Happy Birthday Mom!

So it’s our mom’s birthday so we thought we send out a shout out over the internet for her (don’t worry mom we won’t tell them how young you are). Since she really likes autobiographies we reviewed an autobiography each in her honor. She even asked us about doing autobiographies on our blog, which both of us predicted she would and to keep things consistent it won’t be hard to guess what part of your present is since you know Buying Books for Birthdays is always good idea.

Holly’s review A Girl from Yamhill by Beverly Cleary

Cari’s review Guts: The True Stories Behind Hatchet and the Brian Books by Gary Paulsen


A Girl from Yamhill by Beverly Cleary

Beverly Cleary provided me with one of my favorite childhood friends- Ramona Quimby. I still remember the thrill of discovering the escapades of dear old Ramona. If she could survive life and school, so could I. I’ve had my fair share of Ramona moments.

So, I feel very close to Beverly Cleary, having spent much of my childhood in the world she created. I loved finding out that she grew up in Oregon, where we lived when my husband was a graduate student. We would drive through Yamhill on our way to McMinnville to go eat at the restaurant that had a monkey. We would also go on Sunday drives through the breathtaking farm country surrounding Forest Grove and Banks. We have very fond memories of Oregon. I was stunned to find out that Beverly’s mom was a pioneer in her own way. She was one of the teachers who was hired by mail to come from Michigan to Quincy, Washington to teach school. Quincy is near and dear to me so the tales she told of her mother and Quincy in 1905 warmed my heart. I was enthralled by her portrayal of the depression and what people did to survive. They had so much less than we do now, and so it put things in proper perspective. We will be just fine.

This is a great autobiography. I look forward to reading about the rest of Cleary’s life in her second volume, “My Own Two Feet”. As a tribute to Ramona, I’d like to share my most vivid Ramona moment:

This one actually had to do with good ol’ Henry. In 5th grade we had to draw names of someone in our classroom for secret Christmas pals. I had a great time in that class with a good buddy I will call Stu. I was surprised when I drew his name for the secret gift exchange. For the life of me, I could not think of what in the world I would give this boy. I didn’t really know what a boy would want. Candy was always good. But when I asked for help with a gift (I’m not sure if I waited too long or what) I was on my own. I made some sorry excuse for a homemade craft and figured it was anonymous, so it wouldn’t matter, because he wouldn’t know it was from me anyway.  The next day in school, our teacher handed out all the gifts and we went back to our seats to open them. I was nervous. He sat directly across from me. I opened my gift: a used copy of Henry & Ribsy. He opened his gift: my art-deco glass bottle ala crapola. I’m not sure which one of us started criticizing first- probably me. “A book about a boy and a dog? Why would I want to read a book about a boy?” Stu: “What in the world is this empty jar stuffed with cotton and glued with ribbon for? Why would I want something girly like that?”

“Attention!” Called the teacher. “I will now read off the names of who had who in our secret gift exchange so that you may thank the person before you go home today.”

I’m pretty sure if I had dared to swear I would have done it. I didn’t.  I waited in awkward embarrassed silence. I flushed up past my ears. I didn’t think I could possibly be more embarrassed.

I could.

“This one’s kind of interesting.” said the teacher. “Holly had Stu and Stu had Holly.”

I felt like my coffin lid had just closed. He knew what I’d given him and he knew what I thought about the book. I didn’t dare make eye contact. Chastened and humiliated, I sat stunned in my chair. I can remember it like it was yesterday. Thank goodness for Christmas vacation. We left for two weeks, I read the book and liked it, and we both came back acting like nothing had ever happened. I bet we were both a lot more careful in being grateful for gifts. It didn’t ruin our friendship. In fact, it may have solidified it a little. By the end of the year I’d taught him how to belch out loud. During class I might add. I don’t know how my teacher ever tolerated us. But I thought it was a serious social injustice for any boy to not know how to make himself burp. (sorry in advance Mom, I know you hated that we girls learned how to make ourselves burp- this is the 1st time you’ve probably ever heard that I taught someone else in the middle of class how to do it- without getting in trouble I might add.)


Do you have a Ramona Quimby moment? Please, do share!

Guts – The True Story Behind Hatchet and the Brian Books by Gary Paulsen

gutsI loved Hatchet as a kid and when I saw this autobiography I had to read it. I wanted to know what was behind the stories. After reading this the man is lucky to be alive. Born in the 1939, he is not slowing down to say the least as of right now he is currently training for the Iditarod in Alaska.


I saw death coming at me, snorting and thundering. I think I may have thought of phantoms, wood spirits, wild monsters – I most certainly did not think of moose.

This is what Gary Paulsen writes as he describes his first encounter with a moose. In response to reader’s inquiries Paulsen decides to explain what parts of his books were based on real life. Paulsen, a talented writer ensnares the reader with his easy conversation style of writing balancing both fact and narrative description of his life. Growing up with alcoholic parents, forced Paulsen to be resourceful. He really spent a lot of time in the woods hunting for his own food as a kid. 

This creative man with guts shares his knowledge and love of nature through such his personal experiences with themes of courage and survival.  You’ll learn such things as why deer are some of the deadliest animals in the wild and the best way to eat bugs. This book, in addition to being a fun read, can help readers understand connections between authors’ own lives and the books they write.

I highly recommend this book especially for the adventure, outdoor, adrenaline seeking types. I would caution those of you who get a little quesy or don’t like vivid death scenes to either skip those parts or sit this one out. Paulsen literally witnesses death and comes close on more than one occasion himself and has eaten some interesting things and if you have read Hatchet – he eats everything that Brian eats plus some and minus one, but you’ll have to read it to find out. 

Since I live and was raised primarily in an urban setting I have no great outdoor adventures (other than while camping with my family in a Missouri thunderstorm – not fun by the way). I know wildlife is there and actually about 6 months ago while on a walk on the river walkway by our house my daughter and I saw a doe with two babies less than a mile from our home! My daughter was thrilled (we kept our distance thanks to Gary’s advice) and I had no idea there were deer so close to our house.  Currently we have a gopher living in our yard. We have tried a variety of things to get rid of the little buggar, traps, bombs, flooding the tunnels, sending the dog to dig, etc and so far he/she has evaded us. We’ve lost a few plants to the gopher including one of my favorite rose bushes. Argh. . . this spring I am determined to get rid of the gopher. I’ll keep you posted.

So what is your experience with wildlife in your area or do you have any outdoors adventures you would like to share? 

Gary Paulsen’s website and current Iditarod Journal

Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Bryan Collier

bookcover_barackobama_son_of_promiseOn the day of the inaugoration I made my daughter watch it on TV. She wasn’t happy about it . . . the whole thing about missing cartoons to a pre-schooler is you know . . .  the end of the world, but I really wanted to see it. I think most people can agree, even if you don’t like the man, that history was made that day. I wanted to watch it and I wanted her to watch it. She knew a little about being president that George W. Bush was the president and lived in the White House. It took a while for her to get into it and I’m not sure she did. However, we went to the library later that day and saw a book with Obama’s face on it and she wanted to get a book about the president. So I looked for a picture book and this was the first picture book I could find by Nikki Grimes.

Barack Obama Son of Promise, Child of Hope also fits under the one reading challenge I signed up for this year – Diversity Rocks,. (I’ll admit after reading about all the different challenges I was little more then overwhelmed. Especially for those whose dates to sign-up were over or didn’t count kid-lit).

So we liked the book. It starts with a boy named David and his mother watching some of the campaign on TV and David asks questions so she answers them throughout the book. My daughter  loved that format especially when she would ask the same question that David did such as can I be president. Apparently my five year old has some presidental aspirations of her own!

The majority of the book is based on Obama’s book Dreams from my Father. Grimes chronicles his life with his parents, dad from Kenya and mom from Kansas,  his struggles to understand his biracial background, divorced parents and his role in the world. His father who was largely absent and Barack looked to hope to help him through troubled times. The book strongly emphasizes hope, dreams, God and education – All of which help people achieve their goals. The illustrations are well done in water color and collage style and definitely accent the text well.

I chose this book because it is the only picture book about him that I am aware of and my daughter is 5 she doesn’t need a treatise about politicians, mudslinging and why somebody may or may not like him (I’m sure she will get enough of that as she gets older). Realize that most children’s books about presidents and other historical figures will focus on the positives and this one is no exception it even states that Obama will serve as bridge between white and black people with references to MLK and JFK.

It will be interesting to compare later biographies of Barack Obama written for children – particularly as his presidency plays out. As far as recommending the book this is my take on it. If you’re not a huge fan of his then you’ll probably not like the book, if you somewhat neutral if could go either way and if you like him you’ll probably like the book. Also as politics can be divisive in any forum please keep your comments respectful and nice and I will edit/delete comments that don’t follow those rules.

Author’s website Nikki Grimes and illustrator’s website Bryan Collier.

Other reviews

The Friendly Book Nook – This was an interesting book, although above the heads of my second graders. . . .A good and interesting read.

Mrs. F-Bs – It’s a good book, and I did like the illustrations a lot, but I didn’t love it.

Balance our theme for 2009 – aka our non-resolution resolution.

Cari is not a big fan of New Year’s Resolutions. The idea is great, but she gets tired of hearing all the hype about goal setting, losing weight, buying exercise equipment and gym memberships. Especially since most people give-up somewhere in February or before. So we decided, rather than choose specific goals, we would choose a theme for this year – balance and of course we do it the last week in January just to prove how non-resolutionary we are. We got the idea of just choosing a theme from Sheena over at Sheenanigans.

Balance for the year of 2009 . . . what does this mean exactly . . . well here is what we think it means . . .

  • Family
  • Work
  • Self

We thought maybe we’d expound philosophically for a few moments. But, nah. That’s would be too resolutionary. We’re really into KISS (keep it simple stupid). So, long story short: these are the three things we’re going to be juggling this year, we’ll try to keep all the balls in the air, but if for some reason one falls, we promise to pick it back up and try again.

Skunks! by David T. Greenberg Illustrated by Lynn Munsinger

skunksWe saw this at the library and I knew we had to get it. You see my daughter is afraid of the dark. So now you’re thinking what does being afraid of the dark have to do with skunks? Well my daughter saw an episode of Curious George about skunks and she learned that they are nocturnal and not only that they can make you stink when they spray. So in classic pre-school logic this translates into

Her: Mom I am afraid of the dark

Me: Why are you afraid of the dark?

Her:  Because skunks are nocturnal so I am afraid of the dark because because they might get in my room when I’m sleeping.

Basically her fear is that these skunks might somehow get in the house after dark and get in her room and then lift their tail . . . and the rest would be as they say . . . stinky. (We have a hard time convincing her to go places after dark because of skunks, which is kind of hard to avoid going out after dark considering the sun goes down at 5:00 pm)

I thought Skunks! might help her not focus so much on her fear of the dark/skunks. And this book is a fun one about skunks with rhymes and hilarious illustrations. She loved it!!!!! So far we have gone one week without the skunk fear. One of my favorite pages is the skunkmobile covered in skunks. This is what is says

Climb into your skunkmobile

Snap a skunk salute

Then rocket out of the skunk cave

In your super skunker suit

Hyper windshield-wiper skunks

Little baby diaper skunks

(Not only are they likable

They’re naturally recyclable)

Who would have thought skunks are so green. Really it’s a fun read – the pictures and words will crack you up. I am NOT convinced though that skunks would work for ‘undies’ as Greenberg suggests. I highly recommend this book.

So just out of curiosity do any of you have a fun I’m scared of the dark or skunk story? If so please share.

The ALA Book Awards 2009

Okay so the Newbery and Caldecott are probably the two most recognizable, but there are some other awards also including the Printz Award, Coretta Scott King Award and Geisel Award (Dr. Suess) and those are the one’s I listed. To see a more complete list click the ALA link here.

Honestly, I have not read a single one, is that a bad thing? At least I have a great list of books to choose from. I have read other books by some of the authors so at least I recognize several of them – like good ‘ole Mo Willems, Jacqueline Woodson and Marla Frazee (the author of Santa Claus Worlds Number One Toy Expert one of my favories and of course Terry Pratchett. Do you recognize any titles or authors? If not which book sounds the most interesting.

Newbery Award

  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman


  • The Underneath by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by David Small
  • The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom, by Margarita Engle
  • Savvy by Ingrid Law
  • After Tupac & D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson

Caldecott Medal

  • Beth Krommes, illustrator of “The House in the Night,” written by Susan Marie Swanson

Caldecott Honor Books

  • A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever written and illustrated by Marla Frazee
  • How I Learned Geography,” written and illustrated by Uri Shulevitz
  • A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams illustrated by Melissa Sweet, written by Jen Bryant

Printz Award for excellence in literature written for young adults.

  • Melina Marchetta, author of “Jellicoe Road

Printz Honor Books

  • The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II, The Kingdom on the Waves by M.T. Anderson
  • The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks,” by E. Lockhart
  • Nation by Terry Pratchett
  • Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for the most distinguished book for beginning readers.

  • Are You Ready to Play Outside? written and illustrated by Mo Willems

Geisel Honor Books

  • Chicken said, ‘Cluck!'” by Judyann Ackerman Grant, illustrated by Sue Truesdell
  • One Boy,” written and illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
  • Stinky,” written and illustrated by Eleanor Davis
  • Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator by Sarah C. Campbell, with photographs by Sarah C. Campbell and Richard P. Campbell

Coretta Scott King Book Award recognizing an African American author and illustrator of outstanding books for children and young adults.

  • Author winner – We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson, is the King Author Book winner.
  • Illustrator Winner – The Blacker the Berry illustrated by Floyd Cooper, written by Joyce Carol Thomas

Three King Author Honor Books

  • The Blacker the Berry,” by Joyce Carol Thomas, illustrated by Floyd Cooper
  • Keeping the Night Watch by Hope Anita Smith, illustrated by E.B. Lewis
  • Becoming Billie Holiday by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Three Illustrator Honor Books

  • We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson
  • Before John Was a Jazz Giant by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Sean Qualls
  • The Moon Over Star” by Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

Nonfiction Monday – honeybees by Deborah Heiligman Illustrated by Carla Golembe

honeybeesMy daughter has been asking to read about bees. She is fascinated with bugs and insects (when she can get over her fear of them). She knows that bees are important to flowers and especially for fruits and vegetables and that bees don’t really want to sting you. On one of our frequent trips to the library we picked out a few books on bees. I chose one and she chose one. This is the one she chose and quite frankly I liked it better than the one I picked at least for her age group.

Deborah Heilifman does a good job of telling us in honeybees how honey is made and the different stages a bee goes through such as worker bee, nurse bee, guard bee and forager bee. Although no pictures of actual bees are in the book, we really liked Carla Golembe’s illustrations a lot which were done using gouache on watercolor paper. I think the book does a good job of explaining the life of a honeybee from birth to collecting nectar and defending the hive from robber bees. Who knew bees stole from each other? The book also has an experiment at the end about using body language to communicate as many bee experts believe bees communicate by doing special dances. It’s a fun experiment at the end pretend to be a bee and talk about how bees use their senses compared to how humans use our senses.

I would recommend this book for anyone who has children around ages 4-8 as a great introduction to the life of bees.

Deborah Heiligman’s website is here and the Carla Golembe is here.

Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes

 Do you have a child who worries? Obsessively? Compulsively? Meet Wemberly, the queen of worriers. She’s got some great things to worry about- things at the playground that were, “Too rusty. Too loose. Too high.” . . . I thought this would be a good book for my little worry-wart. It ended up that it was just what the doctor ordered for all of us. It turns out that, while there are always things to worry about, there are also a lot of things to enjoy about life.


At the end of the book my kids said, “she worried about silly stuff.” We then discussed the things I know they worry about that in the daytime, after reading this book, also seemed a little silly. I’m glad that Wemberly learned that reaching out to others and making friends cause worries to disappear. Just like magic. I think I’ll work a little magic on a few of my worries and choose joy and friendship over all that worrying. I bet my waist line will appreciate it. I just learned from Body for Life for Women, that worrying is a sure-fire way to add pounds to your waist line. So, shouldn’t that work in reverse? If you decide not to worry I would think that would be a sure-fire way to make pounds disappear. Poof! (okay, it hasn’t worked yet, but I’m not gonna worry about that.


Yet another stellar book from award-winning author/illustrator Kevin Henkes. The illustrations are true to form- vibrant, colorful, endearing. I want to be like Kevin Henkes when I grow up!