Friday Reads and Stuff

Happy Friday, wonderful people! Conferences are over, the Book Fair has closed, and we're heading to a birthday party at a trampoline park this evening. The pictures above were taken by the girls! Little Sis decided to play dress-up on Tuesday. Her sister helped her become a ballerina kitty! Then Big Sis turned her hair into mouse ears and dressed up as a little white mouse. I handed her the camera, showed her how to use the self-timer, and let her borrow my tripod. Ta-da! They took these pictures all by themselves. Yes, I totally doctored them up, but aren't they a hoot? Do you see the spoon and fork in Little Kitty's hands?

I've already shared a few things we've read this week, and there are other books I'm holding on to for future posts, but here's my list for today.

Picture Books We Read

The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade by Justin Roberts, illustrated by Christian Robinson. G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers, 2014.

This one caught Little Sis's eye at the book store, so I reserved it from the library. No wonder it caught her eye: I told you Christian Robinson is becoming one of my favorite illustrators! Justin Roberts is a kids' music icon that we listened to a great deal when the girls were smaller. The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade is about the tiny girl no one notices, but who notices everything around her, including bullying. The message of the book is that even the smallest person can make a difference if she makes her voice heard. The girls really liked this one.

Here's a little bookish-related Justin Roberts for you.

Telephone by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jen Corace. Chronicle Books, 2014.

Another one of my favorite illustrators is Jen Corace. This adorable collaboration with Mac Barnett is about an accidental game of "telephone." A mother bird tells another bird to tell her son, Peter, that it's time for dinner. The message is passed from bird to bird, becoming sillier and sillier each time. You can see more of Jen Corace's illustrations at her website.

Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-The-Pooh by Sally M. Walker, illustrated by Jonathan D. Voss. Holt Books for Young Readers, 2015.

For someone who has loved Winnie-The-Pooh all her life, I was not familiar with this story at all. The girls and I adored this picture book, and we highly recommend it. It is the true story of Harry Colebourn, a veterinarian solder-in-training, who buys an orphaned bear cub at a train station. Stationed out of Winnipeg, he names the cub for the town, calling her Winnie, for short. Winnie becomes the unit's mascot, and when they ship out for England, it's accepted that she will come, too. When the time comes for Colebourn to leave for the battlefields of France, he knows he cannot bring his beloved bear. He secures a place for her at the London Zoo, where she quickly becomes the star attraction. After the war, it's clear to Colebourn that Winnie loves her new home, and he must say goodbye. Winnie was so gentle that she even gave children rides on her back! When little Christopher Robin Milne visited the zoo, he was so taken with Winnie that he renamed Edward, his toy bear, which of course inspired the books and poems by his father, A.A. Milne.

Here is a video about Winnie by the London Zoological Society.

What Little Sis is Reading

Owl Diaries, Book One: Eva's Treetop Festival by Rebecca Elliott. Scholastic, 2015.

During the fall Scholastic Book Fair, I bought Little Sis another Scholastic "Branches" book, the first title in the Princess Pink and the Land of Fake-Believe series. Little Sis loves being read to, but she doesn't always like reading on her own. She's actually a good reader. Her teacher says she has no trouble at school. The problem, I've discovered, is that when she is at home, she always has to be doing something with her hands! And yes, that usually means drawing. When I read to her, she usually draws away. I think she gets fidgety reading on her own at home. These "Branches" books are great! They are heavily illustrated, with fewer words per page than most early chapter books. She turns pages more often, which keeps her hands busy, and she loves the pictures. We bought this adorable book yesterday, and she zipped through the first five chapters! She read it aloud to me for fun, running to show me pictures that were especially cute. It was such a hit, we went back to the book fair to buy a second copy to give as a birthday present tonight!

What Big Sis is Reading

The Sisters Grimm, Book One: The Fairy Tale Detectives by Michael Buckley, illustrated by Peter Ferguson. Amulet Books, 2005.

Big Sis knew about these books, when she asked me about them at our favorite indie book store, one day. I was going to request it from the library, but I managed to earn a ten dollar coupon with my loyalty card, so I got it for her! She keeps it in her desk at school, for silent reading time. She wants you to know that she really, really likes it! It's about two sisters, "and their ancestors are the Brothers Grimm! And they're fairy tale detectives!" (The exclamation marks and words are all hers, folks.)

Big Sis is now reading Book Three of Spiderwick Chronicles, here at home. She's loving the series, and when we watched the movie last week, she enjoyed it, too.

What I Read

This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Originally published by Scribner, 1920. (One of my favorite book covers.) My copy is a cheap Dover Thrift Edition, purchased around 1996.

This completed my "five books from five different decades" entry in the library's Adult Winter Reading Program. Oh, Fitzgerald. I love me some Gatsby and many of his short stories, but this one was a chore for me. (So was Tender is the Night, which I read a decade ago.) I wanted to like it much more than I did, especially as someone who loves the time period. Amory Blaine is an irritating protagonist, some of the book is written as a play, and there are quite a few secondary characters, but you never quite get to know any of them very well.

I'm now reading First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen, which is a lot more fun.

What We've Been Watching

The girls discovered Good Luck, Charlie on Netflix, which marks the first non-animated or non-preschool Disney Channel show Mr. B and I like! It makes us laugh, and the actors, especially Bridgit Mendler ("Teddy"), are much more realistic than what we're used to from Disney.

Little Sis started it. Big Sis joined in. We are now a family of Adventure Time fans. The girls watched the first two seasons on Netflix, over and over again (no cable!), then we borrowed season 3 and season 4 on DVD from the library. Mr. B got an Amazon gift card for his birthday, and treated us to season 5 on Amazon Instant, because he loves us soooo much. Marceline and the Ice King (Marcy and Simon!) are my favorite characters. I realize I'm 37 years old, but I really would love a pair of Adventure Time Dr. Martens. I would settle for a cool t-shirt, but Cartoon Network seems to think "Women's" only means "Juniors," with a few (very few) fitted adult t-shirts thrown in. I'm way too big for a junior shirt, but I like my shirts to have a flattering cut. Thanks for giving a crap for your grown women fans, Cartoon Network. I guess I don't really need to wear cartoon character apparel, though.

Mr. B and I drifted away from Downton Abbey again, but Grantchester is another story. We loooove Grantchester! I'm so bummed that this Sunday's episode is the finale, although there will another season. We've decided that we'll start the second (and last, sigh) season of The Paradise on Netflix next week. We loved the first season, but life was too busy to catch the second season on PBS.

The only movie we've seen in the theater is Paddington. What a perfectly charming movie! I adored it, and can't wait for Mr. B to see it, too. Here is the trailer.

I'll leave you with my favorite Justin Roberts music video. When the girls were tiny, and this song would come up on a "Move to the Music" segment on Noggin, I would crank it up and sing along. It just makes me happy.

Merry Weekend! Happy Reading!

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K.Y. Craft

We've been on a library tear lately. I will get in the mood for a certain kind of book, or a certain author or illustrator, and I'll request a ton of books via Polaris, at home. It occurred to me recently that we have never checked out any books illustrated by Kinuko Y. Craft. When I was a bookseller, I would admire the gorgeous cover of The Twelve Dancing Princesses for days. I put it off until the girls were older, though, because it's rather wordy. At 7 and 9, they're plenty old enough to enjoy it now.

We currently have five books illustrated by K.Y. Craft in our house. We started with Cinderella. Everyone's gearing up for the new Disney live-action movie, so she's been on our minds anyway.

Cinderella by K.Y. Craft. Chronicle Books, 2000.

This gorgeous version of Cinderella is based mostly on the Perrault and Lang versions of the tale, with a hint of Grimm in the form of a little bird. Saved by Cinderella, the bird later transforms into the famous fairy godmother. I liked this retelling because it has the prince meeting Cinderella in the woods, as she rescues the bird. He is as taken with her then as when she's wearing all her finery.

The Twelve Dancing Princesses by Marianna Mayer, illustrated by K.Y. Craft.
HarperCollins, 1989.

This is the book I loved to look at at work, but at the time, I was less familiar with the original fairy tale. I prefer the art to this version of the story. The background of the young rescuer is fleshed out, and he meets and falls for the youngest princess before he follows them down the stairs. Some of the darker aspects are missing from the story, though, and I missed them. And okay, I admit it: as an oldest child, I really do prefer the Grimm ending, which has the young man choosing to marry the clever oldest princess, because she is closest to his age.

Pegasus by Marianna Mayer, illustrated by K.Y. Craft.  HarperCollins, 1998.

I have less of an opinion when it comes to retellings of Greek mythology, as I've read or seen so many versions of the same few stories, I'm not sure what's "correct" or not. This book is beautiful, though.

Cupid and Psyche, retold by M. Charlotte Craft, illustrated by K.Y. Craft.
HarperCollins, 1996.

Cupid and Psyche was written by Craft's daughter, Marie Charlotte Craft. The art in this book is swoon-worthy. It is lush and spectacular.

King Midas and the Golden Touch by M. Charlotte Craft, illustrated by K.Y. Craft.

Another collaboration with her daughter. I think the paintings in this book are my favorite.

There are other books I want to see now: Sleeping Beauty, Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Brave. The top of her "Fairytale Books" page on her website advertises an upcoming edition of Beauty and the Beast, "ten years in the making." I can only imagine how gorgeous that one will be!

If you head to the website, be sure to check out the opera lithographs for sale. Beautiful! Then spend some time swooning over the fantasy art under "Recent Work/Image Gallery."

One last note. Upon searching K.Y. Craft's website further, I noticed some familiar book and magazine covers on her "Biography" page. I had no idea she did the original cover art for Stephen King's Different Seasons for example. That's the cover of my old mass market paperback edition, read so many years ago. Learn something new everyday.

As I stated (and as you can tell in the photos), we checked our books out from the library. I think, however, the timelessness of the tales would make them worthy editions for our shelves at home. More to add to our birthday/holiday wish lists!

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Last Stop on Market Street

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson.
G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers, 2015.

A couple of weeks ago, while dropping the girls off at school, I heard an interview on NPR's Morning Edition. Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson were talking about their new picture book collaboration, Last Stop on Market Street. I came home and put a hold on it right away. I wasn't familiar with de la Peña, but Christian Robinson is on his way to becoming one of my very favorite modern illustrators. Last year, we checked out the book Gaston, and fell in love with his colorful, playful art. We have two more books checked out now (I'll cover one this Friday, the other I'm saving for Women's History Month), and the illustrations are so joyful in each one.

Which makes him the perfect illustrator for Last Stop on Market Place, a book about seeing the beauty in the world around you, even if you have less.

Litte CJ leaves church with his grandmother. It's raining. CJ does not like the rain, and begins to complain.

"How come we gotta wait for the best in all this wet?" "Trees get thirsty, too," his nana told him. "Don't you see that big one drinking through a straw?"

At the bus stop, CJ wonders why they don't have a car. His nana tell him, "We got a bus that breathes fire," and reminds him that the bus driver does magic tricks. Sure enough, when they board the bus, the driver pulls a coin from behind CJ's ear and places it in his palm.

The bus is full of diverse and colorful figures. Nana greets each person with a smile, reminding her grandson to do the same. CJ begins to grumbles about going anywhere, telling Nana that his friends don't go anywhere after church. She tells him it's a shame they never get a chance to meet the people they're going to see.

When a blind man and his dog board the bus, CJ gives up his seat, but asks Nana, "How come that man can't see?"

"Boy, what do you know about seeing?" From there, she and the blind man tell CJ about how the man "sees" with his ears and nose, and the blind man makes Nana laugh.

CJ wishes he had an MP3 player like two teenagers. His grandmother tells him he doesn't need any music device, because they're sitting by a man with a guitar! The man sings to the passengers, and the blind man teaches them about listening to the music with their eyes closed. For CJ, it's a beautiful, "eye-opening" experience. When the man finishes his song, Nana looks at CJ's coin from the bus driver. Without being asked, the boy drops the coin into the guitarist's hat.

Nana and CJ get off the bus at the last stop on Market Street. The landscape isn't pretty. It's a decaying urban setting, covered in graffiti. CJ's complaints begin again. He asks Nana why it's so dirty.

She smiled and pointed to the sky. "Sometimes when you're surrounded by dirt, CJ, you're a better witness for what's beautiful."

CJ sees a beautiful rainbow over the soup kitchen, which is where the two are headed. He wondered how his nana always found beautiful where he never even thought to look.

He smiles when he sees familiar faces in the window, telling his grandmother, "I'm glad we came." She pats him on the head and agrees.

The soup kitchen is filled with diverse faces, as bright and cheery as any other page in the book. Beauty is all around you, if you look for it. And while you may not have as much as some, it's a wonderful thing to share what you have with others.

You probably know this, but I'll state it anyway: I love this book. It's about appreciating what you have, and looking for the joy in life, even when circumstances knock you down. There's a great interview with de la Peña and Robinson over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, if you want to head over there.

We checked our copy out from the library, but I may need to invest in an at-home copy soon.

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Valentine's Day

Happy Monday, dear readers! I apologize for my absence last week. As I posted on Facebook, I lost my camera charger for about a week. I know I use Instagram or a tablet once in a while, but the photos are never that great. While I did find it eventually (behind the computer desk), by that point I was finding it difficult to muster much enthusiasm for anything. I've had a rough week. Not because of any one great event, or anything horrible and dark worth discussing. I'm just having a crisis of confidence, and as I refuse to be that sad-sack soul who whines and cries all over the internet, begging for validation, it seemed a good time for a break. Make sense?

But it is Monday, Presidents' Day here in the States. The girls are home from school, enjoying a short week. Tomorrow is a teachers' Inservice Day, then Wednesday through Friday, the school lets out early for conferences. I'm excited, because I'm working the Scholastic Book Fair again this Wednesday!

Last week, Big Sis was busy with her third grade show. While she didn't have any solos or monologues, her enrichment group opened the show with a little scene. Big Sis's class wore tap shoes for their songs (from Annie and Bye, Bye Birdy), and my little dancer was chosen by the dance teacher for a special tap number, made up of some of the stronger dancers in their grade. I've heard from so many people about how much she stood out. I think out of tap, ballet, jazz, and modern, tap is where her joy is now. She loves modern, but it's new to her, and she's still learning. She's a very confident tap dancer, though, and knows how to smile and sell it. I was so proud of her! In one month, it will be time for Little Sis's first grade show. (At our performing arts magnets, big shows are put on by the 1st, 3rd, and 5th grades.) I've heard she might be playing Amelia Earhart. She has the costume, you know.

Anyhoo, the third grade show was Thursday, then on Friday the 13th, they had their Valentine's Day parties. Our Valentines were beyond simple. The girls cut hearts out of card stock. Little Sis wrote "Happy Valentines Day" on hers, to varying degrees of spelling success (see below). Big Sis wrote "Love is in the air," and taped balloons to hers. We had leftover balloons after we made her Valentine  box, seen in the top photo. If you follow me on Pinterest, I have a "Hearts, Shamrocks, and Bunnies" board. I pinned lots of fun ideas for Valentine's this year, then went with a few of them. (Big Sis's box was inspired by this one here.) The only thing I had to buy for their boxes were the balloons. Everything else was made with leftover stashes of craft supplies, along with a coffee can (the hot air balloon) and a Rice Krispies box (the owl).

Valentine's Day has recently been declared "International Book Giving Day," and that's awesome, but I must admit, we did not give any books for Valentine's Day this year. No one can make me feel guilty for that. I worked in a book store for eleven years, with a nice employee discount, and since losing that job, I frequent my indie store down the street. I also love used book stores and Better World Books, and soon, I'll be supporting our school via the Book Fair, so really, we have books a-plenty.

Mr. B chose the girls' Valentine's Day gift. We were watching old commercials on one of the public domain Roku channels, when the girls saw this:

They were so excited. They thought Rock Em Sock Em Robots looked like the coolest thing ever. When Mr. B saw the box at the grocery store, he couldn't resist.

Mr. B and I didn't do anything for Valentine's Day ourselves. I'm not really a fan of grown-up Valentine's Day. I like the kids' version better. 

I really do have books and stuff to blog about, so stay tuned! I'm back!

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