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Reading Picture Books with Children by Megan Dowd Lambert

Reading Picture Books with Children by Megan Dowd Lambert

The subtitle of Reading Picture Books with Children is "how to shake up storytime and get kids talking about what they see." Lambert discusses at length the technique she pioneered of exploring picture book artwork with children and allowing them time to discuss and process what they see in addition to the words on the page. She discusses the many parts of a book that can be discussed with children, beginning with the physical qualities of the book itself such as its size, the jacket, the cover, and the endpapers. She points out the hidden information and clues that may be found on the title page or dedication page and how they can enrich a child's understanding of a book. She also discusses the layout of the page itself, the typography, where the gutter of the page lies, and more. Lambert also gives tips about how to put this sort of deep analysis to work with a real group of children.

I've been using these methods for several weeks now at my daughters' school library and the results are indeed astonishing at times. By giving children the time and space to explore the physical book and the artwork as much as the words, so much more can be learned. Very rarely do children lose interest and the true challenge lies in keeping the pace moving so we don't run out of time. I recommend this book very highly to anyone who reads picture books to children, whether your own at home or larger groups in educational or library settings.

Number of Pages: 
176

Love, Nina: A Nanny Writes Home, by Nina Stibbe

Love, Nina: A Nanny Writes Home, by Nina Stibbe

In Love, Nina, Nina Stibbe tells the story of her years as a nanny in London through a series of letters home to her sister Vic.  At the age of twenty, Nina moved from her native Leicestershire to take on the job of helping Mary-Kay Wilmers with her sons Sam and Will.  Thankfully Nina included a "who's who" at the beginning of the book, because there is a colorful cast of characters throughout.  Mary-Kay is editor of the London Review of Books, and often has guests, some of them famous, popping in for dinner, conversation, or tea.  There are also neighbors, contemporaries of the two kids, and friends Nina makes as she takes a personal leap and starts attending university at Thames Polytechnic.  Nina's letters are affectionate, irreverent, and very detailed, including whole dialogues that give us a glimpse into everyday life at 55 Gloucester Crescent.  What I enjoyed most about this book was the picture Nina captures of a time that everyone who lived in that household must look back fondly on--the four of them fit so well together that it feels like a visit one wouldn't want to end.  It's also just fun to revisit the art of writing a letter rather than a text or email.  Nina includes impromptu recipes and poems for her sister, lists of books to read, every small pondering and every hilarious interaction between herself and her who's who.  Nina's world is a delightful microcosm to immerse oneself in.     

Number of Pages: 
320

The Secrets of Happy Families by Bruce S. Feiler

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The Secrets of Happy Families by Bruce S. Feiler

I liked the idea of this book. Feiler looked at group dynamics other than the traditional family, such as the military and corporations to name a few, and tried to find advice for creating better family living from these examples. How to fight less, how to impart values and how to spend quality time together were some of the goals he had in mind while researching this book. There were a few things that resonated with me:  he experimented with creating a family mission statement as a way for the whole family to come together with ideas about what is important to them as a group. He talked about how important it is to include everyone in these discussions...kids and adults. Then after they had the motto they created a visual representation of it to hang in the home and remind them of who they are and what they believe in. This strikes me as kind of cheesy and really cool at the same time. It makes sense that you could use that as a reference point when times are hard. Having weekly family meetings also made sense. And making the point, again, to have the children weigh in on the family issues instead of using it as a time to bark out orders. There are lots of interesting ideas in this book and it stands apart from other parenting books because it is not one man's philosophy of parenting and how to achieve perfection by following certain rules. No Tiger or French moms and dads to make you feel bad in this book.

Number of Pages: 
292

The Boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech

The Boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech

When a young couple discover a 6 year old boy sleeping on their front porch, they take him in immediately, in spite of his silence. As a night turns into weeks, the couple search for his original family, but are reluctant to want to return him to the parents who left him at a stranger's house. Seeing the joy of the silent boy's artwork, the couple question what a "normal" upbringing consists of, and cater to the boy's individuality. As the two are thrown into parenting, so the boy is thrown into a new childhood, but each of the three change the others' lives.

Another sweet feel-good story from Creech, The Boy on the Porch wraps subtle humor with love.

Number of Pages: 
151

Eight Girls Taking Pictures by Whitney Otto

Eight Girls Taking Pictures by Whitney Otto

In Eight Girls Taking Pictures, Otto writes a collection of short stories on women photographers. Each story focuses on one woman in the twentieth century, her life, her art, her inspiration, her sexuality and gender as well as her political beliefs. The stories take place across the world, occasionally referencing each other as each woman finds her place in the artistic community of the time. 

The evolving technology of the camera as well as the development of feminism through the twentieth century link the stories, creating commonalities through the differences in vision, love and life. Otto's stories work to personalize the female photographer as not only artist, but also woman, and person. 

Number of Pages: 
342

A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty by Joshilyn Jackson

A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty by Joshilyn Jackson

Every fifteen years, trouble comes to the Slocumb family. The last two times, it has been unwanted pregnancies -- now, after the Liza has a stroke, there are new issues. When bones are found in their backyard, Liza is the only one who knows the whole story, but is unable to communicate with the outside world. As all three generations suddenly have new worries, they begin keeping secrets from one another, each knowing parts of the story and trying to piece things together on her own.

Told in alternating chapters between the three women, A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty outlines a unique view of family, the effects of addiction, and relationships. The flashbacks describing pieces of the past as well as the mystery surrounding the family kept the story intriguing. The chapters from Liza's point of view gave a window past the effects of her stroke, which I found especially interesting.

Number of Pages: 
322

Madensky Square by Eva Ibbotson

Madensky Square by Eva Ibbotson

Susanna is a dressmaker with her own shop on Madensky Square in Vienna. She decides to keep a journal for one year, chronicling her dresses, customers and relationships. The story follows the lives of many families in the neighborhood that she helps, as well as the relationships between the couples that come into her shop. As Susanna thinks about her past, she becomes a mother for those around her, from her Hungarian assistant to the little Polish pianist who lives upstairs.

Though it features a strong female protagonist and a bit of a love story, this Madensky Square is less traditionally romantic than Ibbotson's other work for adults and young adults. Susanna is first a businesswoman who manages to find love in many places.

Number of Pages: 
253

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

Missy Greer has finally escaped her small Kentucky hometown in a VW without windows or a starter. While heading out West, her car breaks down in Oklahoma and Missy, who has now changed her name to Taylor, gains a travelling companion -- a very quiet Cherokee toddler. Taylor continues West with the child, struggling to support herself and the little girl. As they begin to create a family together, Taylor has to confront her new position as a mother, as well as acknowledging other hardships she had formerly been ignorant of. 

The Bean Trees is one of my favorites -- though it can be sad at times, it is the story of a strong woman, raising a child the best she can and meeting other good people along the way. Kingsolver continues Taylor's story with Pigs in Heaven.

Number of Pages: 
232

The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale

The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale

Becky Jacks is a pregnant mother of three who flies to LA to sell a movie script. There she meets her favorite romantic comedy hunk, Felix Callahan. This begins the novel's following of their eleven year friendship, full of highs and lows and banter worthy of Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. Intending only for a solid platonic relationship, Becky and Felix fight the public and family to view their friendship as just that. As their lives evolve, Becky raises her children, Felix flies worldwide for his acting career. Becky questions their purpose toward one another and the plan God must have made to put Felix in her life. 

Hale's characters are realistic and lovable, dragging me through every change in their lives. I grew attached -- excited like a little kid at their joyful reunions and crying at their separate heartbreaks. The story follows Becky's love and confusion toward their friendship -- so closely, it kept me guessing until the very end. The novel is surprising in the way it both accepts and rejects both characters' connection to and reality of romantic comedies. It is a sweet, heart-wrenching story and a joy to read!

Number of Pages: 
339

Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne with Lisa M. Ross

Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne with Lisa M. Ross

The full title of this book is Simplicity Parenting: using the extraordinary power of less to raise calmer, happier, and more secure kids.  It caught my eye as I was browsing OverDrive for something to listen to and it immediately struck a chord in me.  Payne teaches that children today are overwhelmed and overstimulated and need simplicity and predictability to thrive.  Simplicity in environment - a few really good toys that encourage creativity and imagination instead of every imaginable product.  Simplicity in routine - create rhythm and predictability in daily life so a child knows what to expect.  Simplicity through reducing or eliminating screen time and adult information and over involvement.  A phrase Payne used often that I really like is "space and grace" - by simplifying all aspects of life, we create space and grace for play and connection.  He points out that boredom is a wonderful gift for a child as it leads to creativity and unscheduled time is often when we have our greatest moments of connection and togetherness. 

I had been struggling with parenting my three year old daughter.  Her tv time had gradually crept up so that it seemed that even with a house full of toys all she wanted to do was watch Dora the Explorer.  She was distracted and would often have meltdowns at transition times in our day.  I was stressed out and exhausted.  I had been trying to figure out how to turn things around and this book helped me pinpoint what my family needed.  We ditched a ton of toys and books, keeping our favorites and creating our own little library so that only a few are available at a time.  We eliminated her screen time completely.  She never noticed the toys and books that were gone but she did notice what was left. It was like she suddenly saw them for the first time and without so many distractions she plays with them more deeply.  Dora Detox was hard for the first day or two but almost immediately she seemed calmer, happier, gentler, and more focused.  We are slowly implementing some more of the ideas and concepts from the book and it is having a positive effect on our whole family.  I recommend this highly for parents!

Number of Pages: 
235