Like Anyone Else

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Ma and Dad have been worried about me since I started high school last year. It’s because I tried out for the track team and didn’t make it, even though I can run faster than anyone else at the school. Than anyone in the city. It’s because the state athletic board has rules about wild carders competing in sports against nats. Unfair advantage, they say, even though I’m just me. But my friend Beastie can’t go out for football because he’s like seven feet tall and super strong. He’d kick ass at football, and I guess that’s the problem. The coach says there’s too big a chance he’d hurt somebody. But I know Beastie. He can control himself, and he’d never hurt anybody. He just wants to go for a letter jacket like anyone else.

The Thing about Growing Up in Jokertown (A Tor.com Original) by Carrie Vaughn

Book Review: Hometown Alaska

During my youth I often indulged in daydreams about moving to some lovely little town in the middle of nowhere, filled with odd-personalities, tough characters and unending opportunities to indulge in wilderness exploration while building survival skills. These little fantasies of mine were always filled with a rich social life woven from solid relationships with good, trustworthy people.

What can I say? I was young.

Amazingly enough, Heather Lende accomplished my youthful fantasies. I honestly had to check the book a few times, just to make sure I hadn’t accidentally picked up a novel by mistake – a novel that just happened to perfectly reflect those wistful somedays that filled my head back when my back didn’t creak and my muscles didn’t ache after yet-another-day of to-many-hours hunched over a desk.

Side note: getting old is a dreadful experience.

There’s nothing fictional about If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name; everything in the book is 100% biographical. Ms. Lende achieved the very thing I’d resigned myself to accepting as impossible. She lives in the Alaskan wilderness, raises children in a small town, and has learned to rely on sort of basic life-skills most Americans have lost to industry and urbanization. Even the quirky personalities of her neighbors are described in lovely detail:

There’s an artist who lives with his wife, a weaver, in a fanciful cabin overlooking Rainbow Glacier. He keeps a dead temple pit viper in a big jar filled with vodka and takes sips of the “snake juice” every now and then to ward off illness. He’ll offer you some if you stop by.

I was amazed.

I couldn’t put the book down.

Here’s what happened: She and her husband moved to Haines, Alaska and built a home – both literally and figuratively. Eventually, Ms. Lende’s husband acquired a local business and established a career as an entrepreneur, while she pursued a career as the obituary writer for the local newspaper. While this sounds like an odd career, she describes it beautifully:

Being an obituary writer means I think a lot about loss, but more about love. Writing the obituaries of so many people I’ve known makes me acutely aware of death, but in a good way, the way Emily Dickinson meant when she wrote, “That it will never come again / Is what makes life so sweet.” My job helps me appreciate cookouts on clear summer evenings down on the beach, where friends lounge on driftwood seats and we eat salmon and salads by the fire while our children play a game of baseball that lasts until the sun finally sets behind the mountains, close to eleven o’clock…Most of all, though, writing about the dead helps me celebrate the living—my neighbors, friends, husband, and five children—and this place, which some would say is on the edge of nowhere, but for me is the center of everywhere

Throughout the book, Ms. Lende’s deep understanding and knowledge of this tiny little town comes through in colorful detail.

Being both small and remote, it’s the kind of place where teenagers are almost required to complain about a lack of adventure and activity. Yet, this book is filled with events that range from amazingly exciting to terribly sad. There is nothing easy about life in Haines, Alaska; but there’s a lot to be gained from living there.

(sigh)

I am so very envious.

If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name: News from Small-Town Alaska by Heather Lende

Book Review: Snowballs Make the Best Gifts

Most holiday-season picture books focus on Santa Claus and the joy of giving, or receiving gifts. It’s a heart-warming experience wrapped up in a neat little box covered in pretty paper and a bow.

The best thing about this book is the way Santa Claus delivers the best possible gift to  Yukio, the main character – an EPIC snowball fight! It’s not a toy or clothes or even a much-needed tool or box of supplies, it’s an activity!

The children in my life simply loved the snowball fight between a village of ninjas (and their ninja children) and a mysterious red-suited samurai who turns out to be the jolly-old-man himself. The best part? Santa reveals his identity through a letter left for Yukio, under the tree:

Dear Yukio,
I hope you enjoyed the EPIC snowball fight. I made it just for you.
Sincerely,
Samurai Santa

The story is fun, well-told and full of action and adventure. There’s a happy ending and an entire community of kids who enjoy the best snowball fight of their entire lives! So, in that respect, it’s an excellent book to read during the holidays – just for fun.

However, the book also opens up the concept of gift giving as an action instead of a thing. Sometimes the best presents don’t have wrapping paper or boxes or a place under the tree. Sometimes they are the time we spend with each other.

It’s an all-around excellent story.

Samurai Santa, A Very Ninja Christmas, by Rubin Pingk

Book Review: Ugly Rescue Dog is a Hero

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The first time I read this book to the children in my life, their reaction was a combination of fear and concern. I had to encourage them to read the story to the very end, so we could enjoy the happy ending.

The reason there was such a strong reaction is because the main character is Spike, a dog who is naturally so ugly he wins an ‘Ugliest Dog in the Universe Contest.’ Immediately after winning the contest, his owner ties Spike to the porch and moves away, leaving the dog behind. Not only does this awful man abandon the dog, he also gleeful shouts insults at the animal as he drives away.

Yeah, that guy is mean.

The neighbor boy starts caring for Spike and wants to adopt him. As it turns out, Spike is an extremely well-behaved dog, so the only objection the boy’s mother has is financial. They can’t afford a pet.

All of this is told, first person, by Spike. The pictures are lovely and there is nothing scary, violent or threatening about the images. The tension is created by the story itself. But the experience of being called names, forced out of a family or circle of friends and wanting to belong are easy for children to empathize with, and Spike is a genuinely nice and lovable dog who doesn’t deserve to be treated so badly. So, around this household, the reaction to the story was rather emotional during the first reading.

In the end, not only is he adopted by the neighbor boy, Spike also rescues the neighbor’s cat (a prize winning show cat) from a would-be kidnapper and is featured in the local newspaper as a hero dog, which is much better than being the ugly dog.

Spike is thrilled when people ask if Spike is the Ugliest Dog, and his new owners respond with:

“Actually, he’s the most beloved dog in the universe – and this is just the boy to take care of him.”

The happy ending is an excellent resolution and the story is equal parts sad, exciting and happy. After that first reading, this became a family favorite. It’s the kind of story kids like to hear because they know how it will end.

Spike, the Ugliest Dog in the Universe by Debra Frasier

Thanksgiving Book Review: Playing Football

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This is a story about a boy who eagerly anticipates the Thanksgiving feast and the annual turkey bowl. The ‘turkey bowl’ is a rough-and-tumble game of football played by a motley collection of family and friends.

After everyone has had their fill of turkey and treats, the turkey bowl begins – in a nearby open field, in the winter wind and snow:

All afternoon Ethan, Alex, and all the kids from the block dove for passes and lunged for tackles. Finally, on the last play of the Turkey Bowl, Alex dropped back for a pass and threw a bomb. Ethan raced down the sidelines. Deep in the end zone, he soared high above a defender…”Touchdown! Touchdown!

This is a wonderful portrayal of the many ways that people spend time with family and friends over the holiday.

Turkey Bowl, written by Phil Bildner and illustrated by C. F. Payne

Suggestions for Building Excitement Over The Holidays

Ordering Books: Whether you are building a family library or simply looking for a fun way to build-up to the holiday celebration, having brand new books shipped to your home, in your child’s name, is a great way to do it. To a child, it is super exciting to receive a package in the mail, addressed to them! They may even want to read their brand-new book immediately AND before bed.

Library Holds: If you’d prefer to review the books before buying them, or need to maintain a tight budget, then use the local library. Go to the library website, locate the book and place it on hold. When the notification arrives, bring the child along and let them help find the books in the on-hold shelves.

Book Review: The Family That Forages Together Stays Together

When I picked up this book, I was looking for practical information on foraging for food in an urban environment.

I like to garden and (frankly) would prefer to live in the country on a little hobby farm, but I work in IT Security, so my job keeps me city-bound. Identifying and using wild plants is something I’ve had a long-standing interest in, but was never able to pursue, so I started poking around different blogs and forums, looking for information on plant-identification classes and nature hikes. That was when I stumbled across this book.

The family lives in a suburban environment. Midwestern cities tend to look very suburban, even in the inner city – this is not universal, of course, but as a general rule, we have a lot more green space than people in much more densely populated areas (particularly along the coasts). Therefore, this book describes a living situation that is very close to my own.

If you are living in the inner city (a truly urban environment) you will probably find this book equal parts interesting, entertaining and not-entirely-useful.

The book is filled with hands-on practical advice, but the facts are provided through the medium of the journey of discovery this family experienced during a year of living off of what they could forage. Every family member had been involved in learning these skills – and they clearly had a wonderful time playing outside together as they pursued this interest. So, the decision to attempt living off of their foraging for an entire year was a natural and logical progression of this pursuit.

Personally, I really enjoyed reading this book. It was fascinating and eye-opening from the perspective of what is possible, even within a suburban (or urban) environment. There are several points where they decide to collect apples, berries or rose hips off of public land (e.g.: the decorative bushes planted in the medium in the middle of a road or an apple tree in a public park) and find themselves asking – or being asked – if that was even allowed. Of course, the next question was always – who’s going to stop us? After all, there aren’t any official apple-protecting-police-officers assigned to the park.

There are also a lot of really good tips and commentary on raising a family. The beneficial aspects to simply setting a goal and pursuing it together, as a family and as a team, are beautifully illustrated by this book.

It’s an excellent read. I strongly recommend taking a look.

Quotes from this book can be found HERE.

Browsing Nature’s Aisles: A Year of Foraging for Wild Food in the Suburbs by Wendy Brown and Eric Brown

Halloween Book Review: The Family That Plays Together

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Ninja! Attack of the Clan by Arree Chung

The family that plays together, stays together! This family likes to play Ninja games and the book ends with a wonderful image of everyone in the family wearing home-made ninja costumes, complete with spatula weapons, while playing ‘ninja’. Everything that is good and fun about Halloween is summed up in that one image.

For more information about this and other books in the series, see the June 2017 Giggle Book Award.

All of the Halloween themed books, quotes and commentary posted to this blog can be found HERE.

Suggestions for Building Excitement Over The Holidays

Ordering Books: Whether you are building a family library or simply looking for a fun way to build-up to the Halloween celebration, having brand new books shipped to your home, in your child’s name, is a great way to do it. To a child, it is super exciting to receive a package in the mail, addressed to them! They may even want to read their brand-new book immediately AND before bed.

Library Holds: If you’d prefer to review the books before buying them, or need to maintain a tight budget, then use the local library. Go to the library website, locate the book and place it on hold. When the notification arrives, bring the child along and let them help find the books in the on-hold shelves.

Bragging Rights: New Cat Mommy

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Meet Gracie and Billy, the newest additions to my household.

They are three-month-old kittens from the same littler. They came from a shelter, so the breed is either ‘American Shorthair’ or ‘grey and black rescue cats.’

Both are full of energy and spunk but Gracie is the smaller and fiercer of the two. Billy generally just get’s out of her way when they are playing with the cat toys.

It’s been a wonderful change.

Halloween Book Review: Granny Is Gloriously Different

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Hubble Bubble Granny Trouble, written by Tracey Corderoy and illustrated by Joe Berger

Granny is wonderful! The heroine adores her grandmother, she just wishes granny were a little more….normal.

Granny is a witch who tries, really tries to be helpful, but many of her spells take a turn for the worst. The granddaughter decides she wants things to be very VERY normal on her birthday, so Granny puts away the spellbook and the two do absolutely everything by hand.

The cake they make is a bit lopsided and the dress is a glorious mess of scraps from the sewing box, but the two do everything together and have a wonderful time! When the guests arrive for the party they are taken aback by the sight of the cake and the dress, but granny pulls out some face paints and soon all of the children are having lots of fun pretending to be wild animals or monsters.

The party is a hit, one whole day of being ‘normal’ (as defined by our heroine) is divine, and the mess left behind is massive. Granny pulls out her spellbook and the clean the house Granny’s-way, together. In the end, the granddaughter wouldn’t want her granny to be anything other than who she is.

It’s a wonderful book that is perfect for either Halloween or a birthday.

A quote can be found HERE.

All of the Halloween themed books, quotes and commentary posted to this blog can be found HERE.

Suggestions for Building Excitement Over The Holidays

Ordering Books: Whether you are building a family library or simply looking for a fun way to build-up to the Halloween celebration, having brand new books shipped to your home, in your child’s name, is a great way to do it. To a child, it is super exciting to receive a package in the mail, addressed to them! They may even want to read their brand-new book immediately AND before bed.

Library Holds: If you’d prefer to review the books before buying them, or need to maintain a tight budget, then use the local library. Go to the library website, locate the book and place it on hold. When the notification arrives, bring the child along and let them help find the books in the on-hold shelves.

Bullying Is A Community Effort

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To complicate matters, I realized that the girls’ parents were just as gossipy and juvenile as their daughters. At my daughter’s soccer game one afternoon, I heard several mothers talking about some of the players. They remarked on how fat some of the girls on the team were and how they should be at fat camp, not on the varsity soccer team. As they went on, I got angrier and angrier. They were chatting away about someone’s child. I left at halftime because I was disgusted with their behavior. Even if I wasn’t teaching my daughter this type of behavior, it was everywhere. Her peers were bullies, their parents were bullies, and it only made sense that Emily would learn to act that way too, in order to fit in. It seemed we were living in an environment where we couldn’t escape it.

Bullies ruined my childhood. Then I realized my daughter is one., Vox.com, by Kate Young on March 3, 2016