Thursday, July 31, 2008

Creating Peter

Today Z and I watched Miss Potter, the biopic movie about Beatrix Potter. Z pulled out his copy of Peter Rabbit and was fascinated by the pictures in his book that were exactly the same as the ones she was drawing on tv. I tried to ignore Renee Zellweger's annoying squint. I didn't know anything about Beatrix Potter before this movie so I wasn't sure how accurate their depiction was. After a quick read on Wikipedia, I found out that she was also something of a naturalist and scientist. Apparently, there were a few inaccuracies in the movie but nothing drastic.

I thought this was a pleasant movie although I didn't know if the illustrations that came to life as Beatrix talked to them was supposed to show that she was imaginative or slightly mentally ill. I loved finding out that she was a great conservationist and that her legacy in Britain lives on in the form of 4000 acres that she donated to The National Trust. I think I would like to find a more historically accurate book about Miss Potter's life. Can anyone suggest a good one?

Dreaming in watercolors,

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

To Be Brief ...

Since I went a bit long yesterday, today you just get a picture ... this is the first time I read to Z, at about 7 weeks old. It's never too early to start!

Until next time,
K and Z

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Chronicles

No, I'm sorry ... not The Chronicles of Narnia. Today we have The Chronicles of Chrestomanci! I discovered Diana Wynne Jones about a year ago when I was watching one of my favorite films, Hayao Miyazaki's "Howl's Moving Castle". I noticed that the movie was based on one of her stories so I decided to read it. The book is not very similar to the movie but both are fantastic in their own ways. Then I read a sequel book to that one and was really enjoying her style of writing YA fantasy fiction so I picked up the first volume of The Chronicles of Chrestomanci in March. There are three volumes, each with two books from the series. I just finished reading all six books this past week.

First we have Charmed Life which is the story of a young boy named Eric "Cat" Chant. He is an orphan who lives with his forceful older sister, Gwendolen. They find some old letters of their parents' from Chrestomanci -- a very powerful enchanter who works with the government to manage the use of magic through various universes. Gwendolen writes to him and he decides to take the children back to his castle for their education. Gwendolen is excited because she has plans to be a famous witch. Cat doesn't think that he has the ability to do magic but as time passes, he discovers that someone he trusted may have been holding him back all along. This was a good story about a young boy who finds his own strength and learns to believe in himself. The world is not as complex as, say, the Harry Potter universe but it is very vivid and believable.

The second book is The Lives of Christopher Chant. This book is about another boy named Christopher Chant who has the ability to travel between universes. He is asked by his uncle to perform certain tasks in these worlds and he is enjoying himself and feeling important until he becomes suspicious of his uncle's motives. Eventually he meets the Chrestomanci of his time (a different man from the one we met in the first book) and has to decide to be loyal to his family or to stand up for what is right. Christopher is an entirely different sort of boy from Cat and this book greatly expanded the universe and also introduced us to many different universes and parallel worlds.

The second volume has two stories that are based in two of these other worlds. Chrestomanci only has a small (but significant) role in these two: The Magicians of Caprona and Witch Week. They are both about children who need to discover their own strengths and powers or face the end of their worlds. I didn't enjoy these stories as much as the ones in the main world, especially Witch Week. It just didn't seem to have the same flow as the rest.

The fifth book is Conrad's Fate which is about a young boy named Conrad and also the teenaged Christopher Chant. Both boys take menial jobs in a magical castle but have ulterior motives for why they are there. Eventually they trust each other and help each other in their quests. Christopher has become mature and cocky and yet is a positive influence on Conrad in some ways - if only by helping him find his confidence. Even though this story was set in a different world than the original one, it flowed with the first two.

Finally we have The Pinhoe Egg. This book focuses on the villages around Chrestomanci Castle and returns to the story of Cat Chant. There is some bad magic going on and it takes the strength of a few brave children to set everything right. I thought this was the best story of the bunch, with the most complex plot and the most character development.

This is a great series of YA fiction. It is in a world of magic but where magic is rather common place and isn't the main focus. It is all about empowerment for children that, for various reasons, have not been taught to believe in themselves. I have just read that there is one more collection of four short Chrestomanci stories called "Mixed Magics" that I will need to find. I have really enjoyed everything that I've read by Diana Wynne Jones so far and I hope that you will too!

Fantastic reading,

Buy The Chronicles of Chrestomanci Volume I, Volume II and Volume III on Amazon or find them at your local library.

Monday, July 28, 2008

A Little More About Us

Now that we've been here for a little bit and there might be one or two people paying attention, I thought I should share a little more about us. This is us at the zoo in Seattle. We both have a strong love for animals. I have a Bachelor's degree in zoology and I guess I may have stacked the odds a bit for Z by having so many animal related books and other things around the house. Z is silly because he loves every animal except for our two cats. He mostly tries to pretend they don't exist.

My dad was in the Army when I was little and I spent most of the time until I was six in Hawaii and then we moved to southern California for the rest of my childhood. And a random fact ... I'm sixth generation Californian. Totally, dude. Actually I have to make a conscious effort to remove "dude" from my speech most of the time. What else? I'm known to be pretty amusing -- I crack T up all of the time. Also, I have five younger siblings and I was raised LDS (Mormon). I'm no longer in California and I'm no longer Mormon (no hard feelings). I've lived in Washington for over ten years now with T and the thing we are looking forward to the most is to start traveling around the world with Z.

Z is still little and he's lived in the same house all his life -- lucky kid! He goes to preschool and he's an awesome singer. This summer he has asked for the following: a trip to the beach to build sandcastles, a trip to the circus and a violin.

Until next time,
K and Z

Sunday, July 27, 2008

"'To be born again,' sang Gibreel Farishta tumbling from the heavens, 'first you have to die."

I won't kid you. The Satanic Verses is not a quick read. I don't know that any of Salman Rushdie's books are, but this one seemed slow compared even to most of the others. He tends to stack tales and interweave stories through other stories. There isn't a consistent narrative flow through the book. However, each of the tales in this book is engaging. The main characters of the book, Gibreel and Saladin, change in character (and perhaps divine nature) while falling from a plane that has been destroyed in-flight by terrorists. The side tales are based on scenes from the Koran and Gibreel is either dreaming them or participating in them. We don't know which it is and neither does he. The narrator appears to be God and the book uses modified Hindu and Muslim mythologies as the basis for the various plot elements of the story.

I have had this book on the bookshelf for about ten years. I think that T read it when we first bought it. At the time I was reading other Rushdie books and just never remembered to pick up this one but finally I wanted to know what all of the hubbub was about. I would have to go back and read my Koran guide again to know what Rushdie did with the stories that was so blasphemous.

Overall, this is a fantastic book that just takes a while to read. The only complaint I had is one I have with most Rushdie books -- he really likes to kill off a lot of his characters. Even small side characters end up getting the axe. I have wondered if this is his way of gaining a sense of closure. The characters are not going on after the book. Their stories are told. Whatever it is, this is a mind-expanding book that deserves to be read.

Turning the page,

Buy The Satanic Verses on Amazon or find it at your local library.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Just A Little More Mystery

I was going to write about the book I just finished today but I ran into this great article so I'm going to write about it instead. You will get to hear about The Satanic Verses next time!

I'm friends on a social network with the author R.N. Morris and he pointed out this article today in the Books section of The Independent. It's called "Crime fiction: Around the world in 80 sleuths". It lists eighty locales and talks about a detective or two in each location. Some are familiar but some are new to me and I can't wait to check them out.

Here are some of my favorites that are listed:

Greenland -- Smilla's Sense of Snow (the article translates it as Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow) by Peter Hoeg
Yorkshire -- The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
St. Petersburg -- A Gentle Axe by R.N. Morris
Moscow -- The Winter Queen by Boris Akunin
West Point, New York -- The Pale Blue Eye by Louis Bayard
The Caribbean -- A Caribbean Mystery by Agatha Christie
Egypt -- Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie
New Zealand -- Vintage Murder by Ngaio Marsh

I hope to do write-ups on most of these later because they are really good reads. And that leaves only 72 more detectives and series for me to discover. I can't wait!

Good reading,

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Dame Agatha C.

I have a confession to make. Until just a couple of years ago, I had never read any Agatha Christie. I had seen the "Murder on the Orient Express" movie (with Sean Connery, naturally) and that was about it for my Agatha exposure. I have always been a fan of mystery but I was a bit prudish about which mystery writers were acceptable to read. I made a mistake in thinking that because Agatha Christie was such a prolific writer, her writing might not have been of the highest quality. Then I gave in (when I ran out of Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody series and was jonesing for some good mystery and action). I started collecting Agatha Christie's books and I haven't stopped.

I have 47 of her books right now and plans to purchase just a few more. I just can't get enough of the twisty turns and the window into British culture. I absolutely love Mr. Quin and his supernatural interventions and Mr. Parker Pyne's "problem solving". Miss Marple is incredibly smooth and bright and Poirot is impeccable. I have the first two books of the Tommy and Tuppence series but I haven't read them yet. I will be writing up some posts in the future about some of the books that I enjoyed the most.

Until the near future,

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Library Day

We went to the library again today. Z wasn't in the mood to deal with the other kids that were running around there today so I did the book choosing. I seem to have done a good job because he enjoyed reading them all.

First we read One Duck Stuck by Phyllis Root. This book has it all ... numbers, animals and a bunch of fun onomatopoeias (sound words!). I mean, how can you resist a book with words like "splish" and "pleep". The book also has a good message about working together to achieve a goal. It even has a set-up for a sequel with another animal getting stuck in the muck at the end of the book! The illustrations by Jane Chapman are bright and are good depictions of animals without fake cartoony eyes or smiles.

The next book we read was Edwina, The Dinosaur Who Didn't Know She Was Extinct by the always popular writer and illustrator Mo Willems. Z was a big fan of the dinosaur and of the chocolate chip cookies that she kept baking for everyone! The story has a good message about accepting who you are but also communicating with others who don't understand you and winning them over to your side.

And how could I let Z grow up without reading Ludwig Bemelmans' classic Madeline? (The picture is of the French version and for some reason they spell it Madeleine in the French and Madeline in the English version.) I have always loved the simple story, the emotion, the caring between friends. Even though this was the third book we read today, Z was engaged and enjoyed the story. I would love to find the animated version of it and show it to him now that he knows the story. I loved it when I was young ... when they show all the girls who drew scars all over their arms and tummies and legs. But I also love the simplicity of the book. "In two straight lines they broke their bread and brushed their teeth and went to bed." Classic.

We had a good library day today and I can't wait to enjoy these books some more this week.

Happy reading,
K and Z

Buy One Duck Stuck, Edwina, The Dinosaur Who Didn't Know She Was Extinct and Madeline on Amazon or find them at your local library like we did!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Mystery of Taste

I have always wondered what gives each person their taste in books. For example, one of my favorite books as a kid was No Flying in the House by Betty Brock. Was it an instant classic that is on all Must Read lists for kids? None that I've ever seen. Did I connect with the story because I was also an orphan? No ... not an orphan as far as I know. Did I have a small dog that could do amazing, almost magical tricks? Nope ... just an elusive cat. Did I try to kiss my elbow a hundred times over because if you could do that it meant you were a fairy? Okay, well, I actually did that (and it's not possible) ... but not until after I read this book. There was just something about this book that drew me in, that made me want to believe that this world really existed somewhere. Thus, I still pick the tiny book up every once in a while, sit down for an hour or so and read it again.

T (the husband) and I have been together since we were barely legal adults. We've had many years of growing together and, for the most part, our musical tastes are the same, our movie tastes are pretty similar and yet the books we each love? Hardly a handful of books overlap. I like Victorian novels, mysteries and Egyptology. He likes cyberpunk and non-fiction about the founding fathers and industry. I never finish a book and say "wow ... that book was amazing ... you should read it." Because he wouldn't enjoy it the way I did. It wouldn't be his thing. We both wince at the same songs when they come on the radio. He says "Is such-and-such movie on our Netflix list?" and I say "Of course". But when it comes to books, we don't even shop in the same sections.

If I have one theory, I think it's that we have different hopes and aspirations and books are glimpses into our hidden dreams. We read about worlds we wish existed, about people we wish we knew. Whatever we need our escape to be, there is a book that can take each one of us there. And even though a certain world may not exist, we can find something in this one that makes us feel the same excitement or security or peace.

What do you think?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Books for All Kids

My only regret in having a son is that I may not being able to share all of my favorite books from when I was a kid. Not that I believe in "boys" books and "girls" books, but I think that there will just be some subjects that he won't have any interest in (think Judy Blume). There is a reading challenge related to The Daring Book for Girls that lists some of what they consider the classic "girl" reads. As I went down the list, these are the titles that stood out as ones that I wouldn't want to miss sharing with any kid of mine. All of them will work just fine for all kids and some I may just have to have around to re-read myself!

Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
Matilda and The BFG by Roald Dahl
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
Ramona by Beverly Cleary (series of 8 books)
The Borrowers by Mary Norton
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne

The following ones are the ones I have around the house. Z has already looked at some of them and I can't wait until we can sit and read through the entire books.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank Baum
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (series of 7 books)
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling (series of 7 books)

Excuse me while I go work on our Amazon wishlists ...
K and Z

Sunday, July 20, 2008

"My father had a face that could stop a clock."

If you don't know about the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde, you need to discover it. It started with The Eyre Affair in 2001 and has included four more books: Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots, Something Rotten and Thursday Next: First Among Sequels.

The first book introduces us to Thursday Next, a sort of government agent, who initially works in the "Literary Detectives" division of the British Special Operations force and eventually works in the books themselves. We get to meet fictional characters like Mr. Rochester (of Jane Eyre fame) and Miss Havisham (from Great Expectations) as Thursday finds that she can actually travel into books. Unfortunately, she's not the only one that can do this and not all of the others who can have good intentions. Over the next four books we follow Thursday as she hides from psychopaths and corporate miscreants in the book world, fights vampires and ghouls with her friend Spike in the real one and has a son -- a major challenge in itself.

Jasper Fforde is a fantastic writer who has a sense of humor similar to Douglas Adams -- extremely silly and hilarious. He's very big on word play and double entendres when naming characters. The book is set in a slightly alternate universe in the 1980s where people travel by airship, croquet is a national sport (and quite a violent one at that), cheese is a black market commodity and a major corporation controls most of the government. The stories move quickly and they are some of the few books that actually make me laugh out loud each time I read them -- and I have re-read them many, many times. So take a chance and read them at least once ... you won't regret it!

Enjoy a book today,

Buy The Thursday Next Series on Amazon or find them at your local bookstore.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Z's Bookshelves

This is Z's area on our bookshelves. These aren't all of his books. There are some upstairs in the bedroom and others scattered around the house. By the way, Z is the first letter of his nickname. We aren't so creative as to have named our son with a fantastic "Z" name. We were fortunate, however, in coming up with a snazzy "Z"-based nickname!

Z's shelves are a blend of old and new classics and a bunch of random books that he picked for himself that don't have a lot of literary value but sure have some pretty pictures (like the plethora of Baby Einstein titles). Some of the classics that I have seeded the shelves with are:
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Corduroy by Don Freeman
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton
Caps For Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina (oh, those cheeky monkeys!)
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion
Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling
Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel

Obviously he's not picking up The Wind in the Willows to read yet but that's one of the ones that I found it on my mom's bookshelves when I was ready and I loved it. I can only hope it will be the same for him.

He has quite a few of the Charlie and Lola books by Lauren Child. He watches the cartoon versions of the stories but he actually chose the books first and then was pleasantly surprised to find the cartoons. He has a few Disney tales and storybook collections, especially because he has a fabulous auntie that is a Disney employee so she likes to gift Disney. He of course has some Curious George books as well. What would childhood be without George?

A few years back we picked up Mo Willems' fantastic Leonardo, the Terrible Monster. We don't have any of the pigeon series yet though. I think they have some language (more specifically, sass) in them that I wanted to hold off on having Z imitate! We can't deny that we have plenty of Eric Carle and Dr. Seuss. And Z has a handful of Animal encyclopedias which he actually takes the time to sit and read. They aren't all his -- my degree is in zoology so I had my own collection before he came along -- but he has appropriated any books of mine that he was interested in.

I love having a large selection of books available for Z. He picks different ones up every day and sometimes gets very excited about what he has found. I think it's absolutely essential for parents to have children's books around the house and we make it a point to gift books to our nieces. I hope that one day Z will be preparing for his new baby and one of the preparations will be the start of a children's bookshelf.

Until next time,
K and Z

Thursday, July 17, 2008


I am feeling a bit tired tonight so all I am going to ask you is this -- what do you use for a bookmark? I use just about anything -- receipts, scraps of paper, file cards, actual "bookmarks" -- but my secret is that I enjoy having it be something with sentimental value. Sometimes I use a certain ticket stub from a certain favorite concert and it just makes me feel happy to see it each time I open my book. It's like it adds something to the book.

One thing that I never use for a bookmark -- the dust jacket of the book. I don't like doing that at all -- I couldn't tell you why. And I would never, never turn down a corner of a page.

Until my brain comes back,

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Reading Meme

I am appropriating this meme today from Dani at A Work in Progress ...

Do you remember how you developed a love of reading?
I don't remember because I was reading before my memory starts. The way my mom tells it, I was read to a lot when I was very little and then when she had my brother, when I was just over 2 years old, she had less and less time to read to me and eventually realized that I was reading to myself. Sometime when I was three, I could read. I have just kept going from there.

What are some books you loved as a child?
The Wizard of Oz books were the first series I read (when I was four). I also loved the Raggedy Ann stories -- they introduced me to my favorite word of all time, grotto. I also really liked Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, Pippi Longstocking and many many others.

What is your favorite genre?
Right now it's historical fiction (preferably Victorian), Victorian pot-boilers, and some fantasy.

Do you have a favorite novel?
I have a couple of novels that I go back to over and over but no single favorite.

Where do you usually read?
Everywhere ... on the couch, on the floor, in bed, in the front yard, at the dentist ... anywhere I can take a book.

When do you usually read?
Any time I find free.

Do you usually have more than one book you are reading at a time?
Not usually. I prefer to really immerse myself in a book so I like to do one at a time. I also read pretty quickly so I usually don't have time to start one book while already reading another.

Do you read nonfiction in a different way or place than you read fiction?
It just takes me a longer time to read non-fiction. I'm also likely to read a fiction at the same time.

Do you buy most of the books you read, or borrow them, or check them out from the library?
I buy most of them because I usually want to read them again at some point.

Do you keep most of the books you buy?
Yes. If I totally dislike a book and know that I would never read it again, I have a pile and, when it's large enough, I take them in to the used bookstore.

If you have children, what are some of the favorite books you have shared with them?
I have been slowly building Z's bookshelf with books that he is ready for. The first book that I absolutely did not want him to miss was Chicken Soup with Rice by Maurice Sendak. I loved it when I was a kid! It has the best rhythm and it made soup seem so exotic. I also made sure that Z has a good Dr. Seuss selection. Oh yeah, and The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf. I love that one too ... it is so precious that Ferdinand doesn't want to fight, he just wants to sit and smell the flowers. I see on Amazon that I bought it for Z when he was 7 months old. And Tikki Tikki Tembo! Shall I keep going? Maybe my next post will just be about Z's bookshelves.

What are you reading now?
The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie. It has been on my shelf for years but I never read it for some reason.

Do you keep a To Be Read List?
I have a pile of books that I have bought by my bed and then I have my Amazon list that I constantly add to. I also made a re-read pile recently of books that I can't quite remember if I liked the first time I read them.

What’s next?
Probably Volume III of The Chronicles of Chrestomanci by Dianna Wynne Jones.

What books would you like to re-read?
The ones I re-read most often are The Ground Beneath Her Feet (Salman Rushdie), The Eyre Affair series (Jasper Fforde), David Copperfield and Great Expectations (Dickens). As I've said before, I'm a big re-reader. I have been thinking that it's about time to grab The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand) again soon.

Who are your favorite authors?
Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Jane Austen, Josephine Tey, Agatha Christie, Salman Rushdie, Arturo Perez-Reverte, Edgar Allan Poe, Oscar Wilde and Elizabeth Peters.

Well, that was pretty fun ... see you next time.

"Make no mistake, the task at hand affects him deeply."

At the end of February, I read the non-fiction The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe, and The Invention of Murder, a very thorough and well-written historical book by Daniel Stashower. It tells the story of a young woman, Mary Rogers, who went missing from New York in 1841 and was found the next day on the Jersey coast. She had been strangled and possibly raped. They never found the culprit and it was in the New York headlines for a long time. Edgar Allan Poe had briefly met the young woman when she worked at a tobacco shop and he wrote the story "The Mystery of Marie Roget" as a retelling of the story but he changed the location to France. This way, he was able to make it another story starring his "detective" C. Auguste Dupin. Right before he was set to release what he thought was a brilliant solution to the case, the authorities discovered that Mary may have died during a botched abortion and that the body was falsely made to look like a rape/murder. Poe had to change his story to follow this new development and it never flowed properly because he meant some of the evidence to be significant and had built it up in the previous parts of the story. The Beautiful Cigar Girl was an interesting book mainly because it detailed the start of the organized and government-run police force in New York City -- changes brought about, in part, by the public uproar over the Mary Rogers case.

At the beginning of May, I then read The Blackest Bird by Joel Rose. This is a fictional account of the same story that actually fingers Poe at one point as the murderer of Mary Rogers. It's told from the point of view of the chief constable of New York City as he tries to track down the criminal(s). I have to say, I preferred the non-fiction version. Joel Rose is a very dry, factual writer. There was an entire section that seemed almost identical to the non-fiction book as he told the facts of the murder. This book also brought in the Colt family (think firearms, not malt liquor) but they were very one-dimensional characters. This book was interesting in one way -- as the first time I read a historical fiction about Poe that dealt much with the personality of his aunt/mother-in-law, Mrs. Clemm. I just thought that this could have been made into a much more interesting story but it seemed to bring in too many characters and then dropped a solution in your lap at the end that was not very satisfying. Also, Rose actually uses 4 whole pages of his own novel to reprint "The Raven". It seemed like cheating.

So, if you are looking to read the story of Mary Rogers, stick to the non-fiction account -- and there are much better historical fictions out there starring Poe. I'll share some of those another time.

Until later,

Buy The Beautiful Cigar Girl and The Blackest Bird on Amazon or find them at your local library.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Library Visit Number One

Z and I took our first trip of the summer to the local library today. I tried to take him a couple of weeks ago but he said "no library ... bookstore". He loves to read books over and over and so he likes to own them. I'm guessing we are going to have to purchase at least one of the library books we borrowed today. I understand his feelings -- I too like to be able to pull out my favorite books on a whim. It's no different than owning a DVD, I suppose.

The first book he chose for himself was Tiger, Tiger by Dee Lillegard and illustrated by Susan Guevara. I thought, "that's strange, sounds like William Blake" and sure enough they had the first stanza of the poem, "The Tyger", before the story. The story itself interprets the poem into a tale about a young boy who imagines up a tiger and then, when it becomes too intimidating, imagines it away again while seeing the tiger in himself. The story tries to have its own prose style but I find that it loses its flow. I know that Z chose the book because he likes tigers but I think that he seemed to understand that this tiger was more abstract, symbolic even. No really, he did.

I picked out Yo-Yo Man by Daniel Pinkwater, mostly because I have read his writings about other authors -- and enjoyed them -- but hadn't read any of his own books. Z was excited about the book -- he used to have a yo-yo but then the cat ate the string -- but once we got home, he decided that he was against reading it. This happens sometimes with him. We get a book or a movie on Netflix and he absolutely refuses to try it out. Sometimes it's just a matter of time and he will eventually become curious and pick it up. Other times, he holds an unexplained grudge against the book or movie (or song) forever. We will have to wait and see with this book but I will probably keep it around longer than the others to give it a chance.

Z is also very fond of board books. Today we picked up From Head to Toe, another gem from Eric Carle. This one is great because it teaches body parts by incorporating movement and using animal examples. I'm not sure that any kid is a bigger fan of Eric Carle than Z is. I have even considered getting Z the bedding that I found on Carle's website. The first book Z learned to read was Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? So, as you can probably guess, we have already read this new book half a dozen times today and will read it many more times before I sneak it back to the library. And the next time we are at the bookstore, I can almost guarantee you that he will find it on the shelf and pick it up.

Until next time,
K and Z

Buy Tiger, Tiger, Yo-Yo Man and From Head to Toe on Amazon or, by all means, find them at your local library.

Monday, July 14, 2008

"I have my books and my poetry to protect me"

-- I Am a Rock, Simon and Garfunkel, 1965

I'm not a total celebrity hound -- well, maybe a little bit -- but I appreciate when I find out that there is more to a celebrity than their career. Apparently, Art Garfunkel is quite the reader -- and maybe just a bit OCD. Today, I found this site that catalogs every book that Art has read since June 1968, at the age of 26, shortly before the release of the first Simon and Garfunkel album. He even has a list of just his favorites. He seems to enjoy classics -- the type of books that would be on a "top books to read" list. His non-fiction tastes go mostly to philosophy and American history. Some of it is quite amusing, like the back-to-back reading of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and Stephen Hawking's The Universe in a Nutshell.

This is the first year that I am recording what I read. I wish I had started it earlier, even when I was a kid. I know what's on my shelves at home and I have a partial recollection of what I read as a kid but I have no record of all my many years of library use. I think I will encourage Z to keep a list when he starts reading chapter books. It will be fun to look back on when he's an adult. Do you keep a list of what you read and when?

Until next time,

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A new surprise every month

One thing Z loves is something new to read as frequently as possible. A nice way to achieve this is with a magazine subscription (or three, like we happen to have at the moment). The current favorite around our house is Wild Animal Baby. This magazine is put out by the charitable, educational National Wildlife Federation. It's a great little magazine that comes on a heavy cardstock weight paper so it's pretty sturdy -- you can keep it around for a while if you so choose. Our house is currently cluttered with almost two years of these! We also usually have one or two in the car. It's marked for ages 0 to 4 and has fantastic photographs, illustrations and activities. They also put out magazines for the "3 to 7" and "7 and up" age ranges.
Another benefit of the magazine subcription is the surprise factor. Z gets so excited when he gets his own mail and sometimes even asks for it when we go out to check the mail. How cute do you think a little guy is when he says "magazine day?"!

Until next time,
K and Z

Purchase a subscription to Wild Animal Baby on Amazon or direct from the National Wildlife Federation.

Friday, July 11, 2008

"I was born in the city of Bombay ... once upon a time."

Today, Salman Rushdie was given the 40 year "Best of the Booker" award for Midnight's Children, which also won the Booker Award in 1981 and the 25 year Booker award in 1993. I read this book quite a few years ago and reread it about six months ago. It was still a fantastic book and really represents an entire nation in a critical moment in its history.

Saleem is one of 1,000 children born at midnight on the day of the "birth of India" -- the day it became a nation free from British rule. These children have all acquired some sort of power or talent and Saleem, among other skills, has the ability to connect them all telepathically. The story follows Saleem as he grows up in the new India and comes in and out of contact with these other children and navigates the world that is changing all around him. The adult Saleem is the narrator and he admits that the story is his perhaps deluded interpretation of his own childhood but you want to believe that such a world of fantasy could exist in a modern setting.

I find that many of Salman Rushdie's books use the same sort of "voice" in them. I just started The Satanic Verses and from the start it has felt familiar and comfortable in its language and flow. If you have read any of his books, you should continue on through more of them. He is a brilliant storyteller and is quite accessible. One day I will wax rhapsodic about my favorite Rushdie book, The Ground Beneath Her Feet.

Until next time,

Buy Midnight's Children on Amazon or find it at your local library.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Big List

I found this over at Sassymonkey Reads today ...

According to The Big Read, the average adult has only read 6 of the top 100 books on this list.

The instructions:
Look at the list and:
Bold those you have read.
Italicize those you intend to read.
Underline the books you LOVE.

1. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2. The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4. Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6. The Bible
7. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8. 1984 - George Orwell
9. His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman -- I haven't decided yet if I want to read these
10. Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11. Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12. Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13. Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14. Complete Works of Shakespeare
15. Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16. The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17. Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18. Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19. The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20. Middlemarch - George Eliot

21. Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell -- I've read this book enough times for all of us
22. The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23. Bleak House - Charles Dickens - on my nightstand
24. War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26. Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27. Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28. Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29. Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30. The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame

31. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32. David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33. Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34. Emma - Jane Austen
35. Persuasion - Jane Austen
36. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39. Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40. Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne

41. Animal Farm - George Orwell
42. The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43. One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44. A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45. The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins -- Wilkie Collins is my favorite author right now
46. Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47. Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48. The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49. Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50. Atonement - Ian McEwan

51. Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52. Dune - Frank Herbert
53. Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54. Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55. A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56. The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57. A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60. Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

61. Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62. Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63. The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64. The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65. Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66. On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67. Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68. Bridget Jones’ Diary - Helen Fielding
69. Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70. Moby Dick - Herman Melville

71. Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72. Dracula - Bram Stoker
73. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74. Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75. Ulysses - James Joyce -- I have it in the house but I'm honestly not sure I will ever read it
76. The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77. Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78. Germinal - Emile Zola
79. Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80. Possession - AS Byatt

81. A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82. Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83. The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84. The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85. Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86. A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87. Charlotte’s Web - EB White
88. The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90. The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton

91. Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92. The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery -- this on is on Z's shelf so I need to pick it up and read it!
93. The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94. Watership Down - Richard Adams
95. A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96. A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97. The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98. Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100. Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

I guess I have read 48 of the 100 already ... I'm slightly ahead of the average adult!

How about you?

"Animals move in different ways."

A few years ago we took Z to Toys R Us and, for the first time, he picked out a book all on his own. This was Tails by Matthew Van Fleet. It is an adorable book that appeals to the youngest of toddlers because of the textures and flaps in the book. The animals are well-drawn and very cute. It has long staying power too as the kids learn some of the vocabulary of the book like "spiny" and "broad". After a while, though, we wanted something a bit more advanced.

We chose What Do You Do With a Tail Like This? by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page. This book has an introductory page for each body part (i.e. nose) with five close-ups and then the next page has a one sentence description for each one that identifies each animal and what they do with their unique appendage. It has paper-cut illustrations that are quite stunning. Beware if you are squeamish though -- there are lovely tidbits such as the fact that horned lizards shoot blood out of their eyes. Oddly enough, it doesn't say why. (Wikipedia says that it's to confuse predators, if you were wondering.) When Z had this book memorized, we moved on to ...

Move!. This book is also by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page and has the same type of torn-paper illustrations. It gives an animal example for over a dozen types of movement. I think that it's great for a preschooler who is discovering their own body and their ability to move in different ways. After all, who doesn't want to try to "slither" when they hear that word?

This is how we find some of our kid books. We take something that we know Z already loves and then look for an older equivalent or a similar book about a different topic. And it never hurts to just pull your toddler's stroller up to the bookshelf and see what catches his or her eye.

Until next time,
K and Z

Buy Tails, What Do You Do With a Tail Like This? and Move! on Amazon or find them at your local library.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

"It must have been late autumn of that year, and probably it was towards dusk for the sake of being less conspicuous."

One of the first books I read this year was The Quincunx by Charles Palliser. It was published in 1989 and is almost 800 pages long. It is set in 19th century England -- a period I read about quite frequently. I had seen this book a few times over the years at my local Barnes and Noble on the shelf for books recommended by store employees. The book has no synopsis on the back so it took me a few years to decide to read it.

I think if it did have a synopsis it would be simply this "the story of a boy who becomes a man - in a field of rakes". You know this image from cartoons -- the unfortunate character steps one direction onto a rake that snaps up and nails him in the face and when he turns to go another direction, another rake is there to hit him in the nose again. This book was 787 pages of agony. And yet --- I would read it again. I know, what am I thinking, right? But the book was thoroughly engaging and though you knew the worst would happen -- because it kept happening -- you hoped in each situation that this would be the time that it worked out for young John Huffam. But sadly, there would be 400 pages left with no story and so it continued through the whole book.

The Quincunx, by the way, is the five-pieced symbol on the cover of the book. It represents the five families that are players in the story.

Who would I recommend this book to? Anyone with a lot of patience for misery, an interest in the less-fortunates of 19th century London or the desire to completely escape into another era for a week or two as this book is quite a long read.

Until next time,

Postscript: The title of the post is the first line of the book ... i think i will do that in each post so that you can see if it catches your fancy.

Buy The Quincunx on Amazon or find it at your local library.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Year in Review

I am a member of the Shelfari community. At the beginning of this year, there was a challenge to read 50 books during 2008. I started book 26 last night. I thought to start this blog I would do some reviews of the books I most enjoyed this year and then going forward it will be more of a current list.

One thing you should know about me is that I am a re-reader. Not only do I tend to read so quickly that I shortly forget books but I read so many books that it's impossible to remember them all. Usually, I just have a vague sort of memory of how I felt while I read the book, whether I loved or hated it and if I was satisfied with the ending. If I absolutely hate a book, I put it in the box to be recycled at our local Half-Price Books. If I enjoy it, it goes on a shelf or one of our many stacks that are waiting for more shelving in the house and then when I'm too broke for a new book, I choose an oldie. Sometimes those books don't make it back to the shelves because I'm a different person than when I first read the book and I just can't enjoy it anymore. And that's a good thing.

I like to grow and change through books which is exactly what I am trying to pass on to my son, Z. He has books that he is in love with for weeks on end and others that get a short glance every once in a while but I like for him to have full shelves to choose from. Let me tell you a little about Z while we are on the subject. He's a unique little 4 year old. He talks a bunch but very little of it is actual conversation with us. When we first realized he was reading, it was totally by chance. This was shortly after he turned 3. We were shocked but we believed in him and encouraged him to read as much as he wanted. My postings about his books will be more about what he is currently reading (both at home and in preschool) and what I perceive to be why he likes it.

See you again soon with our first books!
K and Z


After many years of attempting a blog of my random thoughts, I found that I just didn't have that level of sharing in me. What I do have in me is the desire to share my thoughts and opinions about my favorite things -- books. But rather than making this a two-dimensional "here is what a 30-something stay-at-home mom is reading" I thought I would go one step further. So I introduce you to "We Be Reading" -- where you get to see what a 30-something stay-at-home mom AND her 4 year old son are reading (yes, he reads). One day, I may even let you in on what the 30-something tech nerd husband is reading. You see, we are a family who loves our books.

Which books do we love, you ask? Most of them. It's easier to say what we don't love. No one in the house reads horror or true crime, except for classic horror like Dracula and Frankenstein. Those rule! I don't read romance novels except for Victorian "romances" like the works of the lovely and unfortunate Jane Austen. The boy, Z, is into animals so you will see a definite recurring animal theme through his books. Mostly, we like to be entertained and we all love learning.

So sit back in a comfy chair, prop yourself up in your bed or sit on a chaise lounge by the pool and let's talk books.

Thanks for visiting!
K and Z