Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Image courtesy of MoWillemsDoodles.blogspot.com

It’s rare that I find a book I have no quibbles with, but this one is damn near perfect. I had no idea it existed until it called to me, loudly, from the Staff Picks shelf of my favorite library branch. 

You may know Mo Willems as the author of the super funny “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus” and associatled children’s books. Turns out he’s been publishing small runs of sketchbooks every year for over 20 years. This coffee table book contains 20 of them, with cartoons ranging from hilarious to heartbreaking. There are also essays from his famous friends, but those don’t hold a candle to the simple genius of the man’s work. 

If you are an artist or writer, this book is for you. If you are a doodler or noodler, this book is for you. If you love cartoons, like to laugh or prefer your comedy smart, this is definitely the book for you. 

You get the idea. For more info, go here: http://mowillemsdoodles.blogspot.in/2013/05/dont-pigeonhole-me.html?m=1

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First of all, if you need a mile-long title to hook a reader, that’s a bit suspect. Secondly, the Kennedys? Really? Aren’t they done to death at this point? But hey, both the mile-long title and the K-word intrigued me enough to give this book a shot. 

I had never heard of Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy, and the blurb made her out to be ahead of her time in terms of political savvy and ambition. Unfortunately for a feminist reader like me, her ambition seems to have been mostly focused on bagging the man with the biggest fortune and wheedling favors out of her well connected father. And unfortunately for a picky reader like me, the author’s voice was alternately breathless and ham-fisted. I prefer a more neutral, journalistic tone in my biographies, thanks. 

On the plus side, the detailed account of Kick’s adventures among the upper-crust set of pre- and post-WWII Britain appealed to my love of English-accented costume drama. While I skimmed a lot of the sections describing who attended this or that fabulous house party,the machinations of the blue-blooded kept me intrigued enough that I stuck with the book to the end.

So if you’re looking for a true story about an ambitious/manipulative debutante written by someone who is unabashedly in her corner, this is the book for you. But if stories of the self-obsessed rich and famous leave you cold, leave this one on the shelf. 

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  It’s been amazingly/frighteningly warm for December, with rain instead of snow in the forecast. Nevertheless, I’ve been reading seasonally appropriate books to the Boo — The Snowy Day, Snowmen At Night, and Raymond Briggs’ classic The Snowman. 

For the unfamiliar, this lovely book has no words, just small soft-edged drawings with an impressive amount of nuance. A boy builds a snowman, goes to sleep, then wakes in the night and has an adventure with his creation. I was curious to see how the Boo would react to the lack of words (he didn’t) and the fanciful plot line (again, no comment on a snowman walking and flying).

What really got him going was what they did in the house. In one part that I found funny and charming, the snowman tries on the boy’s father’s clothes. 

“Mama! They shouldn’t be doing that, Mama!”

Also, the boy turns on the stove.

“Mama! He shouldn’t be doing that! Why is he doing that?”

And horror of horrors, the snowman climbs into the deep freeze.

“Why is he doing that! He shouldn’t be in there Mama!”

I explained that the boy wants to show the Snowman everything it was his first time in a house, but that didn’t make much of a dent in my kid’s unease that they were breaking the rules. Maybe I should have pointed out that the boy was dreaming and told him there are no rules in dreams.

Or maybe it’s time to introduce the concept of willing suspension of disbelief. 

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A few weeks ago I noticed bins of board books at our local library branch. I dug through them and noticed one with a dinosaur driving a piece of construction equipment on the cover. I added it to the “check out” pile without opening it, because Dinosaurs Plus Construction Equipment Equals Toddler Boy Heaven.

Inside, an increasing number of dinosaurs drive various large machines and do various noisy things.

They also take coffee breaks:

And get silly with each other:
As I suspected, the Boo loves this book because Dinosaurs! Construction stuff! And I love it because it’s funny and silly and it doesn’t rhyme. After two-plus years of “blah blah blue, blah blah two” I appreciate a text that’s fun to read without the same old sing-song aspect.

This author has two more in the same vein; we recently picked up one of them, Dinosaur Zoom, and it’s just as charming as this one.


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Baby sign language is useful for those tricky pre-verbal months when the kid knows what he wants but can’t use words to tell you. Baboo has known the sign for “more” for a few months, but I only recently began teaching him “please.”

I assumed food would be the thing that got him to use “please” independently since that’s what got him going on “more.” So I’d sign “more please” before I put more grapes on his tray or broke off another bit of animal cracker for him. But he kept doing “more” without “please,” not even taking a stab at it. I’d move his hand to his chest and say “please,” say, “good baby!” and then put the food in front of him.

Sometimes, he gave me the stink-face when I did the sign for him. I began to harbor a theory that he just wasn’t interested in being polite, much as he has no interest in pasta.

This morning, he did “more please” on his own. For this:


Now, he smacked his chest with both hands — a far cry from the actual sign, which is making a circle with one hand in the middle of the chest — but I’ll still mark this as the day my kid first said, “please.”

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I could talk about inner and outer journeys and kick-ass writing and laughing and crying, but here’s all you really need to know about this book:

Wild by Cheryl Strayed is so good that I finished it instead of napping on a day when the baby was teething and I had cramps.

If you want to read a real review, this one is darn good.

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Speed Reading


We have a fantastic library system, but they really have their heads up their butts when it comes to digital book lending.

The e-book selection is odd and not terribly wide. Maybe they’re just getting going, or the person who’s in charge of picking titles has terrible taste. I can let this one go.

Want to search the e-books? Good luck with that — the interface is clunky and shunts you off to weird places, including the conventional collection.

The length of the lending period for e-books is anywhere from seven days to two weeks. And you can’t renew them. You have to go back through the download lending system, which is separate from the system for reserving physical books, DVDs and CDs. And then you might have to wait while a copy becomes available before you’re granted another seven days with the book.

What’s the point? Who reads that fast? Who wants to read a book for seven days at a time with breaks of God knows how long in between? Aren’t they supposed to be encouraging reading?

Maybe it’s a licensing issue, or a cost issue, but come on, there has to be some way to get it together so readers can, you know, read the books, use the library, yadda yadda.

I’m almost halfway through the digital version of Cloud Atlas (really enjoying it by the way, it’s great) and every time I open it, all I can think is that I only have a few more days with it before it vaporizes from my device. It’s kind of stressful. Most of my reading happens right before I go to sleep. I want to relax and enjoy, not whiz through the prose I’m meant to be enjoying.

And I have to say, I don’t really enjoy digital reading all that much anyway. Pardon me while I go reserve a physical copy of Cloud Atlas so I can finish it the old-fashioned way.

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A fever dream of a book, and a soothing classic.

It’s a classic, without a doubt, and I love it. But Goodnight Moon has some seriously weird stuff in it.

– There’s a tiger-skin rug in the bunny’s bedroom. What, did they inherit it from Great Uncle George Bunny, the famous adventurer?

– What are they thinking, raising cats? It’s only a matter of time before those adorable fluffballs become vicious bunny-eaters. Although they appear to be pygmy cats — compared to the old lady bunny, they’re bitty little things. Maybe that’s why they’re not worried? Regardless, they’re totally slacking, letting that mouse roam free. At one point it’s eating the baby bunny’s mush, and those cats are busy staring down the old lady bunny. They’re all like, “Thanks for warming up our seat, lady! Now skedaddle so we can hop up there and plot our takeover!”

– How can the old lady bunny knit without thumbs?

– Why would rabbits need mittens? Or socks? Or a comb? A brush, sure — I can get behind that, but a comb? Come on.

– The socks disappear every time there’s a close-up of the mittens. Who’s taking them away and putting them back?

– Goodnight nobody? Isn’t that a little high-concept for toddlers?

– The book on the baby bunny’s nightstand is Goodnight Moon. How can he be in the book, and have the book? Is it like that scene in Chinatown, maybe? He’s in the book. He has the book. He’s a character. He’s a consumer. He’s a character AND a consumer!

– That’s a mighty big bed for just one little bunny.

– Why is the old lady bunny whispering “hush” even though the baby bunny is completely silent? Seems unnecessary — unless he’s the one saying goodnight to everything. But even so, she commences hushing before the goodnights start.

– Everything after “And goodnight to the old lady whispering hush.” is overkill.

In short, with all due respect, I suspect Margaret Wise Brown was smoking opium when she wrote this, and then gave some to Clement Hurd (the illustrator). But I really do love it. Ooh, maybe that’s why I love it!

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We received this book’s cousin, Little Bee, from my sister-in-law, who chose it because it was much beloved by both her girls. She would have passed her copy along, but the bee had been drooled on too many times to count, and board books are not technically machine washable.

When I learned there was a whole series, I resolved to get at least one or two more, because my son was gaga over the bee book. Wiggling the finger puppet holds his attention and gets him to engage with the book. The illustrations are cartoony-simple and full of contrast — again, great for holding the baby’s attention.

But what I really like about these books is the writing. I know. Crazy, right? Bear with me.

The lines rhyme without being saccharine, there’s a simple storyline (in this case, the fish going to sleep), and the word choices relate to the animal. So Little Fish contains words such as ocean, splash and tails. And the author (there’s none listed on the book) does all of this in only 45 words. As a writer, I find that impressive. As a mom, I appreciate the effect: A fun reading experience for both of us.


In St. Louis, the full line of 21 books (or damn near the full line) is available at the Missouri Botanical Garden’s gift shop. Reading through them is fun, quick, and a great way to make sure you don’t get stuck reading something you don’t like 88 million times. Like the thing about flies in the spider one. Ick.

Happy reading!

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I’ve been reading to the baby for quite some time now. When I started he was, of course, oblivious, but he slowly cottoned on to the fun of reading with Mama, which is the whole point of waving a book at a two-month-old, yes?

Trucks Go, by Steve Light, was given to me by my mom and is one of his favorites. My aunt and uncle were visiting when she gave it to us, and I was commanded to read it to him on the spot. This was, I confess, super fun.

There are eight trucks in this board book, each with a distinct set of sounds to read. That’s it — nice and simple. Here’s an excerpt: “The box truck goes CHUGGADA-CHUGGADA CLANKITY CLANK.” Hilarious, no? And the baby giggles when I jiggle him around while I’m making the truck noises.

The watercolor (I think) illustrations are sweet and engaging, and the large words make it really clear to him that the clumps of shapes I point to go with the noises I’m making. (This also means I don’t need to squint to see them.) Bottom line: This book is entertaining for both of us, which is what I want reading to be about at this stage.

This book would make a thoughtful gift for an impending baby, or an excellent addition to your baby’s library. Anthropologie carried it this summer (weird but true) or you can go here for it.


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I'm over 50. I'm raising a fifth grader. Sometimes he posts too.


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