I am not going to knock it!) and recently discovered the Mouse & Mole series by Wong Herbert Yee (In Fine Feathered Friends, you learn a lot about backyard birds!)

That’s all for now.  Happy Reading!

Grumpy? Go for a run


I admit it.  I was a bit grumpy today.  Plus, I had a very short temper.  I attribute a lot of this to lack of sleep.  But, I am not in favor of making an excuse and continuing in a cranky mood.  I’d rather change it.  Today, I recommend two simple solutions:

1) Change activities

The situation: Philip and I were in the yard.  I was examining various fruit trees to determine what pruning I would need to do in the next week or so.  He had tipped over one of my water barrel trash cans, emptied it of its huge chunk of ice, then dragged it over to the moat area so that, if left untended, it could freeze there overnight.  This was immediately after I had asked him to leave it alone.  I was less than thrilled and told him to move it back to where it belonged.  Nope.  Instead, he moseyed over to where I was raking leaves and then tried to take the rake from the ground while I was relocating the barrel.  GR.  Later, I was using my hand pruning shears to cut down weeds.  He wanted to use it and started to demand them.  Manners?  What manners?  No was my answer.  SCREAMS.  He is tired from our trip and needs more sleep, too.  Screams were a big feature of the day.  I did not have the patience, so instead of lecturing or imposing too many time outs to count, I announced that we were going inside.  We did.  Then, I told him we were going to read on the couch and snuggle.  We did.  He read Joe’s Toe and How Many Fish? to me.  I read David Macaulay’s fabulous Jet Plane: How it Works.  It was wonderful.  But, I wasn’t quite over the hump.  As soon as he started to climb all over me, suck my ears and refused to give me space (because he was feeling so happy and excited), I went to solution #2:

2) Go for a run

I sent a text to Bruce and asked if he could take a break from work so that I could go for a run in about 30 minutes or so.  He was, as always, very accommodating.  He has been known to say things like, “When you go for a run, it’s good for the whole family.”  He even added 2 new songs (Happy by Pharrell Williams and The Walker by Fitz and the Tantrums) to my ipod so I could have even more bounce to my step.  I left the house, smiled at the sun, was thrilled that I didn’t need to wear gloves, and ran down the street.

My run was not fabulous.  With my cold and fatigue, I had to stop many times.  But, I sprinted a lot in an effort to prove to myself that my body was able to move faster than a sluggish crawl.  I also recognized that it’s been at least 4 weeks since my last run.  I could give myself a slight break.  Thirty-four minutes later, I was home.  I did some stretching, took a shower, put on clean, warm, dry clothes and felt so much better.  Thank you, thank you endorphins!

So, if you face similar challenges, maybe these two recommendations could work for you.  I can unreservedly say that both helped turn my day around.  And, for that, I am grateful.

Melting snow, blogging reflection


The thermometer on the outside of the garage suggested a temperature outside that was close to 40 degrees Fahrenheit.  Neither Philip nor I had to wear gloves the entire two hours we were outside.  We went for a walk to the mucky stream.  We watched as a woodpecker grabbed a late lunch.  We saw two pheasants skim over the tips of the tall grass in our neighbor’s yard.  We played running games, snow soccer and outside barbecue party (in which Philip used the back porch steps as a grill and scooped snow into patties with a broken spatula).  We even gave the horse lots of rubs to help her feel better about her copious shedding.  Soon, we will be completely covered in fur when we help remove her excess winter coat.

Prior to our adventures outside, we read about maps, Winnie the Pooh and Max and the Tom Cats (part of the Bob Books series.)  We had a blast making bubble solution and crafted 3 bubble wands out of Popsicle sticks and plastic screws that are part of soy milk cartons.  Each prototype had a different design.  The wand with two types of tape was the clear winner.  In second place was the rubber band model.  Philip’s attempt with the First Aid waterproof tape, while valorous, needed some improvement.  We blew bubbles big and small.  We popped bubbles.  We caught bubbles.  We pirouetted with the wands.  We kept coming up with new ideas, new ways to make or break bubbles.  It was a fabulous time.  And, it’s all thanks to this book: Pop! A Book About Bubbles by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley and Margaret Miller.  I am grateful to this book for its bubble solution formula.  In the past, I had only ever used dish washing liquid and water.  Adding the corn syrup to the solution made such a difference!

Last night, Bruce and I started to watch Julie and Julia.  While we didn’t finish it yet, what we have seen so far we have found wonderful and charming.  Because the movie is about a blogger, I naturally began to reflect on my own blogging experiences to date.  I have noticed, for example, that recipes are very popular.  Any blog that addresses deeper issues, such as working very hard to reduce energy consumption, is far less welcome.  I fully understand that reaction since I feel that blogs should probably be more like short stories than reminders of the news.  We are, after all, fairly overwhelmed with the challenges of modern life (global climate change, dwindling resources, scientific illiteracy and so on) that it makes sense that many people just want to enjoy their time on the computer.  Who can blame them?

While I don’t think that I meet my own criteria, I give myself the excuse that I am doing this largely for myself, to affirm that I have some worth and to also give me some external shove to keep trying and believing when I find times quite difficult to bear.  And, okay, yeah, I do want to help change the world and I think that it can be accomplished by each of us tackling little issues about which we care deeply.  Plus, I like to share what I learn.  While it may not seem amazing to anyone else, the learning matters to the learner.

Another observation I have about blogs is that people expect bloggers to be of a singular interest.  For example, you can read articles about how to be a better blogger and it will tell you to focus on something that you are expert on or passionate about and talk about it.  To me, that’s great advice if you are hoping to make a career out of blogging or hoping to profit from your online posts in some way.  However, I feel that most people (or maybe it’s just me) have so many interests that they would have to maintain numerous, parallel blogs and court different identities in each one.  Sounds like a lot of work.  Sounds more like a character in a movie whose life is simplified because the movie can only be 2 hours long (or 3 if you are Peter Jackson).  On some level, I feel like I should apologize to the few followers that I have.  One may have signed up for vegan recipes; another may have signed up to read ridiculous poems; still another may have signed up to get some tips on children’s books.  What I deliver is a reflection of my days, none of which are the same even though my week-to-week schedule is fairly routine.  I have to acknowledge the possibility that many people aren’t really following this blog because of my posts.  They may have signed up and assumed that I would reciprocate with their blogs.  Maybe that’s de rigueur.  If that’s the case, then I’ve just offended a bunch of people.  Unwittingly.

Bruce just came home and my classes are reasonably prepped for now.  I am going to spend some time with him, find out about his day and, hopefully, go to bed early.

Have a good night!



Happy March 1st!

Today, Bruce, Philip and I went to an annual charity book sale event in our area.  Every year, we attend.  Every year, we pick up bags and bags of books.  Today, we picked up a stack of classics (Winnie the Pooh, Gulliver’s Travels, Charlotte’s Web [note: ours is not a first edition], etc.) for Philip and lots of books on landscaping and gardening for me.  If you’ve read the blog since January, you’ll know that I’m hoping to try out Jerusalem artichokes this year.  But, I also am adding in a shade garden this year.  I picked up a book to help me expand my knowledge of shade plants beyond hosta and ferns.

I have continued my reading in the John Holt book.  Today, I read about ways in which children learn and how parents and caregivers should let children explore their natural curiosity with minimal interference from adults.  The overriding theme is that when you learn by doing you learn for life and you pursue your passions.  I read anecdotes about 7-year old children using hammers and saws to build additions on homes and 3-year old children doing math and an 11-year old child with a checking account who ran her own business.

I am reminded of a story from when I was much, much younger and still living with my parents.  At the time, there had been an accident involving a father and his young daughter and a plane crash.  The daughter, it seems, was very passionate about flying.  Her parents chose to help her pursue her dream of being  a pilot.  One day, while learning to fly, something went wrong.  The plane crashed.  Everyone on board died.  I remember the conversation I had with my mother.  She was very upset about it.  She judged the parents for the irresponsible behavior.  I disagreed.  I felt that it was right of her parents to help support the daughter’s dreams.  Now that I am a parent, do I feel the same way?


It can be very painful to be a parent because, as Elizabeth Stone said, you decide to “have your heart go walking around outside your body. ”  The first day Philip went on an amusement park ride and I wasn’t sitting next to him, I felt like I had just sent him off to college.  Who knows what he will decide to do with his life?  I certainly don’t and neither does he.  Currently, becoming a scientist and a father are his two great dreams.  But, the point is this: if he decides to take up snowboarding or rock climbing or something else that I perceive as risky, I will try to support him.  

…unless he decides that his heart is set on American football.  Then, we’ll have to talk.

More Children’s Books recommendations


Today, Philip and I built a small-scale shaduf out of sticks in the back hall, some string, a wad of Play-Doh and a bag of rocks.  Philip and I used it to talk about levers, the fulcrum, the effort, the load and also ancient Egypt, the Nile, and irrigation.  Our origami “snack cup” which we had made the other day was our bucket.  It didn’t last, but it was promptly added to the pile of dryer lint and other papers that are soaking in a bowl in the soon-to-be-recycled homemade paper project.

Toward the middle of the morning, we started in on a few books whose titles are worth sharing here:

Pluto’s Secret: An Icy World’s Tale of Discovery by Margaret Weitekamp (a quirky tale from Pluto’s perspective about its original discovery and current theories about its significance.)
Mr. Putter & Tabby Write the Book by Cynthia Rylant (A lovely book that is full of warm humor.)
Mr. Putter & Tabby Paint the Porch by Cynthia Rylant (A cute tale about the hijinks involved when people paint porches with their pets.)
Can I Play Too by Mo Willems (Another winner from Willems that encourages new readers to read and have fun.)
I Broke My Trunk by Mo Willems (A particularly amusing Elephant & Piggie book that revels in absurdity and, as a result, amuses fully.)

By the way, I highly recommend the following origami books:

Jungle Animal Origami  and Creepy Crawly Animal Origami by Duy Nguyen

Even though they are difficult, I seem to be able to understand the directions.  That is not usually the case with me and origami books.  Of course, it could be because I am practicing more.  But, I will give the author credit.  The directions are straightforward and I appreciate his “Go! Explore!  Have fun!” sentiment.  We made half of a lion today.  Maybe tomorrow we will finish the second half.

Time for me to get a snack and head to bed.  I hope that you have a wonderful night.

P.S. Congratulations to my brother, Charles, for the success of his recent project!

Recommended kid books


Philip and I raid two libraries frequently: our local library on Thursdays after his reading session with Ms. Jo and the out-of-town library after his dance class.  What great places to shop hungry!

Here are some book recommendations culled from this week’s stacks:

Gandhi: A March to the Sea by Alice B. McGinty (A lovely book that shed new perspective–for me–on the quest for independence in India.)
Measuring Penny by Loreen Leedy (A book that helps generate interest in measuring various objects in various ways.  Did you know, for example, that Mal’s nose is 3 LEGO minifigures long?)
Is a blue whale the biggest thing there is? by Robert E. Wells (We really enjoyed this book.  When I asked Philip later in the day the eponymous question, he said, “NO!”  “Oh?” I responded.  “What is?”  He screamed, “THE UNIVERSE!!”  OK, cool.  Just checking that you got the message.)
What’s up, what’s down? by Lola M. Schaefer (Wonderful book on perspectives.  Helps expand a child’s thinking beyond his or her immediate surroundings.)
Alien Deep: Revealing the Mysterious Living World at the Bottom of the Ocean by Bradley Hague (A book that takes you on a journey to seek out hydrothermal vents and introduces great terms like archaea and also showcases how diligently scientists have to work to uncover, unravel and, ultimately, understand any kind of discovery.)
Chinese fables: “The Dragon Slayer” and other timeless tales of wisdom by Shiho S. Nunes (It may be that “The Dragon Slayer” is the most popular of the tales; I don’t know.  But, “The Practical Bride” and “Stealing the Bell” were among our favorites.  This compilation is lovely to look at and wonderfully understated.  The reader can take the tale beyond what is told.  A rare treat.)

And for our favorite…

The Long, Long Journey: The Godwit’s Amazing Migration by Sandra Markle (This book spurred us to watch godwit videos [for your viewing pleasure], check out godwit photos, brush up on our geography, listen to the radio and also work on our art [which is taped to our living room wall and unavailable for viewing].  One book that can do all of that gets a big thumb’s up!)

We checked out 49 books today and I’m sure there are bound to be a few winners.  As we find some titles worth sharing, I will share them with you.

Enjoy your evening!