Lubbock Home and Family column — April 2014

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Each month, I write a book review column for a local magazine here in town. In collaboration with (and with permission from) the publisher, thought it might be fun to read here. So – here you go:

YOUNGEST:
Wild Garden JKTPlanting the Wild Garden – Kathryn O. Galbraith and Wendy Anderson Halperin

A gorgeous nature book with a light touch, this explains how seeds and nuts get dispersed in the wild when there is no human to plant them: through wind, rain, animals… A really charmingly illustrated book with lots to look at, the story uses a few short sentences in a lyrical and poetic way that makes it a joy to read aloud to younger listeners. The colored pencil and water color illustrations make it a gentle book to look at, and there is a list of book titles at the end for further reading for both parents and children. A great way to introduce the idea of the nature cycle and how important it is to the world around us.

MIDDLE:
Heroes for my Son/Daughter – Brad Meltzer

heroes_daughter
With an edition also available for daughters, both of these volumes list quite an eclectic selection of men and women from all over the world and from different times – ordinary people who have done extraordinary things to make the world a better place. Examples of heroes include Sojourner Truth, Jackie Robinson, and numerous others from the worlds of sport, literature and science, from people who have planted trees and studied the environment to those who have saved people’s lives and changed the way of life of whole nations. As any list would be, the selections are debatable but they would be good springboards to digger deeper to find out more about these fascinating people who have changed their worlds. Optimistic and motivational, these are good choices for further discussion for almost any young readers.

ADULT:
fashionFashion: A Definitive History of Clothing – Smithsonian Museum

This is a HUGE book which is packed with beautiful illustrations and photographs about how clothes have evolved over the past 3,000 years. Published by the Smithsonian Museums, it is stuffed with details about clothing and textile history, which can become a bit overwhelming if you take it all in one bite. However, if you break it down into smaller sections, it’s a treat to read and a sumptuous feast for your eyes. I’m not a fashion maven by any description and I rarely keep up with the latest trends, but I do appreciate good design and photography, and an interesting topic. This hefty book has all of those in large quantities. What a treat. (Another similar good title for delectable design: 100 Dresses by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.)

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Lubbock Home and Family October Book Review

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Each month, I write a book review column for a local magazine here in town. In collaboration with (and with permission from) the publisher, thought it might be fun to read here. So – here you go:

YOpne This Book book coverOUNGEST: Open This Little Book – Jesse Klaumeier/Suzy Lee
This is a kid’s book that definitely improves with multiple readings. My first take was “meh”, but reading it again yielded details unseen and not appreciated before which added to the experience. The first thing you notice once you open the book is that the actual physical pages get smaller and smaller as the story progresses – the bigger the characters are on those pages, the smaller the actual size of the pages – which makes things rather fun. How does a giant open her tiny book with her huge hands? With lots of color and rhythm, this story has lovely detailed drawings to draw the little book reader in and the varying page size helps to keep it interesting. Not too much of a story, but it’s just right for little fidgets. Overall, a fun read for all involved.

MIDDLE: The Girls’ Book of Glamour – A Guide to Being a Goddess – Sally Jeffrie Girls' Book of Glamor book cover
A handbook designed to teach young girls and tweens how to be “glamorous” – be prepared to have your kitchen cabinets raided as this book details how to make your own soap and lotion using everyday ingredients. It also covers other areas such as how to walk in high heels (I can’t do that!), how to host a spa party with friends, and how to make sure your skin looks great. This is not a book focused on self-esteem or the importance of school, but it might help a young self-conscious person feel a little more confident in the world of elementary and middle school. (Warning: This book encourages (very light) make-up. Just FYI.) This would be ideal if you have a child who is *dying* to play with make-up and all that jazz. The one weakness to this book is that it’s not particularly multi-cultural, but quite a few of the ideas would work with any young person. A fun and light-hearted read for curious minds.

Tangles book coverADULT: Tangles – Sarah Leavitt
Subtitled: A Story About Alzheimer’s, my Mother and Me, this is a poignant graphic novel (sort of serious comic book and not for kids) about one family’s journey into becoming the caregiver for their mother. A person who was very independent, smart and who “loved ferociously”, this chronicle invites the reader to experience some of the family’s thoughts and feelings as Alzheimer’s affects the health of their mum. This is not the easiest reading experience, but it is very well done and effectively portrays how the disease took their mother’s bright personality away and replaced her with an unpredictable stranger who happened to look like their mum. This is sad, but it handles a real-life situation with grace and class without giving the impression of a perfect family (because who is?) After reading this book, I really feel for families who have to care for someone with this disease. A poignant and powerful read.

Lubbock Home and Family Book Review for September 2013

LHF_logoEach month, I write a book review column for a local magazine here in town. In collaboration with (and with permission from) the publisher, thought it might be fun to read here. So – here you go:

what_makes_a_rainbow_coverYOUNGEST:
What Makes a Rainbow? – Betty Ann Schwartz
A baby rabbit asks its mommy what makes a rainbow and as you read the story, there is a charming surprise – a brightly colored ribbon threads through each page. Each real ribbon is a different color and as you read through the book, more and colored ribbons are added until, on the very last page, we have a lovely complete rainbow to look at. This is such a charming and gentle book which is fun to look at and fun to read. Just loved those ribbons! Apparently, there are several of these ribbon books in the series so there may be one that is just right for your youngest reader.
level_upMIDDLE:
Level Up – Gene Luen Yang and Thien Pham
A graphic novel about a young Asian-American man who is struggling to fulfill what he believes his parents’ dream for him: going to medical school. However, the character would much rather play computer games and is really very good at them. In trying to do what he feels he has to do (by going to med school despite his doubts), he learns about the power and the importance of being true to yourself as well as the value of respecting others. He also learns how unreliable one’s memory can be at times. It’s a quick read with a story that almost every person can relate to at some point in their life – the importance of sticking with your dreams while trying to please others at the same time. Great water-color illustrations bring it all together. Keep in mind that this is a graphic novel (not a comic book a la superhero) and so covers some more mature themes.

in-the-sanctuary-of-outcastsADULT:
In the Sanctuary of Outcasts – Neil White
A non-fiction book about a man who was convicted of kiting multiple business checks and then assigned to a prison in Louisiana which was a former leprosarium, or care facility for people who had had leprosy (or Hansen’s disease). The authorities were in the middle of a transition from hospital to federal prison so when White entered as a prisoner, there was a mix of both felons and patients living on the same campus. It’s an interesting story. I found White himself to be a bit annoying in that he was not particularly contrite about his criminal behavior (he’s more annoyed that he got caught), but aside from that, the actual history of the hospital/prison and the stories of both the prisoners and the patients make for a fascinating read. This was written in the 1990’s, when leprosy was rarely mentioned in typical conversation and most people think it’s a disease that’s belongs in the Olden Times. So it was fascinating to see the histories of the patients who had chosen to stay in the hospital grounds despite the official gradual transition to being a federal prison. It brings up the question of “who was the prisoner” in the end? Short chapters make it a fast read, and it will give you lots to think about. This would be a good choice for book groups, I would think.

Lubbock Home and Family Book Review for July 2013

LHF_logoEach month, I write a book review column for a local magazine here in town. In collaboration with (and with permission from) the publisher, I thought it might be fun to read here. So – here you go:

YOUNGEST:

all-the-water-in-the-worldAll the Water in the World – George Ella Lyon and Katherine Tillotson

A book with large abstract illustrations full of color, this shows the younger readers about the world’s water cycle: how it works, where water comes from (and goes to), and why it’s important to save it. Taken from a story-telling perspective (more than strictly scientific), this is a gentle and thoughtful book to read with kids as they learn about our precious natural resources in a semi-arid location like Lubbock.  (Also very useful to explain natural cycles such as the drought we have had in recent summers to younger readers and help to understand why we need to be careful about water use.)

MIDDLE:

National Geographic: Angry Birds – Mel WhiteAngry-Birds-Book

A clever tie-in with the popular computer game of Angry Birds, this NatGeo book is a collection of real “bad-tempered” birds from all over the world. From the parrot that lives in the snowy mountains of New Zealand to the rude coot, this is an ideal way to introduce middle readers to the huge world of birds, both big and small. Great photography clearly shows different bird species being annoyed, testy or furious and is an effective (and sneaky) way to teach reluctant readers about 50 species of rather clever birds doing what they do best – being their normal slightly grumpy selves. This was a really fun read. (There is also a NatGeo Angry Birds book about space – “accidental” learning at its best!)

ADULT:

School-of-Essential-IngredientsThe School of Essential Ingredients – Erica Bauermeister

This is a fun and fast read that focuses on a small group of adult students attending a casual cooking class at a local neighborhood restaurant. Characters are introduced one chapter at a time, so the reader gets to know their back story and how they ended up at that particular class, so the narrative is woven together to get a complete picture of the group by the end of the book. This format works really well in this case. The one thing not so good about this book is that it tended to be over-written in how the author describes food, but if you ignore these occasional lapses, it’s a well told story. If you’re a fan of Laura Esquival’s Like Water for Chocolate or perhaps Joanne Harris’ Chocolat, you’ll enjoy this (although this has fewer elements of magical realism in it). Plus there’s a sequel to this volume coming out soon. One warning: there is a high chance that this book will make you hungry. 🙂

Note: Bauermeister is also a co-author of a great reference book for women writers if you’re curious in off-the-beaten-path books: 500 Great Books by Women.

Lubbock Home and Family Book Review for June 2013

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Each month, I write a book review column for a local magazine here in town. In collaboration with (and with permission from) the publisher, thought it might be fun to read here. So – here you go:

YOUNGEST:

how-do-dinosaurs-say-goodnightHow do Dinosaurs Say Good Night? – Jane Yolen/Mark Teague

A sweet how-to-go-to-bed-nicely book using friendly baby dinosaurs to show the way.  As the book asks “how do dinosaurs go to bed?”, the pictures show different kinds of dinos doing exactly the wrong thing when their parents say it’s bed-time: crying, pouting, running around and general misbehavior at the end of the day.  But then the book asks “Do dinosaurs do that?” when the answer is a hearty NO. Most dinosaurs go to sleep quickly and quietly without a big fuss. A calmly rhyming story with lots to look at in each picture. And then – nicely hidden in each picture somewhere is the real name of each dinosaur which adds another fun aspect to the experience. One of my favorite go-to-bed books and good for all small dinosaur fans.

MIDDLE:

Always Plenty to Do – Pamela Riney-KehrbergalwaysPlenty

This title covers some of life as it was for kids of all ages who grew up on farms in the Midwest and Texas at the turn of the twentieth century. The history of this region is so rich, and I think it’s important for West Texas kids to have an understanding of how life was for the pioneers and for those who followed. Using excerpts from diaries and letters from kids around the 1900’s, the author clearly shows the ups and downs of farm life before electricity, machinery and other inventions were commonplace. It’s not all work – there is time for play, but families are dependent upon kids for their labor, so there is always work for them to do. Discussion questions and a glossary are included at the end for further study, and a visit to the National Ranching Heritage Center would be a great way to complement this read and bring it to life.

ADULT:

my-life-in-franceMy Life in France – Julia Child

American chef Julia Child has co-written her autobiography in this book, and even if you’re not that big into Food (with a capital “F”), this is an interesting take on ex-pat life in France. Aside from the cooking history, Child is one of the most optimistic happy authors that I have ever read (backed up by a quick internet search of her 1960’s cooking shows which are sweet and hilarious at the same time).  She starts from scratch learning about expert cooking at the prestigious Cordon Blue cooking school in France, and is the only female in her class. She makes mistakes, learns from them and then, in collaboration with two French cooking experts, ends up writing the book that introduced 1960’s America to French cooking. A quick and fun read about a hilarious woman who just wouldn’t take “no” for an answer with what she wanted to do with her life-long passion. Bon Appétit!

So there you go. More next month! Happy reading.

Lubbock Home and Family Book Review for May 2013

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Each month, I write a book review column for a local magazine here in town. In collaboration with (and with permission from) the publisher, thought it might be fun to read here. So – here you go:

YOUNGEST:

Mister Seahorse – Eric Carle seahorse

This is the story of Mr. Seahorse who is busy looking after Mrs. Seahorse’s eggs as he travels around the sea bed. His neighbors range from tilapia to trumpet fish, most of whom are also fathers to-be looking after their eggs. I loved this book for its fantastic color pictures (done using tissue paper), but also because it clearly shows that fathers can play an important role in looking after families (without any judgment). It’s not anti-mother, by any means – just very supportive of males playing a large part of looking after kids. Another fun twist was the insertion of printed plastic panels behind which various characters hide – so fun to look at (and behind!) It’s difficult to go wrong with an Eric Carle book.

MIDDLE:

kidwhonamedplutoThe Kid Who Named Pluto and the Stories of Other Extraordinary Young People in Science – Marc McCutcheon

A marvelously upbeat and encouraging book about young people (including kids) who have achieved huge milestones in science. With science and technology becoming more important, this quick read narrates the true stories of both girls and boys who have named planets, invented cryptic codes, and enabled people with poor vision to read and other breakthroughs – sometimes starting with only a simple sketch. The books also include lots of fun facts of further details about the kid scientists and a list of books for further reading at the end. A really good way to encourage kids into the scientific world. (And parents– it’s written so you will get it as well!)

ADULT:

My Stroke of Insight – Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D.  

strokeA science-focused book with a personal view of how a fairly young woman deals when she has a stroke unexpectedly one day. A true story, the author is a neuroscientist who has been studying the brain, and so as she recounts the morning (and each moment) she had her stroke, she remembers details that bring the whole experience clearly to the reader. It’s a fascinating portrayal of her long recovery process – how she needed to relearn how to talk, walk, speak, eat – and also how her caretakers looked after her and what was helpful (from a patient perspective). It was tough for the author to remember that just because she had had a stroke, she wasn’t “less than…” she was before. She was different.  If you know anyone who has had a stroke, I would highly recommend reading this book to get a deeper understanding of how life can be for one person with a similar situation. (My father had a stroke, and this would have been very helpful at the time.) The author is mostly very down-to-earth about things, but she can wander off on digressions sometimes. Still, overall, a very good read.

So – there you go. More next month!

Book Review Column for March 2013

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Each month, I write a book review column for a local magazine here in town. In collaboration with (and with permission from) the publisher, I am adding the column to my blog as I thought it might be a fun feature. So – here you go:

YOUNGEST:

Ladybug GirlLadybug Girl – David Soman and Jacky Davis

What happens when your older brother tells you that you’re too little to play with him? If you’re Ladybug Girl, you go off and create your own fun! The small girl in this story is sad and mad when her parents are too busy to play and her brother won’t. In despair, she looks at all her toys, declares she is bored but then wanders around and makes her own fun. She also learns that she is not too little to make her world a bit better (helped by her dog Bingo). Charming illustrations help to tell the story and give hope to neglected younger brothers and sisters.

MIDDLE:

Matilda – Roald Dahl

Written in a similar vein (and by the same author) as Charlie and the MatildaChocolate Factory, this fun novel is full of rather naughty people getting their come-uppance (both the kids and the adults). The heroine is young Matilda, a very clever young girl and almost a prodigy in reading and math skills. However, despite this, her parents are not supportive of her academic efforts, and so there are lots of adventures involved with Matilda outwitting the various adults and kids in her life who are mean to her. She attends a local school with a tyrant headmistress and a lovely classroom teacher who both provide a balance of good and bad in Matilda’s young school life. This is a super-good book to encourage kids that it’s ok to be academically clever (even if it does make you the odd one out for a while). It’s also about a girl realizing she doesn’t have to accept the limits by others (which I believe is an important message).  This story works well for both boys and girls, and was an enjoyable quick read.  (There is also a movie out based on this novel, but haven’t seen it so not sure of its quality. As always, I suggest that you read the book first.)

ADULT:

One Day in Life American WomanOne Day in the Life of the American Woman – ed. Sharon Wohlmoth et al.

Subtitled “How We See Ourselves”, this book is part of an ongoing series of photographic essays focused on women of all backgrounds from across the country. Illustrated by a series of really good photographs of the various subjects taken by professional female photographers, every woman featured is unique: working or not working, parent or not, and from all over the place. This is a great graphic reminder that whoever you are is perfectly OK, and that American women (and indeed people all over) come in all sorts of sizes and shapes and colors. A nice coffee table book to browse in spare moments, and good to leave around for “teachable” moments with daughters, sons etc.