Monday, August 21, 2017

Joining the Diverse Books Club

I discovered the blog Top Shelf Text a few months ago when Madeline was a guest on the Modern Mrs. Darcy podcast What Should I Read Next? I mainly use Instagram for friends and family, but I do follow a few bookstagrammers and Anne Bogel convinced me to check out Madeline's account. I very much enjoy Madeline's posts and stories, but it's her brand-new Diverse Books Club launching in September I want to tell you about today.

With everything going on in our county and our world, I am fully aware that just reading books is not enough. But I do feel strongly that education and empathy are important pieces and that books can play a role in both of those. There is a lot more information in the introductory post on Top Shelf Text, but in short, this is meant to be a group of readers who are "dedicated to learning about the world and our fellow humans. We value diversity in all its forms. Our mission is to be those worthy role models that our children deserve." 

Madeline and her co-moderator are both teachers and will soon be joined by an additional team of moderators who are passionate about this project and who also bring a diversity of perspectives to the group. I can't say for sure how it will all work out, but I am eager to join with an open mind. 

Head over to Top Shelf Text for more info and to see the middle grade, YA, and adult September selections. The children's book selections are over on Miss Magee's Reads.

On Instagram @diversebooksclub
On Goodreads at Diverse Books Club

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Building a Library or Losing My Mind?

So. I went to another community garage sale at a local church the weekend before last. And I also took a nice long walk through a neighborhood yard sale. The deals were great -- $0.50-$1 per book (and one that was even free!) The church sale had an even better deal -- fill a bag for $5. Did I fill a bag? Of course, I filled a bag. I was there towards the end and even though the books were likely pretty well picked over, I still found some great stuff. And since my bag wasn't quite full, I even threw in a few extras we already had because I know a local literacy organization those titles would be perfect to donate to. I can't say for sure that any leftovers from the sale would end up in a dumpster or recycling bin (hopefully not!) but I didn't want to leave those few behind knowing I could pass them on somewhere they will be used and appreciated.

As fun as it was to go treasure hunting and find great titles to add to our home library, I do sometimes wonder if I've gone overboard with the whole thing. My philosophy has always been that a book never has to be wasted. If I change my mind or decide I don't want to keep something, there are so many places to pass books onto. A large percentage of my books are bought used, as overstock, and/or inexpensively. My biggest book splurges are when I buy at my local indie bookstore, but I very much like supporting a local business I want to stick around for years to come, so I call it money well spent. And I love lending out books to friends and family -- so I always like to think they are not just for me, even if they are mostly for me (and my son). I'd like to think that someday I'll be that mom who'll recommend/lend books to my kid's friends. If my kid won't take my suggestions by then, I hope there will be another trusted mom (or dad!) he will take recommendations from. Because, you know, it's cooler when it's not your mom (or so Anne Bogel tells me!)

But I'm out of shelf space. Again.

I did a pretty big culling a while back and it felt great to have space on my shelves again. But I only went on to fill that space with books that are a better fit for my family right now and in the foreseeable future -- namely, picture books, children's novels, and middle grade. And they're awesome! But I enjoy and connect with so many book/reading/literacy blogs, sites, and podcasts -- that I get all jazzed up about new-to-me titles on a regular basis. The excitement of the teachers, educators, and parents who run these things is truly infectious. This is absolutely a good thing, but I do sometimes wonder if I've gone overboard. I know that when I'm tired and can't concentrate very well, a browse at a bookstore or on Book Outlet's website is such a fun thing to do. It certainly takes less brain power than, you know, actually reading. I stock up on all those great books I've been hearing about, but then realize I've potentially squandered some of the time I could have spent reading them.

So what's a bookworm to do? Reading and literacy are so very important, so I know the answer is not to quit listening to inspiring podcasts or to cut back on reading time (the horror!). But for now, I'm trying to use my limited options approach to help guide me -- if it's not a book I want to add to that small stack, I'm trying to pass on the purchase. The community garage sales ($5 a bag!) throw a bit of a monkey wrench in that plan, but I'm not sure I can bring myself to feel guilty about used books -- whether they are fill-a-bag-cheap, or even more typically priced at a used bookstore. But I do know that I need to spend less time overall browsing, researching, and shopping -- both online and offline. In fact, this was one of my 2017 Bookish Goals and I think now is a good time to recommit to that. In fact, with almost five months left in the year, I think I should re-evaluate and check-in on all those goals (post soon!).

So, to make a long story short: Read more, browse/shop less. It's not really that hard, right?

Monday, July 31, 2017

Mid-Year Challenge Check-In

I'm a bit late, but I thought I'd take a peek at my year-long challenges and put together a mid-year progress report. I cut way back on challenges this year and I'm extremely glad I did. Even with the relatively few I am doing, I still feel like I spend too much time tracking, logging, tallying etc. So I'm planning to cut back even further next year -- though my fellow challenge-junkies will know that can be easier said than done!

Overall, I'm very happy with my progress thus far. I've bumped my Goodreads Yearly Goal up numerous times because I log all of my books including picture books and my number is climbing far faster than I anticipated. While we do read plenty of picture books on repeat, we've had many more new-to-us ones this year than I expected (I only log each one once -- I'm not in the business of torturing myself that much!) If I was not including picture books, trust me, my goal would be wayyyy lower than the current 500 I have it set at (and I'm 171 books ahead of schedule -- haha!)

Goal: Konisgburg level; 75+ points
Current Progress: 48 points

* * * * *

Original artwork by Charles Haigh-Wood (1856-1927)
Goal: Complete Checklist of 102 categories
Current Progress: 92/102 categories

* * * * *

Goal: My Shelves and I are Going Steady, 51+ books
Current Progress: 27 books

* * * * *

Goal: Maximizing Returns, 61-80%
Current Progress: 41%
These numbers do not include my garage sale finds from this weekend. I found some really great stuff for very little numbers are definitely going to skew even lower for a while until I catch up on some of these finds, hopefully before the end of the year! I agonized a bit over how to count treasuries (say, a Curious George treasury with 8 full books included in one volume). Since there aren't really any hard rules on those, I'm counting them as I like :) I also decided to count gifts and freebies alongside purchased books because I should not be acquiring (or keeping) them if I don't want to read them, same as the books I buy.

* * * * *

Goal: 50 books published prior to 2017
Hogwarts Mini Challenge: 4 Scavenger Hunts
Current Progress: 67 (+ TONS of picture books)
Oh hey, I finished my main goal -- woo hoo!
I've made lots of progress on the scavenger hunts, but I haven't submitted anything yet in case I need to shuffle a few titles around.

* * * * *

Goal: All of the Sherlock stories & novels
Current Progress: 2 stories + 1 novel = A TOTAL BUST!
I gave up on the schedule long ago and plan to continue reading these at my leisure instead of as a challenge.

Goal: Full Card; 49 books
Current Progress: 29 books; no BINGO yet (and definitely no full card yet!)

Friday, July 28, 2017

PSA: LaVar Burton has a podcast!

I just heard about this yesterday on an episode of What Should I Read Next? I was catching up on from when I was away on vacation. So excited! It was basically described as Reading Rainbow for grown-ups and on each episode, LaVar reads a hand-picked piece of short fiction. The latest is a story from Neil Gaiman -- I'm so in!

Go check it out!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Not-So-Random New (Used) Books

The other day, I shared a bunch of totally random books that have made their way onto my shelves. I talked about my local used bookstore and two local community garage sale fundraisers where I went treasure-hunting. The rest of the books I found at these places really don't qualify as random, but I still think they were pretty great finds. My TBR has really exploded since I started delving into KidLit over the past year or two. This was an area that was not previously well-represented on my shelves, but I think I have more than made upfor that deficit at this point!

I won't be sharing books from Amazon or Book Outlet (ahh such good deals!) or my local indie bookshop, though I do buy books from all those places. I really do try to buy a lot of my books used -- for various reasons. For one, I love giving a book a new home -- one man's trash is another man's treasure, right? I know it's a more environmentally friendly option than buying new all the time, especially considering the amount of books I own. Secondly, I like supporting my local used bookstore -- it may be a little pricier than the dearly departed used bookstore near my grandmother's house I visited since I was about 10 years old, but I absolutely want this one to stay in business! Third, when the community garage sales roll around, any money spent is going for a good cause. And lastly, looking for used books is just plain fun because I never know what I might find!

So it's that last reason that really has me wanting to share more of my recent(-ish) finds. And once again, all of these are options for my new limited options TBR approach, so I'm trying to sort out which ones I want to read sooner rather than later. Thoughts and opinions on any of these titles are more than welcome!

Community Garage Sale Finds

My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George
A Newbery Honor. And I really like this cover!

The Cricket in Times Square, by George Selden & illustrated by Garth Williams
A Newbery Honor. And I also vaguely remember Julie mentioning it, possibly as a book she liked reading aloud to her class?

The Sign of the Beaver, by Elizabeth George Speare
A Newbery Honor that sounds familiar from grade school, but I'm not quite sure if I actually ever read it.

The Midnight Fox, by Betsy Byars
This one was specifically recommended by Gretchen Rubin on that WSIRN Kidlit episode I raved about the other day!

Used Bookstore Finds

I went a little further back than I originally intended, but here are a bunch of my favorite finds from the past year (or so).

Newbery Medal Winners
Bridge to Teribithia, by Katherine Paterson
The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Speare
The View from Saturday, by E.L. Konigsburg

Newbery Honor Books
Hattie Big Sky, by Kirby Larson
Abel's Island, by William Steig
Surviving the Applewhites, by Stephanie S. Tolan
Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen
The Family Under the Bridge, by Natalie Savage Carlson

More Newbery Honor Books
Annie and the Old One, by Miska Miles
Splendors and Glooms, by Laura Amy Schlitz

Classic/Modern Classic KidLit authors (& part of a series)
Half Magic, by Edward Eager
Pinky Pye, by Eleanor Estes

More Classics
The Family Collection, by Enid Blyton
An Episode of Sparrows, by Rumer Godden
Miracle on 34th Street, by Valentine Davies (& illustrated by Tomie DePaola!)

Newer fiction
100 Cupboards, by N.D. Wilson
M is for Magic, by Neil Gaiman


Picture Books!

These have pretty much all been read at least once, so they are not factoring into my TBR deliberations, but I thought I would share anyway!

Rhymes for Annie Rose, by Shirley Hughes
Jill over on Orange Marmalade has recommended this author/illustrator many times and I'm glad to have found one by her I really love!

Jamberry, by Bruce Degen
I knew very little of this popular picture book going in, but now I've read it, I really love it.

We have a few other Prelutsky collections on our shelves and this one turned out to be really excellent too!

Chicka, Chicka, 1, 2, 3, by Bill Martin, Jr.
Chicka, Chicka, Boom, Boom is a favorite around here, so this was a no-brainer. (Though the original is better.)

The Storm Book, by Charlotte Zolotow
I've read a few other Zolotow books and know the name from the award named in her honor. This one turned out to be a beautifully illustrated book for summer.

The Little House, by Virgina Lee Burton
We had read this Caldecott book previously from the library and enjoyed it.

We had a copy of this when I was a kid! I still don't know how to draw, but it just seems like a great reference to have.

The Snowman, by Raymond Briggs
A classic! Anyone else remember the silent cartoon movie? 

A Kiss for Little Bear, by Else Holmelund Minarik & illustrated by Maurice Sendak
It's Sendak! And the Little Bear TV cartoons are cute, so I thought we should explore some of the originals.

Baby Bug back issues
What a find! I had just subscribed to this magazine for little man and had been looking at the (expensive) individual back issues online and decided I was not going to be spending that kind of money on them. And then one of the community garage sales had 15 back issues for a buck a piece -- or maybe it was 50 cents? -- either way, I snapped them up because they cost a mere fraction of the price on the Cricket website. And thankfully, my little guy really like them. I'll have to do a full review of this magazine one of these days.

Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?, by Bill Martin, Jr. & illustrated by Eric Carle
It's Eric Carle! Though I definitely like Brown Bear, Brown Bear better.

Christmas Mice, by Richard Scarry
A Richard Scarry Christmas book for 50 cents!

Give Me Grace, by Cynthia Rylant
I've really liked everything I read by Rylant so far and had been meaning to try this one from the library anyway when I spotted a copy. It's a rhyming book of children's prayers for each day of the week that I'm very glad we have on our shelves.

Slide and Find: Trucks, by Roger Priddy
I don't care for reading this type of book aloud, but little man LOVES exploring it on his own.

The Little Drummer Boy, by Ezra Jack Keats
It may be a Christmas book, but this is a year-round favorite for my little guy and really beautifully illustrated.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Random New Books

Over the past few months, I've added a few completely random books to my shelves. These are books that were never on my radar prior to taking them home. Quite a few of them, I'm not even sure if I want to read. I know that sounds really strange, but bear with me, I shall explain! Given this odd state of affairs, I thought I would share these random finds to see if anyone has any thoughts or opinions on them.

Used bookstore freebies!

In the fantastic kids section of our local used bookstore.
He sat like this for 20+ minutes while Mommy browsed :):)
And yes, we bought that book!

For every $20 you spend at my local used bookstore, you get to pick a free book from a specific shelf near the register. I'm not one to pass up a free book, but it's not often I spot something there I was already interested in reading. I'm often browsing this hodgepodge shelf with one eye (and hand) on my climbing toddler and making sure he pets the bookshop dog gently. Or at least that's what happened the last time we went! (And thank goodness the owner likes kids!)

Blue Willow, by Doris Gates 
I had never heard of this author or title before and this old, tattered copy definitely didn't catch my eye at first glance. But then I spotted "A Newbery Honor Book" on the cover and knew it was going to be one of my picks!

Trouble River, by Betsy Byars
Betsy Byars is a Newbery author and I heard Gretchen Rubin recommend her books on a Kidlit For Adults episode of the What Should I Read Next? podcast (FANTASTIC episode that was part of a 5-day mini-series dedicated to KidLit; episodes #49-53, FYI.)

I knew nothing about this book, but it's by Lois Lowry, so it was my freebie pick a few months ago. And it turns out it is part of a series Anne Bogel and Sarah Mackenzie talked about on their WSIRN KidLit episode that kicked off that 5-day mini-series.

They Sent Me The Wrong Book!

The Dunderhead War, by Betty Baker
This one is super random because it landed in my mailbox as the result of an ISBN mix-up when I ordered a different used kids book. The seller refunded my money and told me to keep it, but I really have no idea if I want to read it or not! I haven't even found a good description of it because the summary on Goodreads is for that other book I thought I was buying. So odd!

Community Garage Sale Finds

During the spring, I went to two different community garage sales run by local schools as fundraisers. I really wanted to pick up some clothes and things for little man (which I did), but you don't think I passed by the books without looking do you? Since they were run by schools, most of the items donated for sale were from families and sure enough there were some gems to be found. I figure this is because lots of kids (and parents) clear out books they've outgrown or books they read for class and don't want to keep. So there were lots of Newberys and classic authors which are right up my alley these days! They were all selling for $0.50 - $2 each at most, so I brought home quite a few.

Catwings, by Ursula K. LeGuin
I read The Wizard of Earthsea for a Sci-Fi and Fantasy Lit course in college, but I had no idea LeGuin also wrote a chapter book series. I was intrigued!

The Reluctant Dragon, by Kenneth Grahame & illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard
I know Grahame wrote The Wind in the Willows and Shepard illustrated the Winnie the Pooh books, but I had never heard of this collaboration before. Again, intrigued!

This is really pretty Hallmark gift book that caught my eye. I was amazed to open it and realize it was printed in 1967!

Jack and Jill, by Louisa May Alcott
Obviously, I know of Alcott, but I had never even heard of this title previously. The actual book cover (shown in the photo) is so much prettier than the dust jacket, which I thought was unusual for an older book (but correct me if I'm wrong!)

* * * * *

The rest of the books I found at the used bookstore and community garage sales recently were not so random and I will share those in another post soon. Since I want to read more from my own shelves (as always!) as I move forward with my limited choices TBR approach, I thought it would be fun to share some of the books I have to pick from. And the results of these little treasure hunts always seem more interesting to me than plunking a book in my Amazon cart (not that I don't do that too!)

Have you come across any random bookish finds lately? Please share in the comments!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The appeal of limited choices... and the irony of my overflowing bookshelves

Last week I was away on my family's annual summer beach vacation to Ocean City, NJ. It's not as well-known as Ocean City, MD, but it holds a special place in my heart. I was there for my first birthday (not that I remember it!) and in my (almost) 32 years, I think I've only completely missed the trip one summer. To be honest, there's nothing fancy or even terribly unique about it, it's *just* a family-friendly beach town far enough from home to be a getaway, but not so far that the drive is miserable. And while it may not particularly stand out compared to any number of other beach towns along the coast, I absolutely love it. For me, it really doesn't get much better than sitting by the ocean with my feet in the sand and a book in my lap (and hiding under the umbrella, thank you very much). 

The beach photos aren't current, but it pretty much looks the same :)

My husband knew Ocean City is pretty much my favorite place on the planet which is why he chose to propose there (10 years ago!) And while I love lots of beach "activities" as my brother likes to call them, this year was all about the relaxation. Little man had lots of people to play with and look out for him, so mama got a much needed break (even if we were up at the crack o' dawn every morning.)

This is all basically a long-winded way of saying that I read a bunch of books last week! I had a bag packed with Newberys, novels-in-verse, a poetry collection, and a couple of really beautiful chapter books. I chose all of them from my own shelves and focused mostly on ones I'd excitedly acquired recently, but hadn't gotten around to reading yet. I did make a last minute stop at the library on our way out of town (literally) to pick up my hold for book #4 of The Naturals series, but that was the only library book I had with me. I was really looking forward to reading it after finishing book #3, so I couldn't resist diving into that one first on vacation. Despite it being a real page-turner, it did take up a big chunk of my vacation reading time. (And this means I actually FINISHED a whole series! You guys, that's kind of big for me. Anyone else feel me on this?)

But what I really want to talk about is what happened on the last few days of my vacation after I finished that library book. First, I picked up the two chapter books (My Happy Life and Princess Cora and the Crocodile knowing something light was just what I needed after a dark and twisty mystery. They were beautiful and delightful and I couldn't believe I hadn't read them sooner after buying them. Next, I picked up the poetry collection (recommended on Orange Marmalade!) and was treated to 21 gorgeously illustrated poems. I took my time with them and read many of them more than once -- and while they may not all be new favorites, I enjoyed the reading experience immensely.

Next up was Inside Out & Back Again, a Newbery Honor novel-in-verse inspired by the author's real life experience as a refugee during the Vietnam War. It was a beautiful and inspiring book full of both sadness and hope. Being able to read it straight through in a single afternoon without distractions was such a gift. Next up was a lighter middle grade anthology, Funny Girl which was a bit hit or miss for me, but do yourself a favor and read/listen to some Carmen Agra Deedy (like her Scholastic Reads podcast episode or TEDx Talk) -- she's such an amazing storyteller and her contribution was my favorite by far. Lastly, I picked up Newbery Medal winner Sarah, Plain and Tall. Admittedly, I chose it over others in my bag because it was so slim (and I didn't quite finish it while I was away), but it certainly qualified as a book I owned and had been meaning to read.

I ended my vacation thinking to myself: Reading from my own shelves is so great! They may have been short and easy, but I read almost six of my own books in three days! I can do this reading-from-my-own-shelves-thing! I'm going to keep this ball rolling when I get back home for sure!

And then I got home. And I saw the library stack(s).

Riiiiiight. That's why I always have so much trouble reading from my own shelves most of the time. Hmmm.

So I've been home almost a week now and I have read from those library stacks. I've ordered the Sarah, Plain and Tall sequels because I really want to read the rest of the series straight through. I've visited the library, but (so far) only borrowed picture books. I've visited both of my local bookstores (looking for the Sarah, Plain and Tall sequels, which they didn't have, but you don't think I left empty-handed now do you?) I have not picked up any more books from my own shelves (yet). But I have been thinking it all over and trying to figure out how to better balance my reading. And I think it all comes down to the appeal of limited choices. It was so easy to read from my own shelves on vacation because I had one bag of books to choose from. Simple as that.

Continuing with that logic, you'd think the public library with its thousands upon thousands of titles would leave me with too many choices, but once I take a stack home... I once again have limited choices. It's easy to read from my library stack partly because due dates help me prioritize, but also because I'm picking from only a handful of titles -- far fewer than when I take a peek at my own overflowing bookshelves and don't know where to start.

So where does this leave me? It's pretty embarrassing to admit I have so many books it's hard to decide what to read next. It's pretty embarrassing to admit that having so many books hasn't stopped me from getting more when I hear great recommendations on podcasts or blogs or find a great deal or go down a rabbit hole with a new-to-me author/series/topic/award. It's pretty embarrassing to admit how many books I get (mostly children's) with the intention of building a home library for our family, even though so many are far above my son's level and I can't possibly keep up with them all myself. BUT I think I do have a solution.

Book buying bans don't work.

Library bans don't work.

Making reading into a chore or a job or a thing to check off a to-do list doesn't work.

But what does work? Filling a bag with books (mostly) from my own shelves that I'm really excited about and letting those be my "short-list" when it's time to pick my next read. I can't be on vacation all the time, but just maybe I can approach my reading as if I were packed for vacation all the time. I think it's worth a shot!

* * * * *

P.S. I love Jade's idea for seasonal reading lists and it strikes me as sort of a variation of what I'm trying to do here.

P.P.S. Can I go back to the beach now? Pretty please?

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Blog Love: Orange Marmalade

Some months ago, I stumbled across a blog that has fast become a favorite of mine. I really hadn't subscribed to children's lit blogs until this one and there are only a very select few others I follow. While I get some good info and recommendations from BN Kids, Brightly, and Imagination Soup, my far and away favorite is Orange Marmalade. I look forward to new posts from this blog more than just about any other -- and my library list explodes on a regular basis as a result! I've been paring down how many sites I subscribe to, but this one is staying in my Feedly queue for the long haul.

If you are a parent looking for children's book recommendations -- or even just interested for yourself, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Jill has a real heart and love for children's literature and it shines through in all of her posts. Her focus is on picture books through middle grade and she covers a very wide range of titles -- from classics and Caldecotts to brand new releases, books newly translated into English, poetry and art, the occasional graphic novel, and much, much more. She values kindness and compassion, opening our minds and exploring our world, building bridges and nurturing empathy, getting outside and using our imagination.

Her posts have gently nudged me to expand my reading comfort zone and dive into poetry books and art books and all sorts of other books I might not have picked up before. Largely because of this blog, I visit the children's section of my library not just for my son, but also for myself. I never really stopped reading YA books, but I had almost completely stopped reading picture books and middle grade until I had my son. I now may have read more books Jill has recommended in these past few months than I have from any other single blog I follow. Sure, the brevity of most kidlit makes this much less of a time commitment, but the variety and quality of her book recommendations just continue to pull me in time and time again.

Her archives go back to 2010 and are a veritable treasure trove. She has a very helpful subject index as well as a title index. Realistically, I probably won't read though all those posts, but any time I search for something -- by topic, or book type, or title, something good always seems to come up. The most dangerous thing I can do is take a peek at the site to check on something before finalizing a Book Outlet order -- all of a sudden a bunch more books have landed in my cart!

But enough waxing poetic! I thought I'd share some of my favorite posts to give you a little taste of Orange Marmalade and see why exactly I love it so much. I also asked Jill to share some of her own favorite posts and she graciously agreed. Since I've only delved into the archives sporadically, her picks take us a bit further back than I've been able to explore. I hope some of these posts pique your interest, and apologies (sort of) in advance if I send you down a bit of a kidlit rabbit hole :)

First some of her "Musings" posts -- these aren't recommendation posts, but I think they paint a picture of where Jill is coming from, why she values children's books, and why she's created an entire blog dedicated to them:
* In a World of Sorrow, Shall I Dish Up Green Eggs and Ham?
Reading as An Act of Listening
On Never Outgrowing Picture Books
Art Helps Us See Differently
Books are for Wonder and Wondering
Reading Beyond Baked Chicken

Best-of lists for the past two years:
Orange Marmalade’s Juicy Book Awards 2015
Orange Marmalade’s Juicy Book Awards 2016

Some of Jill's favorite posts:
Sowing seeds of peace and refuge…some thoughts and book lists
Turning over a new leaf?…a list of five books encouraging fresh paths for the new year
The last homely house…a list of five brilliant books about building houses
Flashlights and moon jumping…five books aglow with darkness
Cold hands, warm hearts…five icy tales warm with love
There’s a summer place…five nostalgic pieces of summer

Some of my favorite posts (so far). I have not read all the books, but I just love the variety of subjects covered. I tried to pare this list down, I really did, but it's still long :)
Compassion ought not be political: read about refugees (Also featured here.)
They also wrote a kids’ book…a list to celebrate my daughter’s graduation
Words that dazzle, sizzle, nuzzle, puzzle…April is National Poetry Month!
Tantalizing, electrifying, art history and appreciation
Quiet wonderings, wild imaginings…five for kindling curiosity
Mothers of the world…we salute thee!
Can we do it? yes, we can!…books for Women’s History Month
Each little flower, each tiny bird…books to inspire delight and care for the Earth
Need a smile?…five books with miles of smiles
Ancient stories for modern children
Five quick peeks at artful alphabets
Quietest and most constant friends…five books about books
What the world needs now is love, sweet love…five full of love for Valentine’s Day

Lastly, I'm very much looking forward to her upcoming series for the summer -- come follow along with me!
Buckle Up for a Tour of the World!…Books for Exploring Global Cultures with Kids

Monday, June 19, 2017

Review: Being There

Being There: Why Prioritizing Motherhood in the First Three Years Matters by Erica Komisar, LCSW
Date: April, 11 2017
Format: hardcover
How did I get this book? borrowed from library
Goodreads | Publisher | Author

I imagine the title of this book alone elicits one of two reactions from most people -- nods of agreement or it gets their hackles up. As a general rule, I don't read a lot of parenting books and only picked this one up from the library because I really liked an article the author wrote on the children's book site Brightly (affiliated with the book's publisher): How Reading to Your Children Helps You to Be a Present Parent. Parenting advice in general stresses me out, but how books and reading help us be better parents is the kind of advice I find encouraging (imagine that!) Reading is just one example of how we can better connect with our kids, but this book goes way beyond that and is a rather forceful argument for the need for more present parenting (with a HUGE emphasis on mothering) when kids are very young.

I did find this book interesting and useful, but as a whole, it was a bit hard to swallow. I guess that is sort of the point and Komisar says right in her introduction that readers who already have kids may not like what she has to say and may feel guilty or uncomfortable. She has a point when she says, "As a therapist, I am in the business of making people feel uncomfortable so they can change and ultimately live happier and more satisfying lives." She is also hoping to reach readers before they become parents, but I don't honestly know how many non-parents are going to pick up a book like this. If any do, it certainly gives plenty to consider and it does an admirable job of conveying the enormity of parenthood, its responsibilities, and the fact that a lot of things change when you have a kid. Believing your life will go on exactly as it was, just with one more along for the ride, is (in my opinion) a pretty dangerous -- and unachievable -- illusion.

Komisar asserts we would all do well to confront and work through any of our own childhood traumas or difficulties before we become parents ourselves. I'd venture a guess that very few people put "see a therapist" on their list of things to do before starting a family or while pregnant. And while I see the author's point, without a HUGE sea change in how mental health is viewed in this country, this seems like the kind of thing only a privileged few realistically would (or could) do.

Komisar also asserts she is not anti-feminist and is not anti-working moms. She is a big advocate for better family/maternity leave policies and legislation and the need for more flexible workplaces. She argues this makes economic sense for companies as well as being good for families. She also gives zero free passes to stay-at-home or work-from-home moms -- even if you're physically around more, according to Komisar's research and experience in her practice, there is a whole lot you can still screw up. (My husband thinks reading this was a bad idea because I'm already too hard on myself -- and he's probably right.) She addresses ways to best handle daycare or other caregiving arrangements, how to better understand how young children process your absence, and how to help them with those transitions in a healthy way.

As someone who is primarily home with my son, I had a lot of questions about how to actually do what she is asserting is best for babies and toddlers. She does give a lot of practical, concrete examples and advice, but I was still left feeling a bit like she is saying that (ideally) everything should be done by the mother all the time and that you should avoid as many distractions as possible during waking hours. She mentions the need for a support system and laments the rarity of extended family support with child-rearing, but I was having trouble figuring out what exactly she envisions this support system doing because she is so, so focused on interaction between mother and child. She mentions the importance of fathers too, but again, I'm a bit at a loss for concrete examples of the role she feels these other people play in a child's life from birth through age two.

I think it is excellent advice to be less distracted when we are with our children. I already know I need to be on my phone less and it's something I am working on. But when she talks about moms needing support and not being isolated, I think she is overlooking the fact that phone contact is one way to be in touch with loved ones and friends during the day when you are otherwise alone with your child. It's not face-to-face, but sometimes messaging is all we have. Even recognizing my own need to cut back (and asking my husband to do the same), I'm a bit tired of vilifying phone use. And the way this book discusses moms on their phones just reinforces the idea that everyone is watching you and judging you -- like you need a sign on your head justifying why you are on your phone to the rest of the world or you're just another mom who's ignoring her baby, like everyone these days, isn't technology just terrible?

And she even cites things like washing the dishes or cleaning as distractions that don't allow us to be present. I am all for dumping the expectations of a spic-and-span house when you have littles in the house, but there is only so much you can let slide. You're going to run out of dishes at some point or you're going to start sneezing your brains out because it's been way too long since you last vacuumed (or is that one just me?) I understand we should limit our distractions, but if we focus almost entirely on our child during his waking hours, there just are not enough hours remaining to leave the rest of everything to when he's sleeping. And if she acknowledges a need for moms to rest and recharge (which she absolutely does), there has to be time for that somewhere too, not just frantically cleaning, catching up on work, showering, and (maybe) getting a halfway decent amount of sleep. I really would have loved to see a sample schedule for a week that shows how she suggest we fit it all in -- and by "all" I really do just mean the bare minimum of what is needed to keep things reasonably afloat, not the "all" that means everything is perfect all the time.

She repeatedly says that it is never too late to change or repair our relationships (which is encouraging), but over and over and over again, there are statistics that make it seem as if you don't get those first three years right, your kid is (probably) in big trouble. Oh, and any of your own emotional issues can likely be traced to how you were mothered yourself, which I think is rather unfair. She tries really hard to not play the guilt or blame game, but (to me), it seems to be there in between the lines anyway, to some extent. She says there is no such thing as a perfect mother, that children don't actually need a perfect mother, but rather a "good enough mother," and that babies are generally forgiving of our mistakes as long as we continue to try to meet their needs. But I'm having a really hard time determining what exactly "good enough" is when there are so very many things we shouldn't be doing (and things we should be doing better) and she's throwing around terms like "subtle forms of emotional abuse and neglect."

I also had a really hard time distinguishing between what she describes as perfectly normal for a toddler and what she describes as problematic behavior or symptomatic of deeper issues. I could read one section and think "phew, OK, all that toddler stuff we're dealing with is just par for the course" and another section and think "or maybe my kid is completely screwed up already?" There seems to be a fine line, at least to a lay person who does not have a background in child psychology and development.

She also says things like the pain and hardship of being sleep-deprived in order to make sure your young children feel safe and secure, especially at night, is worth it. She maintains that the worst sleep deprivation is in the earliest newborn days, but that night waking (and night comforting) are normal through the first three years. In my own personal experience, it is really hard to be engaged and present in the way this book describes when you are exhausted all the time (and what about people with more than one kid?!) I hate letting my son cry at night (and we've tried waiting varying amounts of time before going in depending on his age and other factors), but my ability to concentrate and be more engaged definitely suffers when I am chronically not getting close to enough sleep.

The best parts of this book? The Debunking the Myths of Modern Motherhood chapter was very interesting and a more general discussion of the principles found in the book as a whole. I think those are really great conversation starters in terms of how society views motherhood, babies, children, and what is truly best for families. (And I don't mean a one-size-fits-all solution or a return to some past era that gave women less choices -- that's no good for anyone.) The other chapter that really got me thinking was Why Don't We Value Mothering? In general, society tends to devalue "women's work" and that is problematic. I'm really trying to let Komisar's bold statement that "All mothers are working mothers" really sink in -- because I need to hear it and because it is true. We all have differing circumstances, desires, choices, etc. but parenting is hard work, period. No matter how much or little else you do in addition.

The book is well-written and engaging -- I read it in just 2 days (partially thanks to the fact that it was due back to the library the day I started it and I couldn't renew --oops!) It was very thought-provoking and is making me re-examine how I interact with my son on a day-to-day basis. There are plenty of things I can do better, but I feel like there is a lot of pressure to mother the right way and it's really overwhelming. This book tries very hard to be a balanced, realistic view of varying family circumstances and I think it more or less achieves that despite my rambling criticisms and questions. I do think it's my own perfectionist tendencies (and, of course, she has something to say about perfectionism too!) that views many of her recommendations as overwhelming (if we shouldn't be so distracted when we're with our kids, we should really never be distracted, right? But of course that is completely unrealistic and impossible.)  I would really, really love to talk to someone else who has read it, so if you do, please let me know!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Reading with Kid: A Work in Progress

My son turned two at the end of April. I don't know how my baby is now a full-blown toddler -- he has been for quite a while now to be honest. Looking back at "1 year ago today" or "2 years ago today" pictures on my phone kind of kills me. It's such a cliche, but the time really does fly by so fast. And, no, I was not prepared for toddlerhood. AT ALL. I thought having a baby would be the biggest life adjustment, but now I'm not so sure. Going from having a needy, cuddly baby to a stubborn, ants-in-his pants toddler has been an education for sure. Babies and toddlers change so rapidly that whenever I feel like I sort of have a handle on a particular stage, it's onto a new one! I feel like the same thing has happened with my reading since he was born. I figured my reading habits would change once I became a mother, but I didn't anticipate how frequently they would continue to change as the months went by.

In the early days, I read far more than I thought I would because I read when I was pumping. I really hated pumping, so getting to read a book was a bit of a treat to help the time pass. I wasn't reading anything heavy or difficult, but I really surprised myself with how many print books I was finishing during the newborn days. It also helped that I was awake for way more hours than usual, so while I was so very tired, I was reading quite a lot as well.

After that short-lived phase, when he was completely on formula, I would sneak a few pages while feeding him or rocking in the rocking chair. These were oftentimes when he was sleepy -- and small enough to basically fit in one arm. I'd prop up a book and read so long as he was content, which was pretty often. There wasn't much better than snuggling up with my baby and a book during that stage.

Then, as he got a bit bigger, but wasn't verbal yet, I went through a big audiobook phase. I read aloud and talked to him SO MUCH throughout the day, that I didn't feel bad popping in headphones while we were out on walks and he was happily looking out at everything around him and soaking it all in. (I think we both needed a break from the sound of my voice, to be honest!) I listened to multiple Diana Gabaldon marathon audiobooks with no trouble at all over the course of several months. And if I could get the audiobook for my book club selection, I never had any issues finishing before our meetings. I did have a really hard time getting through print books though -- they were taking me forever because I didn't have much time for sitting still, non-audiobook reading.

Now at two years old, my son is talking up a storm, so I no longer listen to audiobooks while he's chatty -- which he always is when we go on walks. Occasionally, I will put on a children's audiobook in the car or on my phone with the speaker turned up, but it doesn't happen all that often. At this stage, he's much more engaged when a real-life person reads to him and he has pictures to look at. So for now, I'm back to a slower pace for audiobooks since I am mainly listening when I am not on solo kid duty, doing housework, after he's asleep, or on the occasional kiddo-less walk or drive. But when it comes to print books, I'm finding I have more time again! My son is getting better at playing on his own (as long as I'm in the room or nearby), but I can't be on my laptop or he's all over it trying to push buttons and "play" with it. So that means I can't get any work done during playtime, but it's a lovely "excuse" to read a chapter of a novel, dive into a graphic novel, or even to read some more "advanced" picture books for my own enjoyment. I think it's good that he sees me reading rather than on a screen and will be even more important as he gets older. As it is, I still think I spend too much time on screens and it's something I am trying to work on. Just yesterday he came over to me at my desk in the evening and said "no more computer!" Out of the mouths of babes, right?

So, if you're a parent, I'm curious how your reading has changed since your kiddo(s) came along? Any tips or tricks to cut down on distractions and screen time also appreciated!