Thanks so much for visiting HipWriterMama, my blog about children's books, authors and readergirlz!

It's time for a change. I've decided to focus my attention on my writing blog, www.vivianleemahoney.com. Hope to see you there!


Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A Day of Dr. Seuss, Inspiration and Dylan Hears A Who

My husband and I took the kids to see the Dr. Seuss Art Gallery and National Memorial Sculpture Garden in Springfield, MA this past weekend. We heard so much about the sculpture garden, we couldn't wait to see it. Even though we had planned this outing for awhile, it was always postponed because of the hour long drive. Silly, I know. But, in my defense, it's amazing how an hour long drive can seem so much longer with three impatient children in the car. I was prepared though and had music on board so the kids could sing out loud.

We went into the main annex of the Springfield Museum, paid admission, gathered our maps, and started exploring. Admission to the Springfield Museum covers entrance to 4 museums: the Museum of Fine Arts, the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, the Springfield Science Museum, and the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum. The Dr. Seuss Art Gallery is located in the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum. These museums are small, but so worth visiting.

The kids loved the Springfield Science Museum. They were especially fascinated with the boa constrictor, the pink toed tarantula, interesting sea life, and dinosaur exhibit with fossils that were discovered in the Connecticut River area. This is a small museum with a limited number of exhibits. I wasn't sure whether the kids would like it since they are such fans of the Museum of Science, Boston. But the kids really enjoyed the Springfield Science Museum. It was easy to navigate with three children and we could view whatever exhibit we wanted to without feeling rushed.

We then went to the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum in search of the Dr. Seuss Art Gallery. This is another small museum made up of a genealogy and local history library, the Dr, Seuss Art Gallery, and historical artifacts from the Connecticut Valley region. I was a bit disappointed because I was expecting a huge Dr. Seuss Art Gallery. I don't know why. I just did.

One small room was dedicated to character art made to mimic those deer heads with antlers you see in hunting lodges. There were Dr. Seuss paintings on the hallway walls. We also found SeussScape, a playroom decorated with colorful Dr. Seuss artwork on the walls. The playroom had little plastic tables and chairs with a plastic tea party set, a listening station, and some books. A second room was dedicated to Dr. Seuss's family life with information on the making of the sculpture garden. The Dr. Seuss Art Gallery was quite interesting, mind you, but not enough for me to say WOW. I guess I expected an explosion of colors, sculptures, wildness and all things Dr. Seuss and I left feeling a little bit disappointed.

We noticed the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden across the quad, but went into the neighboring Museum of Fine Arts since it was pouring rain. My eldest child loves art so it was wonderful to have the creative space to contemplate, observe and admire. She really enjoyed this museum, actually preferring it to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts because she had quite a few rooms to herself to look, think and be. This museum had a Currier & Ives Collection, French Impressionist Paintings and American Artwork. Eight year old noted quite loudly that next time, she needed her sketch pad and pencils. Yes, sweets.

Finally, we made it over to the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden. Larger than life. Wonderful. Unfortunately, it was pouring rain, and the kids didn't want to really take a long look. But what fun! There are colorful bench sofas! Yes. Bench sofas! And beautiful bronze sculptures. My personal favorite was the enormous 10 foot bronze sculpture of my one of my favorite Dr. Seuss books, Oh, The Places You'll Go!, with text imprinted on the sculpture! Absolutely stunning and inspirational. Now that's what I'm talking about. The kicker is this is the one exhibit that is free since it's outside. If I lived closeby, I'd probably be hanging out in this Memorial Garden on a regular basis just to gain focus and inspiration.

The final museum we went to was the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, which featured beautiful statues, Asian Art, and Eygptian, Roman and Greek Ancient Treasures. There's a cool arts and crafts area for the children and we found out the Springfield Museum was having a Dr. Seuss Birthday Celebration this Saturday, March 3, 2007.

Overall, the Springfield Museum was worth the trip. Even if the pouring rain turned into blinding sleet on our way back home. The kids really got a kick out of walking to the different museums. They weren't jossled around by adults and had the luxury of space and time to enjoy the exhibits. The combination of science and art was great without being too overwhelming for the children. All in all, a fun experience.

In celebration of Dr. Seuss's birthday, if you're interested in finding Dr. Seuss titles or fun games, check out the Random House site. And if you're in a music kind of mood, you've gotta listen to Dylan Hears A Who. Thanks Gregory K. of Gottabook for finding this gem.

Edited to add: Cloudscome has a fun post on "What's your favorite Dr. Seuss book" with some great Dr. Seuss related links.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

I've Been Tagged by Miss Erin: Character Meme

Miss Erin created her own Character Meme...quite creative I might add. Well, Miss Erin tagged me, and all of a sudden, I'm the one feeling not so creative as I sift through different characters and try to figure out who I really want to have as a friend, sibling, or adventurous sidekick....

Character you'd most like to have over for tea?
Jo March from Little Women, although I don't think she'd stand for the formality. Maybe big cups of strong coffee would do the trick. I'd also have blancmage pudding...it sounded so appetizing in the book. I just think Jo is the cat's meow. I remember reading Little Women quite a few times as a child, and just thinking how I wanted to be a writer like Jo. She's unconventional, independent, strong, loyal to her family, and very determined to pursue her dream.

Character you'd most like to have as a sibling?
I'd like Shug from Shug as my little sister. I am the Queen of Overprotective Big Sisters. My little sister and brother thought enough of my overprotectiveness to nickname me SMother. I figure Shug would get some well deserved attention from me. I'd also like Ed Kennedy from I Am The Messenger as my big brother. When I was little, I wished for a big brother who could watch out for me. Even though Ed Kennedy, at times is a misguided soul, he is ever so sweet and protective of his people.

Character you'd most like to be friends with?
Eugenides from The Thief, Penny from Penny from Heaven, Catherine from Rules, Liesel Meminger from The Book Thief, Jack from Shug, Miri from Princess Academy. These characters are all loyal and stand up for their friends. That is so cool.

Character you'd most like to have as a cousin?
This one was a tough one for some reason because I really don't know my cousins very well. So pretty much any cool character would do. However, since I just read Penny from Heaven, and loved the interaction of Penny and her cousin Frankie, I'd have to say I'd like Frankie as a cousin. He'd give me plenty to talk about to set him straight, as well as all the unpredictable adventures and laughs.

Character you'd most like to have an adventure with?
Ella of Frell from Ella Enchanted had great adventures and figured out a way to survive through it all. Anyone who can sweet talk ogres, befriend giants, charm a prince, and is creative in turning the bad into good, well, that's who I'd want on my adventures.

Favorite quirky character?
Ruby Lu from Ruby Lu Brave and True. Ruby Lu is such a loveable character. She makes quirky oh so interesting and fun.

Favorite love-to-hate character?
Hattie, Ella of Frell's wicked stepsister from Ella Enchanted, makes Ella's life absolutely miserable when she discovers Ella's secret curse. Hattie is insecure and has a self-absorbed mother. It's no wonder she resorts to mean acts to make herself feel better.

Favorite bad guy:
Count Olaf from The Series of Unfortunate Events, The Witch from The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, and Queen Ivi from Fairest were my original answers. Count Olaf is just plain despicable. Queen Ivi is too concerned about her outward beauty and neglects her inner soul. The Witch is too scary. The more I thought about this, Hattie from Ella Enchanted and Trudy from The Princess Test are probably my favorite bad gals. I love fairy tales, and these gals entertain me with their mean ways.

Miss Erin also tagged Little Willow. While you're visiting Little Willow, check out her list of Sassy Sidekicks of Children's Literature. You know there will be lots of great reads on this list.

Consider yourself tagged.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Penny From Heaven and A Sunday's List

I am so glad Penny from Heaven by Jennifer Holm was awarded a Newbery Honor. This nostalgic book, which is somewhat based on Jennifer's mother's childhood, just roped me in ever so quietly. Before I knew it, I totally fell in love with Penny, her cousin Frankie, Penny's larger than life Italian American family and her small tightknit loving family on her mother's side. All I could think about while I read this book is how I wanted to be part of this incredibly loving gigantic family. How cool is it that your mischievous best friend is your cousin, your interesting uncles and aunts totally dote on you, your Italian grandma fixes you your favorite foods and begs you to eat, your dog's name is Scarlett O'Hara and your mother, Me-me and Pop-pop love you so much you can't do a whole lot.

This book sang in its slow nostalgia, warm humor, and playful scenes. The beat picked up as Penny's troubles grew--cousin Frankie wants to be a criminal, her two families won't talk to each other, her mother starts dating the milkman, and Penny is worried her dead father will disappear. She then has a horrible debilitating accident, her mother blames her favorite Uncle Dominic and he quickly disappears. Penny then discovers the mystery surrounding her father's death and the reason her mother's family and father's family don't speak to each other. To top it all off, we get an important lesson on how Italian Americans were treated in the United States after World War II.

Penny From Heaven is a lovely book. It will take you back to a time when life was truly appreciated and savored. And that deserves some noticing.

And now, A Sunday's List of Strong Girl Role Models in Children's Literature:

1. Penny and her mother from Penny From Heaven by Jennifer Holm, ages 9-12: Eleven year old Penny is a sweet, curious, quick thinking girl who misses her father. Penny makes Pat Mulligan the Milkman sweat it out while he is courting her mother. She became Frankie's cheerleader and inspired the adults to give Frankie one more chance. She was brave when it seemed life couldn't get much worse for an eleven year old and found her hope, strength and courage to go on.

Penny's mother realizes she must let Penny know the truth so she could go forward in her own life. She finds love a second time and lets Penny know she has to approve and her father will not be forgotten. She also finds a way to let Penny know her father's family is an important part of her life.

Penny has some other strong women in her life--Me-me, Nonny, Aunt Fulvia and Aunt Gina. All of these women surround Penny with love and their interesting lives.

2. Danitra Brown, teacher Miss Volchek from Danitra Brown, Class Clown by Nikki Grimes, ages 4-8: Nikki Grimes wrote 2 other books about Danitra: Meet Danitra Brown and Danitra Brown Leaves Town. This wonderful book is a treat to read. "Original thinker" Danitra Brown gives her best friend Zuri Jackson encouragement, support and hope throughout the school year. Danitra is true to herself, is there when Zuri needs her, and doesn't care what other children think. When Zuri's teacher asks her what her name means, Danitra gives Zuri confidence.

I lift up my head, and repeat with more pride, "My name
means beautiful, wonderful, good. Anyone with half a brain would steal it, if
she could."

Miss Volchek, the teacher who is not as loved as last year's teacher, seems strict and challenges her students. When Zuri is upset because her mother is sick, Miss Volchek shows her much needed comfort and compassion.

"Danitra wasn't there that day. I felt so all alone until
Miss Volchek pulled me close as if I were her own."

This book will lift your spirits. You'll want Danitra for your friend!

3. Mama Love, The Great Lady of Peace, Patience, The Invisible Princess, The Invisible Princess by Faith Ringgold, ages 4-8: Faith Ringgold says, "She wrote this book after many years of reading fairy tales to her three granddaughters, who always asked, "Where are the African American princesses?" Faith Ringgold weaves love, hope, remorse and forgiveness with the hopelessness of slavery and creates a hopeful, peaceful fairy tale.

Mama Love is strong and asks The Great Lady of Peace to save her baby princess from the mean plantation owner Captain Pepper, even though she knows she will have to give up her child. Captain Pepper's blind daughter sees the Invisible Princess and tells her father how she can see this beautiful glowing princess. Patience finds out about her father's plan to sell Mama Love and Papa Love. Even though she loves her father, she is brave and warns the Invisible Princess of the danger to her parents. The Invisible Princess ends up saving the entire village because of her faith in the Powers of Nature that protected her. The Great Lady of Peace gives Captain Pepper a chance to redeem himself. This graceful fairy tale offers hope for people to live in happiness, joy and freedom.

4. Isabella aka Sojourner Truth from Only Passing Through, The Story of Sojourner Truth by Anne Rockwell, ages 8-12: This picture book biography tells the brave story of a young slave girl named Isabella. Isabella is beaten, is told who her husband would be, and had 5 children. She leaves her home and her children after she realizes her master lied to her about setting her free. Isabella finds out her 5 year old son has been sold to a plantation owner in Alabama. She finds a lawyer who will help her, has her day in court and wins!

"In 1843, Isabella woke from a vivid
dream. A
voice had told her she must leave New York. It said she was meant to travel around the country telling of her time in bondage--telling people what it meant to be a slave. She had to be a voice for all the silent slaves still in bondage."

Isabella's name changed to Sojourner Truth, meaning someone who passes through with messages of the truth about slavery. Talk about a strong, courageous role model!

5. Lucy Rose, her mom, Madam, best friend Jonique from Lucy Rose: Here's the Thing About Me by Katy Kelly, ages 8 - 12: This sassy, "original thinker" is a total hoot. Genevieve recommended this series and I agree, Lucy Rose is fun! She's an older version of Junie B. Jones, who I happen to love. I did have a little bit of a problem getting through parts of the book though because Lucy Rose kept going on and on about different things without taking a breath and while I know this is typical talk for an eight year old girl, it was a bit exhausting reading it at times so every once in awhile I needed to put the book down to take a break from it all.

With that said, Lucy Rose has major problems. She has difficulty with her parents' separation, misses her dad and old friends, adjusts to a new school, makes new friends, and deals with her nemesis Alan Melon. Through it all, Lucy has spunk, creativeness, smarts, charisma and stick-to-it ability. Best friend Jonique is:

"what my mom calls a tough-times friend and somebody
who sticks with you always, even when something bad that happens is actually
your fault."

Lucy's grandma, Madam, writes an advice column. Madam is cool and gives great advice. Lucy's mom tells the truth about mortgages, helps Lucy send things to her dad, surprises Lucy by having her dad over for Christmas, and was very cool when Lucy admitted to lying about why she threw up. You'll have to read this book just to find out about the class pet guinea pig adventure. It is too funny.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Poetry Friday: I Want To Be by Thylias Moss

I am awed by the how much this poem just lifts me up in its simplicity and beauty of words. In celebration of Black History Month, read this beautiful children's poem by Thylias Moss. She is one amazing poet. Read this. Be inspired. And Be.

I Want To Be
By Thylias Moss

I want to be wise but not so wise that I can't learn anything.
I want to be tall but not so tall that nothing is above me.
I want to be still but not so still that I turn into a mannequin or get mistaken for a tree.
I want to be in motion but I want the ants in my pants to sometimes take a vacation.
Sometimes I want to be slow but not so slow that everything passes me by.
Sometimes I want to be small but not so small that I am easy to miss.
Sometimes I want to be invisible but not gone.
I want to be all the people I know, then I want to know more people so I can be them too.
Then they can all be me.
I want to be eyes looking, looking everywhere.
I want to be ears hearing, hearing everything.
I want to be hands touching, touching everything.
I want to be mouth tasting, tasting everything.
I want to be heart feeling, feeling everything.
I want to be life doing, doing everything.

Liz B. is handling the poetry roundup today over at A Chair, A Fireplace and A Tea Cozy. Thanks Liz for organizing this!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Miss Erin's Interview with Jennifer Roy

Miss Erin is quite the lucky gal. She got to interview Jennifer Roy, author of one of my favorite books, Yellow Star. This was a wonderful interview. Nicely done Miss Erin!

Yellow Star is one of my top picks for 2007. This wonderful book has such incredibly strong heroines and heroes. Can you blame me for putting it on my weekly Sunday's List of Strong Girl Role Models in Children's Literature?

This part of the book gave me such inspiration:

Papa says that thinking about food
all the time is not uncommon
among people in the ghetto,
who are around starving bodies.
The mind can latch onto nourishment in this way.
"People have different ways of surviving the days,"
Papa says.
"We must honor our differences while we
find our own courage and our own strength
the best we know how."

You simply must read this unforgettable book.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Blog by a NYC Teacher

I recently discovered Mentor Texts, my abbreviated title of a very interesting blog. This blog is written by a graduate student working on her master's action research project on using mentor texts to inspire her students in her NYC classroom to write better. Hey, I just realized you can help improve your child reading skills using mentor texts too!

She's looking to collaborate with teachers...so if you're out there, stop by for a visit. Good luck with your project, NYC Teacher.

Two Cool Interviews

Little Willow was recently interviewed over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. You're going to find out some interesting things about our sweet, kind and hip multi-tasker, who is a tremendous resource for all things books and more.

Cynsations, Cynthia Leitich Smith, recently interviewed cool writer pal Liz Scanlon, author of the sweet picture book, A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes. You're going to love reading about this fun, sassy writer in this wonderful interview.

Lucky's Week Around the Blogosphere

Amazing how a book people never heard of, comes out of nowhere to win the 2007 Newbury Award for Children's Literature, then gets people all hot and bothered about the 12 step program and ONE word found in some other books, is banned from some libraries, and yet the naysayers haven't all read this. Cohorts Mary Lee and Franki from A Year of Reading have some great posts to share regarding this controversy. Here's Lisa Yee's take on this craziness. More importantly, take a look at Susan Patron's reaction to all this hoopla regarding her 2007 Newbury Award book, The Higher Power of Lucky.

And if you're interested in finding out about other books that have been banned at one point or another, or want to take the banned books challenge, check out Fahrenheit 451's blog. The Pelham Public Library of Fonthill, Ontario discusses the censorship of books in this blog.

One word. Twelve steps. One award winning book. Absolute mayhem. Now that's some kind of "sneaky" power writers have, isn't it?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Guess How Many Reading Levels There Are?

Franki from A Year of Reading generously offered some advice in response to my post on my frustration searching for appropriate early reader books based on the level system. Franki is one cool lady.

This leveling system is so frustrating. I feel like a bad mom if I venture outside my child's level and help her read a book that's a bit advanced for her. It's also frustrating because there is no standard, at least not that I'm aware of, in the publishing industry on rating the books. I'm told by the school I need to find a book rated one way, and it is difficult finding that same rating in the libraries and bookstores. After cybertalking with Franki, I was inspired and started Googling.

Guess how many reading level standards there are around the United States? Find out the answer here: Reading Levels of Children's Books: How Can You Tell? Can you believe this?

I found a couple of school systems that have easy to use databases to find an appropriate book based on reading level. Unfortunately, I don't live in one of those states. But, I can use the Beaverton, MI public school system's leveled books database, since it is based on the DRA testing score my child's school uses. This database allows the user to search for books needed in the target reading levels. There is also a chart for benchmark target reading levels based on grade leveled by the DRA and Lexile standard testing scores. The California Department of Education also has a reading list database available for residents to find books. If you're not lucky enough to live in Beaverton, Michigan or the state of California, check out your town and state website. Maybe you'll find an easier system of finding the appropriate level book for your child.

Here is another database for books based on the Fountas and Pinnell system. If your child is tested on the Lexile standard, here is their database to locate books.

Scholastic, Inc. has an article on understanding leveled reading and a reading level chart based on the Guided Reading Level, DRA and Lexile testing system. Their reading chart is similar to the Beaverton, MI public school benchmark target reading levels chart, but if you put them side to side, you'll notice Scholastic shows more leniency in reading level in the earlier grades.

After you do all this research, or before if you have a cowboy mindset, go and read Franki's article over at The Edge of the Forest to decide just how much you want to be pulling out your hair over leveled reading.

Frustration with Children's Early Reading Books

The books in my second grader's classroom are rated on a scale of G, H, I, J, K, etc. I'm told this is consistent throughout the public schools in the United States. My second grader's teacher assures me that my child will gain continued confidence in her reading skills as long as I choose books at her appropriate reading level. With all the reading I do, you'd think it would be easy for me to find the right books. I seem to be having a problem...

The books in the library or bookstore are not rated the same way as the books my child is learning from in school. I've asked the librarians at my library for some guidance, and there has definitely been some debate on this. I find the way different publishers rate their early reader books so confusing. There are books that are rated as Step 1, Step 2, Step 3, Early Reader, Easy Chapter Books, or recommended simply by age. It seems some publishers have an easier rating system than others. Add the misrepresentation of the big type in some books, which at a quick glance would indicate the book would be easier to read, and I'm busy sorting through books when it should really be so much easier.

Am I the only one who gets frustrated by this?

11th Carnival of Children's Literature

If you're looking for some interesting reading this week, check out the 11th Carnival of Children's Literature. Mother Reader compiled quite an impressive list of wonderful posts. You'll find my post, A Valentine's Snow Day Forecast, in this list. Thank you Mother Reader for your efforts.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Rules and A Sunday's List

I really liked Cynthia Lord's book, Rules. I'm so glad this book won a Newbury Honor. It is so perfect in describing twelve year old Catherine's conflict on trying to be a normal kid, being a loving sister to an autistic brother, attempting to get attention from her parents, befriending a paraplegic boy, trying not to be embarrassed about her brother and her friendship with Jason, and examining her friendship with the new girl next door.

It is truly rare finding a person who will willingly look beyond a person's differences...particularly the beyond the norm physical appearances. Most people are uncomfortable and don't know what to do except avoid and stare. Catherine's rules and experiences allow her to explore her unique friendship with Jason--her guilt, her embarrassments, her rewards, her joy. She discovers that true friendship doesn't always have a normal package. This perhaps allows her to see her autistic brother in a new light. Cynthia Lord created such a wonderful, realistic story, giving her characters warmth, conflict and life without the pity. While I don't know what it's like having an autistic family member, I related in so many ways to this story.

My middle child has severe food allergies, eczema and asthma. While it is nowhere as devastating as autism, it certainly has its challenges and emotional difficulties. I can see some of my 8 year old's conflict in Catherine and I am so appreciative of Rules for articulating the sibling conflict in such an understanding way. Cynthia Lord wrote this story with empathy, humor, hope and lots of love. Rules totally rules.

And now, A Sunday's List of Strong Girl Role Models in Children's Literature.

1. Catherine from Rules by Cynthia Lord, ages 9-12 - This Newbury Honor book rules. Catherine is a twelve year old girl who is just trying to live a normal life and trying to be Catherine, the individual, separate from her autistic brother. Catherine befriends a paraplegic boy, Jason, who needs to use cards to communicate. She is protective about her autistic brother, willing to make new friends and a kind generous friend. She is a rare individual who learns appearances don't matter, loyalty is so important, and that it's okay to break the rules.

2. Judy Moody from Judy Moody, M.D.: The Doctor is In! by Megan McDonald, ages 8 -10 - I thought the first Judy Moody book was just okay. The constant "RARE!" just annoyed me. Thankfully I remembered this book is for kids, so I decided to try a second one, just to see whether this popular series would grow on me. This second book is much better. Third grader Judy Moody is working on a science project and wants to be like her idol, Elizabeth Blackwell, first woman doctor. Judy is enthusiastic about science, is creative, and has a fairly active imagination. She tries to cure her brother and stands up for what she believes in.

3. Rosella, twin sister Myrtle, and Fairy Ethelinda from The Fairy's Mistake by Gail Carson Levine, ages 5 - 9 - This amusing tale, based on Toads and Diamonds, will make you rethink fairies, rewards and punishments. Good twin Rosella meets disguised Fairy Ethelinda, helps her and is rewarded quite generously for her good deed. Selfish twin sister Myrtle tries to get the same reward, but doesn't realize that smart Fairy Ethelinda changed her disguise. Myrtle meets up with a horrible reward. In this twisted fairy tale, greed takes over in the prince who asks for Rosella's hand in marriage. Ingenious Myrtle finds a way to make her slimy reward pay off. Fairy Ethelinda realizes she made quite the mistake and is determined to make things right. Kind hearted Rosella learns to speak her mind. Quick thinking Myrtle became quite popular because she unknowingly helps her village. And Fairy Ethelinda learned her lesson and became more careful.

4. Lorelei, Queen Hermione from The Princess Test by Gail Carson Levine, ages 5-9 - Ah, to have the predisposition of a princess, a besotted prince at your service, and a chance to win the hand of the same besotted prince in marriage...this is quite an amusing read based on The Princess and the Pea. Poor Lorelei has conniving Trudy looking out for her best interests. Little does Trudy know, she is doing kindhearted Lorelei a favor by sending her to the doorsteps of her prince. Lorelei proves you can be a princess, even though you're actually not one by birth. She is kind hearted, believes everyone is true to her, and is willing to help anyone in need. Queen Hermione is looking out for her boy. She hopes the princess she doesn't like fails her tests. She is willing to look the other way with Lorelei when she realizes her boy loves her. Then she rejoices when she realizes Lorelei passed all the princess tests!

5. Mercy Watson, Mrs. Watson, and Baby Lincoln from Mercy Watson Goes for a Ride by Kate DiCamillo, ages 4-8 - I was expecting a little more from this book since the illustrations are very engaging and cute and I enjoyed Kate DiCamillo's book, The Tale of Despereaux, NOT the other book. But for me, it was hard to think about a pig character without thinking about Wilbur in Charlotte's Web. To be fair, I read Miss Erin's entertaining satirical Poetry Friday poem, and perhaps should've saved reading about a car riding pig for another time.

Towards the end of the book, I was just trying to figure out how Mrs. Watson managed to keep her buttered toast hot and crunchy, and not dried out or limp, as she was a proactive lady and needed to keep her hands busy in the face of uncertain ahead of time.

With that said, Mercy is an adventurous pig who looks for opportunity. She seizes the day when Baby Lincoln, another gal who wants to enjoy life, is discovered in the back seat of the pink Cadillac. Mrs. Watson saves the day by plying properly buttered hot toast on the angry policeman and Baby Lincoln's fussy sister. I have one important question, how in the world did Mrs. Watson manage to keep her buttered toast hot and crunchy, without getting dried out or limp, as the toast was made quite a bit ahead of time? Clearly Mrs. Watson is one proactive and forward thinking lady who only wants the best for her family.

6. Amanda Pig from Amanda Pig, School Girl by Jean Van Leeuwen, ages 3-7 - This is such a sweet tale of little Amanda, who is so excited about the first day of school. This charming early reader tells of Amanda's experiences getting ready for school, her first bus ride, making new friends, and helping the shy girl in class. The rest of the Amanda Pig series are equally as sweet. Amanda is charming, enthusiastic, helpful, and a great friend. This sweet pig character definitely worked for me.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Project CON and A New Song

My children have been relentless today. Absolutely unbearably relentless. I've feigned indifference. I've resorted to bribery. I've even, yes I admit, yelled. Rather inefficiently, I might add. The only reactions my children jubilantly granted me were delighted giggles and delirious laughter. Then another rousing rendition of their incredibly embarrassing song and dance routine.

It all started because of Robin Brande's, Great Decluttering Experiment. Oh yes. Someone has to take responsibility for my disgraceful experience. If it weren't for Robin's inspiring post, just daring me to partake in some cleaning up and organizing around the house, this never would have happened. At least not yet anyhow.

My 8 year old was responsible for looking at old videos and choosing which ones to keep and give away. She made remarkable progress, despite her running commentary on her favorite movies. Needless to say, she eventually chose to keep most of them. She also generously decided a pile of "baby" movies could be given away. Panicked 3 year old intervened and screamed, "No! You're not my friend anymore. I'm going to wave my magic wand and turn you into a frog!" Charming 8 year old, muttered "Ribbit," rolled her eyes and started sorting again. And then she started to giggle. She looked at the video in her hand and eagerly asked, "What's this? A Brand New Butt?" As I explained it was an old exercise video, my 6 year old couldn't resist and delightfully exclaimed, "Let's watch this and exercise!" Sure, why not. I hoped the kids run around, exhaust themselves and go to bed early.

My children were working on their lunges, when the instructor said something about buttocks. The kids could barely contain themselves and joyfully shouted out "Buttocks!" My enthusiastic girls were clearly amused. They laughed hysterically and had a good ole time wondering why mommy wanted a brand new butt. My middle child then started singing, "I want a brand new butt if it's the last thing I do." The other two joined in and repeated the oh so true refrain at the top of their lungs. Middle child turns around and wiggles her butt at me. The kids fall to the ground, grabbing their stomachs, laughing. Laughing. Laughing. I admit, it was funny. Even though it was at my expense. Still. The kids finally tired over the novelty of the butt dance and song and I marvelled at how quickly this all evolved. I decided to confuse them with delicious snacks then retreated to nurse my humiliated soul with some well deserved chocolate. The children were soon obsessed with playing restaurant and I started to relax.

Until we go to the grocery store. Middle child was bored and started humming the tune. 3 year old started singing the song. Loudly. 8 year old had the sense to look embarrassed and walked away. Youngest and middle child are partners in crime, gleefully singing in unison, "I want a brand new butt if it's the last thing I do," while people walked by, snickering. Despite muttered threats from older sister and countless bribes from me, the song persisted for quite a few stanzas. Thankfully, my kids knew better than performing the butt dance. I made it through the grocery store in record time.

This unforgettable song, followed by elated giggles, lasted the whole day, popping up when I least expected it. In the parking lot, in the car, at the gas station, in our front yard, and even more mortifying...in front of neighbors, while I was on the phone, and when someone was at the door. Today was quite the lesson in holding my head up high despite the sh** thrown my way.

This was the tremendous price I paid today to teach my children a meaningful lesson in maintaining order in the house. Organizing clutter is quite literally a pain in the butt. Project CON will still continue at my house, but with a little more thought to the process. My little instigators need some manipulated redirection and a brand new focus for tomorrow. Maybe weeding through their toys will do the trick...

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

An Act of Decluttering for Writing's Sake

I just found Robin Brande's post on her Great Decluttering Experiment. So brave. So daring. Why did I have to find this now? I've been meaning to work on the clutter for awhile. I really have. But life takes over and paperwork gets put aside. Before I can say Abracadabra, the kids' artwork and school stuff is mixed with my husband's office work and my writing piles. And this is just my dining room. Not the best way to coexist in this crazy household of five. Certainly not the best environment for creative thinking.

Okay, well Robin threw out the challenge and I have to take up the gauntlet. For the sake of my family. See what a great sport I am? See what a great Valentine's Day gift I'm giving to the ones I love?

Truly, the greatest beneficiary of this kind, unselfish act, inspired on this hopeful Day of Love, will be me. Yes, it's all about me. This clutter won't be in my face, taunting me at every turn, "Soon I'll be so powerful, I'll take over your entire life. You won't be able to think. Nothing can destroy me!" So here's to my new project: Clutter Organization Now, otherwise known as CON. When this distasteful project is complete, I will have more time for positive, creative energy. I'll have more space to spread out and write. And there will be peace in my house so I can focus more on writing. No more sudden panicked interruptions of, "I can't find this. I need it now!" No more pathetic excuses. Too hopeful? Perhaps, but a girl's gotta have big dreams.

All I need is time and an organized place to put everything. The first order of business is finding a great file cabinet for all the paperwork. You know, one that looks like a nice piece of furniture that I can stick in the corner so I have everything at my fingertips...

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A Valentine's Snow Day Forecast

My children came home from school this afternoon, bubbling over with joyous anticipation over the possibility of no school tomorrow. The first Nor'easter of this snowless winter season has been predicted for tomorrow's day of sweet pink love. Wet snow, icy sleet, cold rain, blustery winds--we're supposed to get all of this. Yuck. Yuck. And triple yuck. Not what children's winter dreams are made of.

When I was little, the perfect snow day was made of gigantic fluffy mountains of fresh sparkling snow. I loved to listen to the crinkle and crunch as I scooped up the beautiful snow crystals with my hands and threw them up in the air. It was pure heaven. I relished the swirling snow as it blessed my face and watched my cloudy puffs of breath in the air. I would twirl around, arms wide open, as the fresh crisp snowflakes nestled in my hair and my eyelashes, then quickly melted on my face and lips. Even though I was bundled up in itchy heavy layers, I felt light and free. A good mindset to have since my sister, brother and I would joust for the title of King or Queen of the Mountain. We would climb up the looming snow mountains created from all the tedious shovelling, and race to see who could get to the highest point the fastest, without getting stuck in the cold snow or causing a massive avalanche to cascade onto the driveway.

I grew up in Upstate New York, where plentiful snow piled up high and joyful blustery snow days would be observed with constant shovelling, playful snow adventures, aching muscles and comforting mugs of instant hot chocolate with marshmallows. I loved school, but snow days were an occasion to truly celebrate; especially when a coveted snow day was declared on my birthday. And was I lucky. Most of my birthdays were spent at home because of a fortunate snow day. Truly the only advantage of having a birthday just weeks after Christmas.

If the wet, icy weather predicted for tomorrow comes true, it'll be tough. My children have already planned some delightful winter play with beautiful snow angels, fast sledding, and dapper snowmen. I'm somewhat saddened these boisterous kids of mine haven't experienced a true Upstate New York blizzard, but only for a tiny moment. They'll get their precious snow soon enough without me having to brave a week long effort of truly overwhelming snow cleanup. Personally, I'm hoping for school. Otherwise, I'm going to need to do some fast thinking for creative Valentine's Day activities...

Books Needed for a Great Cause

Colleen over at Chasing Ray has identified a couple of worthy causes for book donations. When you have a chance, check out her wonderful post. You can either donate books directly to these organizations or go to the Powell's Wish List that Colleen has set up and choose books from there.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Shug and A Sunday's List

Last night, I finished reading Shug by Jenny Han. And I want more. I want another book about Shug, her sister Celia, their mother, best friend Elaine, and Jack...particularly Jack. I have a penchant for dark haired bad boys with a troubled family life; and I'm hoping, even though the odds are slim, that sweet fighting Jack has a chance for a promising future.

It took me awhile to get past the front cover of this book. All I could think of was how can I take a book seriously with a popsicle on the front cover? Of course I forgot this book is really for tweens. I thought this would be a fluffy book about facetious kids who I could care less about. Was I wrong. I read this book in big gulps, savoring every word, loving every bit of Shug's insecurities, observations, spirit, sassiness, and smarts.

Annemarie Wilcox, known as Shug by her family and friends, is a twelve year girl who has a little bit of difficulty dealing with how life is changing now she's starting junior high school. She's dealing with insecurities about herself, worried about losing her best friend Elaine to a boy and the in crowd, loves the boy next door who she's been friends with her whole life, stresses about her dysfunctional parents, and tutors the pain in the neck Jack.

Shug's beautiful mother is seldom there when Shug needs her. Her mother is dealing with her own demons and takes to the bottle like its going out of style. The one thing she always tells Shug though, is that she is "extraordinary." Shug has a hard time believing this. She thinks her mother and sister are so special and beautiful that she just doesn't compare. In one poignant moment, Shug's mother pulls an awesome motherly maneuver and tells her heartbroken little girl, "Shug, if you can't see your own worth, you sure as hell can't expect someone else to." So true.

Author Jenny Han makes me remember what it's like to be twelve and so serious and insecure with friendships and life. I fell in love with Shug from the start. I smiled, laughed, cheered her on and cried for her pain. I just want to give a big ole hug to Shug and let her know things will turn out right. But somehow, after reading this book, I think she already knows that.

And now, A Sunday's List of Strong Girl Role Models in Children's Literature:

1. Shug, Celia, her dysfunctional mother from Shug by Jenny Han- Shug challenges Jack to a diving match and wins. Shug makes being smart look cool. She's sassy, fun, concerned about her friends, and a total love. Celia, Shug's beautiful older sister, has moments when she totally steps to the plate and takes care of her little sister. She sometimes lets Shug hang out with her and her friends. Celia outdid herself when she took it upon herself to make Shug shine for the school dance. Shug's mother is rather dysfunctional, but she wants her daughters to know they are extraordinary and want more from life.

2. Grace, her sister Delia, her mother, teacher Miss Lesley, and Arthur's mother,from Counting on Grace by Elizabeth Winthrop - Author Elizabeth Winthrop weaves in fiction and fact into this beautifully written historical novel about child labor in a New England textile mill in the early 1900's. This topic is certainly depressing; however, this book is written so matter-of-factly and gives ribbons of hope, the anticipated emotive bite is totally taken out of the equation. This gives the reader a chance of getting a picture of how horrible life must have been like for the children and adults living and working at the textile mills. You can understand why parents needed the children to work, but you are ever so grateful for the Miss Lesley's of the world who want the children to have a better life.

12 year old Grace wants to be a teacher instead working at the textile mill. She takes pride in her reading and writing. Grace is brave and helps real life photographer Lewis Hines take pictures of the children working at the mill and writes a journal reporting on what the children do at the mill for the National Child Labor Committee. Grace's sister Delia is a good big sister and helps Grace out and give her lots of advice on working at the textile mill. Grace's mother is a tough one. She eventually gives into her own desires of learning to read and finally lets Grace have a life outside the textile mill. Teacher Miss Lesley gives up her own time to tutor her star pupils. She fights to give her students a better life and ends up sacrificing her job to notify the National Child Labor Committee on the textile mill practices. Arthur's mother gives up her home, her job, her friends because she will not let her son return to work at the mill.

3. Zelda and Ivy from Zelda and Ivy: The Runaways by Laura McGee Kvasnosky, ages 4-8 years old - This is a cute book about Zelda and Ivy, the fox sisters who are spirited, fun, and creative. They help each other out, admit to their faults and encourage each other.

4. Holly from Stellina by Matteo Pericoli, ages 3 - 8 years old - This is a true life account of Stellina, the finch who was rescued by Matteo's wife Holly, on the corner of 46th and Third in Manhattan. A sweet book which reminded me of when my husband and I tried to save a baby Baltimore Oriole that fell from a tree in front of my mother-in-law's house. Sadly, Ollie only lived a few days. You'll be happy to know that Stellina lives for 8 years.

5. Molly from Molly's in a Mess by Suzy Kline, ages 8 - 10, Molly's an athletic third grader who is great at keeping secrets. She learns how to accept a new student's differences, learns about telling the truth and how to tell good apologies. The message is a little heavy on this one, but a cute book told from the best friend's point of view.

6. Ruby Lu, Flying Duck, Ruby Lu, Empress of Everything by Lenore Look - I couldn't resist. This book was tempting me from the upper shelf of the kids' elementary school library. And it's a great sequel to Ruby Lu, Brave and True, which made it to last week's Strong Girl Role Models list. This book is funny. Ruby Lu's antics are hysterical, and Lenore Look gives a whole new meaning to aliens. Ruby Lu protects her cousin, calls 911 when her brother can't breathe, learns how to swim, saves her friend Emma from drowning, and learns how to apologize. Flying Duck is deaf and teaches her friends sign language. She saves Ruby's brother's life by...well, you can read this one for yourself. The black and white illustrations by Anne Wilsdorf are just too cute and add the right amount of humor to the book.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Writing Time

goal setting
believe and write more
I can finish my manuscript

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

A Young Artist's View of Picture Books

My 8 year old loves art. Bring on any type of art medium, she'll try it. She'll push up those shirt sleeves and just start creating. I watch my daughter; her eyes intent, her young capable hands demanding precise action, fixating on the process of creating something that has meaning to her. It's amazing to see the result of her concentrated efforts and see her intense pride as I reverently place her work in a beautiful frame and hang it on the wall. All of my kids have artwork hung with special care throughout the house; but it is my 8 year old, who pauses in front of her paintings in silent appreciation and dreams.

This creative child of mine loves to study picture books. I would notice my daughter studying the illustrations but never really thought much about it. Until recently. I heard my 8 year old muttering over the illustrations in My Different Colored Days by Dr. Seuss and The Princess and the Pea by Lauren Childs. I was in awe...there's an Artista in my house! My daughter was musing about the art techniques the artists used, how the illustrations brought out the story, and was wondering how she could reproduce the same effect. This creative intensity surprised me. Whether this is just a colorful faze or an aesthetic love that continues to develop as my daughter grows older, I am so honored I am witness to this slice of passion and joy. It is really, really cool.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

A New Look and a Sunday's List

Have you ever had a day where you knew you could accomplish just about anything? It happened to me on Friday. I felt quite rejuvenated getting that manuscript in the mail. Gone. Out the door. I felt like Jo March in Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, one of my favorite childhood books. Maybe it was all those homemade chocolate chip cookies and fresh coffee kicking in; I just knew I could complete more in a day than I ever thought I could.

On top of my list was putting together these cute Pottery Barn look alike shelves I found at IKEA in my continual project of decorating the kids' rooms. We bought our house over a year ago and I'm still in decorating $&#$$%$!! When I walked into their bedrooms, I quickly realized I'd have to pick up all the toys and dirty clothes thrown all over the floor to get to the walls to hang up the shelves. In a flash of Mommy Knows Best, I decided the girls needed a lesson on cleaning up after themselves or else...stuff will leave the house. I wonder how to deliver this message in an understanding yet Do It Now! inspiring way so they will actually listen...Hmmm. Needless to say, the shelves were shelved for another time.

So, I did 3 loads of laundry, wrote a little bit, did some administrative work for my husband, played games with the little one, and made decadent vegan chocolate cupcakes with crunchy pink sugar crystals sparkling on top of snowy frosting. I had library duty at the kids' school, meandered over to the public library, and started reading Counting on Grace by Elizabeth Winthrop. Then came the clean up work with the bathrooms, vacuuming, and clearing off the paper littered dining room table. When the older kids came home from school, they convinced me to let their friends come over. So I let them have cupcakes, made some popcorn and pink lemonade, then left the kids alone in the hopes I can get something else done. It soon became quite apparent that peaceful coexistence was not to be had between the 6 year olds and the 8 year olds so I organized a tissue paper flower making project. I couldn't decide whether to laugh or curse when I noticed all these different shaped little pieces of bright colored tissue paper cut all over the table, my freshly vacuumed rugs and floor, and did I mention my freshly vacuumed rugs and floor?! Of course where there are scissors involved, I had to quickly check everyone's hair. Safe. Then I checked some interesting blogs while I made dinner. Unfortunately, I had to make a second meal because I was too involved in reading these blogs and couldn't figure out how to salvage the tough overcooked chicken parmesan and disintegrating pasta. So thank you for my Friday night dinner fiasco...Jen Robinson, FoodChair, Lisa Yee, A Year of Reading, Liz In Ink, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, MotherReader, A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy, and Little Willow. Once everyone was finally fed, I cleaned up yet again. Finally, after the kids went to bed, I changed the look of my blog. Friday was quite a busy day.

And now....A Sunday's List of Strong Girl Role Models in Children's Literature.

1. Pacy, her Mom, best friend Melody, The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin, ages 7 and up - What a nice coming of age book. I am so glad Grace Lin wrote this book. She wrote it because, "...this was the book I wished I had growing up." Oh Grace, after reading this, so did I. This book could have been written about my childhood struggles of trying to balance my Asian heritage with being an American. This book is just so perfect in the details. Different snippets of the book just had me amused as I looked back into my childhood...the celebration of the Asian holiday, in Pacy's case, The Chinese New Year; the Asian name and the American name; the school play; being called a Twinkie; Thanksgiving and Christmas. I can't wait for my kids to read this book.

Pacy is such an earnest, smart, sweet child, who struggles to find her talent in the Chinese New Year, The Year of the Dog. She becomes best friends with Melody and they are always helping each other. Pacy's mom has important stories about her childhood or family to tell Pacy as Pacy questions things. Pacy grows and learns from her experiences and finds The Year of the Dog was truly lucky for her.

2. Ruby Lu, her mom, her grandma, Ruby Lu, Brave and True by Lenore Look, ages 7 and up - This is one amusing book. Ruby Lu is an almost eight year old girl full of imagination and mischief with a heart of gold. She loves her brother, lots of reflective tape, her capes, and magic tricks. She goes to Chinese school on Saturdays, coaches her brother to make him smarter than her friend's brother, performs magic tricks for her friends, talks back to the neighborhood bully, and drives a car. Ruby's mom is elegant, loves her children, is a multi-tasker and makes magic capes for Ruby. Ruby's grandma is one hot ticket. She decides to learn how to drive, shops for the right accessories to look good while driving a car, and knows just how to flatter her man when she drives perfectly the first time.

3. Kiki Kitty aka Fashion Kitty, Mother Kitty and Mary Jane Tabby, Fashion Kitty by Charise Mericle Harper, ages 8 and up - This is a cute graphic novel. Kiki Kitty and her family are rather unusual cats. They are vegetarian cats who have a pet mouse. Mother Kitty is rather optimistic and cool. She lets her girls express themselves and lets them choose their own clothes. Kiki Kitty has great fashion sense. On her birthday, she turns into Fashion Kitty when a pile of magazines fall on her head. Think the tv show, What Not to Wear, but with a kind hearted girlfriend in the form of Super Hero Fashion Kitty. Fashion Kitty offers a kind ear and friendly fashion advice to Mary Jane Tabby, who is being bullied. Mary Jane offers kindness and understanding to the bully, when the bully makes a fashion faux pas. Combine a nice family with advice on self-esteem, peer pressure, and bullying, and you've got a graphic tale girls will enjoy.

4. Trixie and her mom, Knuffle Bunny A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems, ages 2 and up- What can I say? Very cute story. I loved the drawings set within black and white photographs. The scene in the laundromat was pretty funny. And as the story continues you think uh-oh. When Daddy and little Trixie are going home, Trixie is trying to communicate with her dad to let him know they forgot something. She's quite persistent and resourceful in her methods of getting her message across to Daddy. Poor Daddy. Thank goodness for her Mommy. Who just knew. Aren't moms grand?

Friday, February 2, 2007

Almost There

for now
i must write
perfect words that glow
my engaging query letter