28 June 2011

There and Back

We are back from our vacation (read Matt's blog to find out about our adventures) and settled into our normal lives again, as normal as they get in the summer. Matt is back at work, I am finishing up some things at school, and Isaac is in camp. We have been to church, spent time with friends, and played ultimate frisbee. This week will bring time to go see movies, watching a friend's kids play softball, visits to the pool, and a trip to the library. I love the pace of summer.

I mentioned that I had bought some books to load on my Nook for Isaac before we left for our trip. It was so convenient to carry one device rather than two or three books for myself and a stack for him. And I surprised myself by actually reading every book to him that I downloaded (he actually read a couple of them to me). Typically we go on a trip and I have every intention of making sure Isaac reads while we are traveling, but we are always too busy or too tired to take the time. That was a sign for me that this was a really good vacation -- there was enough down time to have the energy to do something normal.

Some of the books I downloaded were "Read to Me" books. One was Tammi Sauer's Cowboy Camp. There was a family in the condo next door to us while we were away who had two boys around Isaac's age, so many afternoons Isaac would hang out on the porch and play. One of those times Isaac and the youngest neighbor listened to Cowboy Camp on the Nook. I can't really say if the book was any good, though the boys said they enjoyed it. What I loved was that this piece of technology, which for so long I scoffed at, was bringing these two kids together. There were other times that they watched cartoons on our portable DVD player, or played games on the neighbors' laptop, but this one time they listened to a book. It was a really cool moment, and the fact that Matt and I had some time to relax while it was happening was pretty good, too.

One disclaimer about kid's books on the Nook -- the pictures do look great. But someone said to me once it was the same as reading a book. It's not. And nothing for me will ever replace the look and feel of being able to explore the details of the pictures on paper and turn the pages back and forth. But it is a very good substitute. And I am willing to say that it has its place (my luggage was certainly lighter, which when you are packing for three people for 7 days, is a good thing). But the Nook will not be taking part in our bedtime ritual, at least not any time soon.

16 June 2011

Searching for Adventure

We are getting ready to go on vacation. And this isn't our normal vacation to visit friends or family in another state or to ride roller coasters at an amusement park. We are going to Costa Rica! I have been out of the country twice, both times in college on a trip that was also a class. Matt has never been out of the country. Isaac is five, so enough said. In short, we are not intrepid world travelers and we are stepping way beyond our comfort zone. Matt and I have alternated between being scared and excited over the past few days. But if you want adventure, you need to leave the shire.

I have been trying very hard not to be my typical control freak self this week as we have packed and gathered documents (copies of copies of our passports and insurance cards are ready to go). But I have failed. I have made lists of what to pack, buy, and do before we depart. And now I have lost my lists! So I am making a list of how to handle not having a list. But today, I have also been thinking about how to make sure I remember this trip.

On my previous trips out of the country I kept journals of what we did, saw, spent, ate and anything else that was on my mind. Those were actually the only times in my life that I was a successful journaler. I pulled out those journals this morning and then bought a new one for this upcoming vacation. I want to remember as much as possible, not just for me but for Isaac. Journal and pen are ready to go; I am doing this the old-fashioned way.

Of course, part of the essentials for any vacation are books. I bought myself a Nook at Christmas and love it. As we get ready for vacation, this is one aspect that I am glad is not old-fashioned. I have my entire library in one device and last night I bought some books for Isaac. We are going to start reading Judy Moody on our trip. On the Nook you can also get Read to Me children's books, so Isaac can listen to the books instead of one of us having to read them to him. That means, of course, that I have to give up my toy for a while. Not sure how that is going to work.

So, off we go! We will come back full of stories of our adventures.

More is Better

Kids love books that interact with them as readers. When the author talks to the reader and makes him/her part of the dialogue, the child takes ownership of the story in a way that they cannot with more traditional storytelling. These books are also, usually, a whole lot of fun to read out loud.

Kenn Nesbitt's More Bears utilizes this storytelling device in a masterful way. Isaac has loved bear books since he was an infant. Nesbitt recognizes that bears are a favorite story animal and that for many children, more is better. No simplicity theory in this book. He also understands that many children want to be "authors" and makes them part of the writing of the story as bears pop up in ever increasing numbers as you turn the pages in response to the readers' demands of "More Bears!"

We laughed our way through this one. I can imagine reading it to a group of children, with their screams of "More Bears!" resounding through the library, completely dispelling the myth that libraries are quiet spaces.

15 June 2011

What's For Dinner?

I had high hopes for Monsters Eat Whiny Children by Bruce Eric Kaplan. The cover art is interesting and the title definitely makes you look twice. Especially if you are the parent of a whiny child. So it came home in the stack of new books the other week.

Unfortunately, I think this is a book adults will appreciate much more than the children will. Or maybe just much more than my child did. It even fell a little flat for me, and I like quirky, off-beat children's books.

The illustrations are simple, which can be a good thing in kiddie lit. Detailed pictures, with a lot happening on the page can add a lot to the story, but sometimes they get distracting. Simplicity in the illustrations is refreshing. The story is set up to grab your attention as you wonder what will actually happen to the children at the monster's hands. But through the bumblings of the monsters you (or at least we) stopped caring about the children. So when they finally escaped because the monsters were too busy arguing about how to cook them, it was rather anti-climatic. (Sorry if I spoiled that important plot point for you -- but, in case you didn't know, kids do not get eaten in children's books these days.)

There are some who will love this book, most reviewers do. If I had read it on my own, rather than with Isaac, I would probably have a more favorable impression. But we read it the same night we read More Bears, so its understated humor and black and white pictures just didn't have a chance. I really want to like this book, though, so we may give it another try in a few weeks.

13 June 2011

Summer Time

We have reached the end of the school year and summer activities are beginning. Camps, ball games, pool time, cook-outs. I love summer. What teacher doesn't? But it isn't just the fact that I don't have to work that I love - I come alive as the days get longer and warmer. I have more energy and more enthusiasm for getting together with friends and taking Isaac on excursions around town. The heat doesn't bother me nearly as much as the short, cold winter days that we suffered through just a few weeks ago.

So, since I am more awake and productive this time of year, I will once again make my summer pledge to post more about the books that we are reading (or have read in the recent past). Three books a week is my goal. Here is the first . . .

Right at the end of the school year a new shipment of books came in, just in time to go on the shelves to be ready for August. In the box was Mr. Duck Means Business by Tammi Sauer. It came home with me along with a stack of others that I thought Isaac may like. We read them in one sitting and this one was at the top of our list, though I connected with it more than Isaac did.

Mr. Duck is a loner and keeps to himself on his pond, protecting his space from intruders. One summer day, the other animals ignore his "Keep Out!" warnings and make use of his pond for an afternoon swim. His peace destroyed, Mr. Duck grumpily sends them on their way, only to realize later that having company isn't so bad, sometimes.

I can totally relate to Mr. Duck. I need my space and my quiet time, but there are times, especially in the summer, when I want my friends around and there is nothing better than a crowd. This was the perfect book to read as we get ready to enjoy the few weeks of relative freedom that summer brings. I welcome everyone to invade my swimming hole -- the water is lovely this time of year.