Friday, August 21, 2015

(Some of) What We Read This Summer

As I mentioned in my previous post (three days ago... sorry), we didn't get as much reading done this summer as I would have liked. I was in a play in June, and I seldom read much while I'm working on lines. We were also just... lazy. We started some things that were never finished. Little Sis or I already blogged about a few things. This post is a great dump of some of the other books we took the time to read. The mini-reviews I provide will probably be less than helpful. Sorry about that.

Picture Books We Read Together

Mr. Brown's Fantastic Hat by Ayano Imai. minedition, 2014.

Mr. Brown is a lonely, grumpy bear. A woodpecker decides he needs company and makes himself at home in Mr. Brown's hat. Soon, more and more birds make themselves at home in the magically growing hat. Imai's illustrations are beautiful, and the way Mr. Brown's "civilized world" meets the natural world is brilliant. The girls thought this was a strange, but lovely book. I agree.

Outstanding In The Rain by Frank Viva. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2015.

We read this book two months ago, and it still comes up in conversation! It's the story of a child's trip to Coney Island, but told in the most playful way. Each page tells a bit of the story, with a die-cut hole revealing a bit of word(s) on the next page. When you turn the page, the story continues, using an oronym of the word(s) on the previous page. I don't have a lot of space to go into great details, but to understand what I mean, please see the Brain Pickings and New York Times reviews. This is a clever book, and while I'm sure you can tell by the cover, it features some amazing art.

Sleeping Cinderella and Other Princess Mix-Ups by Stephanie Clarkson, illustrated by Brigette Barrager. Orchard Books, 2015.

My daughters were crazy about this book. We love Brigette Barrager, so it was a must-read. It's a funny look at unhappy fairy tale princesses, and what happens when they switch stories. The grass may not be greener, but each girl gains the courage to change her own story. Little Sis liked it because "they wear sneakers, not high heels." (I spotted a pair of heels, but why ruin good things?) I thought it was cute, but not necessarily one I would need to own. A bit slight, for my tastes. But as I said, they loved it.

Where Does Kitty Go In the Rain? by Harriet Ziefert, illustrated by Brigette Barrager. Blue Apple Books, 2015.

More Brigette Barrager! This one, I loved. It's a gentle fiction/nonfiction hybrid about animals and how they adapt (or don't adapt) to water. It's written in rhyme, and it would make an ideal book for a curious toddler or preschooler, although the science is interesting enough for older kids, too.

Cinderelephant by Emma Dodd. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2013.

Another silly fractured fairy tale, featuring an animal cast. As you can plainly see, Cinderella is an elephant. She lives with the Warty (warthog) Sisters, and her Furry Godmouse saves the day. It's all pretty goofy. Little Sis picked this one out, and while she liked it, I think we'd all agree it was rather forgettable.

Once Upon An Alphabet: Short Stories for All the Letters by Oliver Jeffers. Philomel Books, 2014.

I know, I know, I'm probably the last bookish kid stuff blogger to finally get around to this book! We love Oliver Jeffers, but for some reason, we kept forgetting to check this one out. I think I was worried about the alphabet book concept, as my girls are now in 4th and 2nd grade. I shouldn't have worried. This is a much larger book than your average alphabet book, or even Oliver Jeffers picture book. Each letter of the alphabet gets its own zany, nonsensical short story. We enjoyed this one so much, we actually read it several times!

Tallulah's Tap Shoes by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger. HMH Books for Young Readers, 2015. (Official website for the Tallulah books may be found here.)

I do love the lovely Tallulah books. This one has a great message, too. Tallulah is excited for dance camp, but she's terrified to don her first pair of tap shoes. She's a ballerina, after all. At camp, she meets a girl who is a confident tapper, but is scared to try ballet. Each girl is strong in the class she is used to, but both feel like failures in the other class. The next day, Tallulah skips her tap class, while the other girl skips ballet. When Tallulah goes home that evening, her parents announce that a girl from dance camp is coming for dinner with her parents. Of course, it's the tapper! She and Tallulah help each other out, and while Tallulah is never an excellent tap dancer, she is content to be in the middle. The point is to try and have fun, right?

The Grasshopper & the Ants by Jerry Pinkney. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2015.

Jerry Pinkney - say no more. You know it's beautiful. This gorgeous, whimsical retelling of the fable by Aesop had us ooohing and ahhing.
Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal. Chronicle Books, 2015.

This is a lovely companion book to Over and Under the Snow, also by Messner and Neal. While that book showed the hidden natural world under the snowy winter ground, this one shows all the creatures under a summer garden. It's informative and lovely, and it would make a lovely gift for a child who helps with the gardening.

One Family by George Shannon, illustrated by Blanca Gomez. FSG Books for Young Readers, 2015.

This is a simple story with a simple message: no matter how many people (or things) are in a family, they are still one family. Gomez's figures come in all colors and races and even religions, demonstrating that a family can consist of anyone. I wish more picture books showed such diversity.

When Royals Wore Ruffles: A Funny & Fashionable Alphabet by Chesley McLaren and Pamela Jaber, illustrated by Chesley McLaren. Schwartz & Wade, 2009. 

I remember reading this one with Big Sis when it was brand new! Back then, she was my little fashion plate. Now, she's a cool, sporty girl who prefers jeans and a t-shirt. I laughed when Little Sis found it at the library, as it's definitely her. It's an alphabet book, demonstrating different fashion trends, both cool and crazy, over the centuries. McLaren is a fashion illustrator, and the book is certainly stylish. I enjoyed reading it again, Big Sis enjoying scoffing at things like corsets and ruffs, and Little Sis loved every bit of it.

Double Happiness by Nancy Tupper Ling, illustrated by Alina Chau. Chronicle Books, 2015.

Big Sis's best friend moved to Texas this summer. While she is within driving distance and will be back to visit her family here, it's still sad to leave your school and friends and family behind. Double Happiness is a lovely book, written in verse, alternating between the point of view of a girl named Gracie, and her brother, Jake. The children are leaving their home in San Francisco, flying miles away to their snowy new home in the country. It is painful to say goodbye, but there are new memories to make, as both children collect memories for their memory boxes. This was a poignant read for Big Sis, who had just spoken to her crying friend on the phone that night.

Sebastian and the Balloon by Philip C. Stead. Roaring Book Press, 2014.

Weird and wonderful! Philip Stead is so cool. Sebastian creates the most awesome balloon in the world out of his grandmother's quilt scraps, gathers "all the things he would ever need", and takes flight. Along the way, he meets a bear, a very large bird, and three sisters. Whatever mishap occurs, he has "all the things he would ever need" and time to stop for sandwiches. No, there isn't a lot of point to it, but the surreal imagery and amazing art make it such a wonderful story. Read it before bedtime, and hope to dream about it.

The Tea Party in the Woods by Akiko Miyakoshi. Kids Can Press, 2015.

Kikko's father is heading to Grandma's house to clear her snow, but he has forgotten the pie he was supposed to bring. Kikko sets off in the woods alone. Spying her father, she races to catch up with him, dropping and crushing the pie in the process, only to see him approach a strange house. It isn't Kikko's father at all - it's a bear! In a suit and hat! A well-dressed lamb invites Kikko inside to tea. And what a tea party. There are all kinds of forest animals gathered around the large table, and Kikko is asked to introduce herself. She eats and drinks, and the animals replace the smashed pie with slices of different pies of their own, full of nuts, seeds, and berries. They offer to accompany her to her grandmother's house. When she arrives, however, they are nowhere to be seen. Were the animals really there? Or did Kikko imagine them along the way, as she trudged alone through the woods? Magical.

Bunny Roo, I Love You by Melissa Marr, illustrated by Teagan WhiteNancy Paulsen Books, 2015.

Melissa Marr wrote this darling book while she was in the hospital with her newborn son.On each page, she compares her baby to an animal (in a nice way), and shows how she would comfort and provide for him. At the end, she reveals that he is her baby, and as a mama with an almost-10-year-old (NO! HOW?), I admit to tearing up. This would be an excellent gift for a new mama.Teagan White is another favorite illustrator of mine. I love seeing her work in picture book form.

What Little Sis and I Read Together

Sky Pioneer: A Photobiography of Amelia Earhart by Corinne Szabo. National Geographic Children's Books, 1997. 

Another Amelia book! We had to read something, after missing the Amelia Earhart Festival this year. This is my favorite Amelia book, consisting of fabulous photographs, and well-researched biographical information, focusing more on her life and spirit than on the tragedy of her disappearance. It's no longer in print, but I plan to keep an eye out for a used copy in good condition.

What Little Sis Read Aloud to Us

Penny and Her Marble by Kevin Henkes. Greenwillow Books, 2013.

Few children's book authors today understand kids as well as Kevin Henkes. Little Sis reclined on the couch and read this entire book to me, and I was struck by how familiar Penny's emotions were to me. Penny is walking her doll in a stroller and finds a pretty blue marble outside of Mrs. Goodwin's house. She takes the marble home and hides it in a drawer. She begins to feel sick, sure she stole the marble. When Mrs. Goodwin comes to talk to her, Penny is almost overcome with guilt, but it turns out, Mrs. Goodwin left the marble on the lawn on purpose, hoping a child would claim it. It was a perfect book for my kiddo to read aloud, as it wasn't as long or difficult as a chapter book, but just right for practice.

Owl Diaries #2: Eva Sees a Ghost by Rebecca Elliot. Scholastic, 2015.

There was much excitement over this book, let me tell you. Little Sis LOVED the first Owl Diaries, from Scholastic's cool Branches early chapter book series. This one was predictable, but funny (and punny!), as Eva is sure she sees a ghost, and enlists her friend Lucy to help. These books are just too cute. They're a bit silly, but just the right length. There are fun, colorful illustrations on each page, and for an active kid like Little Sis, they really keep her engaged.

Kids Books I Read 

Monstrous by MarcyKate Connolly. HarperCollins, 2015.

This is a sad fantasy store about an odd girl, a hybrid created out of parts both human and animal, set by her father to protect the girls of the neighboring kingdom from a powerful wizard. She only wants to do what's right, but occasional flashes of memory from her earlier human life and the friendship of a boy make her doubt her mission. It's a dark, complex fairy tale, great for older kids.

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley. Dial Books, 2015.

I love books about magical circuses! Magic circuses are the best! After reading this one, I wanted to rush out and buy it and thrust it into Big Sis's hands. An old man named Ephraim Tuttle is dying. His grandson, Micah, is miserable. Ephraim writes a letter to a magician named The Lightbender, who works for the Circus Mirandus. You see, The Lightbender owes Ephraim a miracle. There is so much to tell you about this book, but I'm not going to do that. Just read it.

YA Books I Read

Selkie Girl by Laurie Brooks. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2008.

Do you see this cover? It does not go with this book. Not at all. This is a dark, moody book set in the Orkney Island of Scotland, about a girl named Elin Jean who does not fit in. The villagers call her Selkie Girl, because she strives to save the seals from being clubbed (overpopulation, they say). She also has webbed skin between her fingers, although her father tries to keep it cut. When she discovers the truth about her mother, she knows she is caught between two worlds. I really liked this book, although the dialect and poetic narration made it much denser than your average YA fare.

There were other books, too, but I'm saving some for other posts.


Merry Weekend! Happy Reading!

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

First Day of School / Goodbye, Summer

And just like that - poof! - summer is over. The girls started school this morning. Big Sis is in fourth grade, although she's in the same classroom. Her third grade teacher moved up a grade, and claimed her right away. Little Sis is in second grade, and her teacher is new to the school. However, she's Big Sis's kindergarten teacher's little sis! 

I'm sorry I haven't blogged as much this summer. Now that the girls are back in school, I feel I'll have more time to post about books and edit photos, etc. 

It was a busy, if short, summer break. I was in a play (As You Like It). Little Sis bridged over to Brownies. We saw some movies (Back to the Future at the Orpheum, Inside Out, Minions), saw some theatre, attending a tiny part of my high school reunion, frequented the library, grilled, grew stuff, took dance classes, drew stuff, said goodbye to our very wrecked PT Cruiser, cooked, had a birthday (me), visited Wichita stuff... We ended the break with a trip to a little amusement park, another movie (Tomorrowland at the second run movie house), and a tea party.

We didn't take any big trips this year. Mr. B's car wreck meant no visit to Atchison for the Amelia Earhart Festival, but we did get to go to Kanopolis State Park for a few days. We rented a cabin, and enjoyed the great outdoors. Due to the accident, Mr. B wasn't able to hike or spend too much time on his foot, but he and the girls fished (nothing caught) and the girls played on all the playground equipment. We grilled a lot.

After we checked out of the cabin, we paid a short visit to Mushroom Rock State Park again.

We stopped for lunch in little Marquette, Kansas, which is one of the cutest small towns I think I've ever visited. We ate at a little diner, then had dessert at a soda fountain. (Butterscotch sundaes...  Mmmmm...) There's a little gas station memorabilia museum and a motorcycle museum, too.

We only drove through Lindsborg, but we did make our way to Coronado Heights again.

So that was our mini-vacation.

Here let me dump a few more photos on you!

How about some shots from our trip last week to the Sedgwick County Zoo? It was World Elephant Day. Stephanie the African Elephant enjoyed a cake and a present - both were full of hay.

That was our summer. If you follow Silver Shoes & Rabbit Holes on Instagram, you probably saw some of these and several more.

For those of you still enjoying a break, have a great rest of the summer! For those of us with kiddos in school, have a wonderful year!

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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Tammy and Pepper (Little Sis Tuesday)

This is our last Little Sis Tuesday post for the summer. One week from today, the girls start back at school! Summer flew so fast! Today, Little Sis wants to show you a very special gift she received. A lovely, generous woman named Shirley, who I met via Instagram and who commented on Little Sis's last Tammy doll post, sent Little Sis a Pepper doll. Tammy is reunited with her own little sis! Please watch your mail, Shirley - proper thanks is on its way! [Little Sis took the pictures, save the last. I took that one, and edited the post.] - Danzel

Look! I have a Pepper doll. Isn't she cute?

I like her, because she's a little sister, like me.

They can play hide and seek.

And they can climb trees together.

Their outfits are old. I like their matching checks.

This is me playing with them.

I love my dolls.

Here's a Pepper commercial my mom found on YouTube.

Thanks for reading my stuff this summer. I don't like going back to school, but blogging is hard.

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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Princess And The Pony (Little Sis Tuesday on Wednesday)

It's time for Little Sis Tuesday, where I turn over the blog to my 7 1/2-year-old. [Although we had the pictures ready to go yesterday, we're running a day behind, due to a big birthday sleepover at a friend's house!] Today, she is going to tell you about a picture book I wanted to blog about. She won. This is truly one of the funniest books we've read in a while. All four of us - Big Sis, Little Sis, Mr. B, and I - thought it was a scream. She took the pictures (so please forgive the quality), I helped her edit them and then I added the top photo, links, and book trailer. - Danzel

The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton.
Arthur A. Levine Books, 2015.

This is a book that we checked out from the library. It's about a warrior princess who wants a horse.

She wants a warrior horse, but instead she gets a pony that looks like a squeaky toy.

It chews stuff and sticks its tongue out a lot. She wants to take the pony to fight in the big battle.

But it's really funny, because all the warriors think the pony is too cute to fight. Being cute wins!

The pony farts a lot. It made us laugh.

Seriously, our whole family got a kick out of The Princess and the Pony. It's silly, cute and clever. I haven't been following Beaton's popular web comic, Hark, A Vagrant, but I checked the first book out from the library and plan to tear into it soon. - Danzel

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Monday, August 3, 2015

Obsessive Nostalgia Disorder Monday: Joyland

Today is my birthday! Happy Birthday to me. And it's Monday, and I haven't done an Obsessive Nostalgia Disorder post in a while. Since I'm another year older, it's the perfect time to remember fun birthdays past. Fourteen years ago this week, I was performing in a local production of The Laramie Project, newly single, and I was flirting with another actor, a good friend who was going through a divorce. (We married a year later, and it's been wonderful ever since!) I loved my castmates and director, and I celebrated my birthday with a late-night post-show dinner at Old Chicago.

The next day was the Boeing picnic at Joyland Amusement Park. I hadn't been to Joyland in years, but my dad asked me if I wanted to go with him. It seemed like a fun little birthday thing to do. So my 24-year-old self went with my daddy to Joyland. I'd forgotten how pretty the picnic grounds were. The amusement area was smaller than I remembered. Of course, I must have been in my early teens the last time I'd gone, and my memories had been obscured a bit by trips to much bigger theme parks: Frontier City, Worlds of Fun, Six Flags Over Texas. Joyland was so tiny.

It looked shabby, too. Joyland opened in 1949, and I truly loved its vintage charms. But my adult eyes saw the age of the park in a new light, and I admit, I worried a bit about safety as Daddy and I hit the rides. We rode the Tilt-A-Whirl, which was a family favorite. It sat near the front of the park by the old carousel and Louie the Clown and his Mighty Wurlitzer. (More on that in a bit.) We rode the Ferris Wheel and the Scrambler. The Log Jam was the flume ride, and I still remember when it was brand new to the park, in the mid-1980s. It was a blast, and the big splash at the end cooled us down. The Whacky Shack was the dark ride. The outside still looked fabulous, but the inside made me sad. There were points where you'd hear a sound and my brain could remember something that was supposed to happen there, but nothing did.

And we rode the Roller Coaster. The 1949 ACE Coaster Classic was my very first roller coaster. I still measure all wooden roller coasters by the standard set by its first two hills. It wasn't the tallest coaster, nor was it the fastest. It didn't do loops or have any bells and whistles. The lift hill was a tall ride, straight up. As you neared the top, you saw the vintage clown sign that read, "Last chance!" We'd put our hands in the air, and WHEW!, you dropped straight down. No turns, no tilts. Just a perfect, straight tummy-tickling drop. You could touch the branches of the trees, if you kept your hands up. Then whoosh!, straight up again, and another straight drop. The rest of the ride was a bit quieter, but those first two hills were my favorite part of Joyland. And in 2001, that ride was still incredible.

That was my last trip to Joyland. I didn't know it at the time, though.

In 2004, the park closed, and the owners tried to sell it. There were a couple of interested parties. It reopened for one last season in 2006, when Big Sis was still a baby. The Roller Coaster was named "The Nightmare" - it had always been called "Roller Coaster" - and the old cars were painted, but the ride remained closed. There was a lot of drama that year, I remember. The park closed again, and that was it.

In the 1980s and early '90s, there were family trips with both of my parents, together and separately (post-divorce). I remember end-of-the-year field trips, and getting discounts based on your report cards. There were bumper cars and a roller skating rink, and concerts at the little amphitheatre.

My parents have many boxes and albums of pictures that I long to go through someday, and I hope to find some pictures taken at Joyland. Right now, I only have two. Judging by my bad perm, I think it was 1987. My dad had taken us and the two neighbor girls from across the street, and maybe another neighbor girl or two. It might even have been my birthday. I don't remember.

Our little park started to decay, year after year. It became a popular spot for urban explorers. Over the years, I would see features at BuzzFeed, The Chive, and The Daily Mail. A local group, headed by a well-meaning teenager, tried to raise money to buy the park, but their goals were unrealistic. While I never ventured behind that fence myself - it's private land and considered trespassing - the pictures I would see showed a park being reclaimed by the elements, and many classic rides had already been sold. Perhaps saving the Roller Coaster and Whacky Shack would have been a more realistic cause.

In May 2014, word came that the owner was donating the old carousel to Botanica. Many people were sad by this news, because it hammered home the fact that Joyland would probably never reopen. After seeing videos like this, I was happy about the news. The park was beyond repair, but a small part of it would be saved. Botanica is building a shelter for the carousel and repainting the horses. I am excited to bring the girls to ride it when it opens. A few of the horses are on display in the lobby! Then, it was announced that a local historical preservation group was hauling away several large pieces of the park, including the sign at the entrance. They had purchased those pieces several years prior, but had left them, hoping the kids who were trying to buy the park would be successful. The decaying park is a favorite target of vandals. There have been several fires, and so many of these items were in danger of being lost forever. It was time for them to go into storage. The group says they would like to open an exhibit someday to display all these lost pieces of Wichita they've collected through the years.

My mother was in town at the time, so we drove to south Wichita to take a few pictures. I'm a chicken and didn't want to trespass, but I took some pictures of the sign, then we parked in a nearby lot and I photographed the Roller Coaster with my zoom lens. The trees were growing up through the tracks. 

Joyland continued to hit the news. In one of the weirdest stories of the year, Louie the Clown was found. Louie was an old mechanical clown who "played" an old 1905 military band organ. Louie disappeared sometime after the park closed, along with other things. The organ was sold to a park employee. I found this out by searching for information on Google several years ago, and reading some message boards on an organ website. Back in February, the Wichita Police Department held a press conference. There, at the table, was Louie the Clown. Louie was found at the home of a former park employee. This house had been searched before, but nothing had been found. His name was familiar to me, and sure enough, he was the employee who had "purchased" the organ. (In truth, he never finished paying it off.) He was now in prison ("Louie the Clown found at sex offender's home," read the headlines), and a new search had yielded Louie and a bunch of other lost items.

This spring, the lift hill on the Roller Coaster collapsed in a storm. News came that the park was finally being torn down, although a few more pieces were going to the preservation group. Then quietly, without much fanfare, a video hit Facebook. The Roller Coaster had been razed.

It makes me sad that my girls will never ride that roller coaster. They love thrill rides, you know. I've dreamed about riding that coaster again, literally. It was a great dream, but a little scary, too.

We have no local family-owned amusement parks left around here. This morning, I was reading about a trip to Kennywood in Pennsylvania on Design Mom, which made me start thinking about Joyland again. Pennsylvania has several old-fashioned amusement parks, much older than Joyland, and I've told Mr. B more than once, I would love to take a family trip to all of them. Waldameer even has its own Whacky Shack! There's Lakemont, Knoebels, and Kennywood and Idlewild... If you've been to any of these places, feel free to comment.

I have a Pinboard dedicated to Joyland. I'll leave you with a video of Louie the Clown, playing his Wurlitzer. A lot of people I know claim Louie was "terrifying" or "creepy." I loved Louie. He was the first thing I'd run to see when I entered the park as a little girl, before hopping in line to ride the merry-go-round.

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