Princess Talk

princesspI am sick of talking about princesses.  I am sick of my daughter talking about how much she loves princesses, but I’m also sick of hearing and reading about parents hating princesses.  So when a review copy of The Princess Problem landed on my desk at work, I rolled my eyes and ignored it for a while.

Princesses aren’t going anywhere however, and neither was this book.  When I finally gave it a chance, I was pleasantly surprised.  The Princess Problem was more than a rant about how princesses are ruining our daughters.  It’s actually a guide to talking to our kids about the media they consume as it relates to princesses.  There are discussion questions for movies and ideas for healthy media consumption.  It’s a fantastic resource with a practical sensibility.  Find out more on the author’s web site.

While I’m on the topic of princesses, I want to recommend a couple of books that will appeal to both princess-loving kids and princess-hating parents:

  • The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale is an early chapter book about a princess who is secretly a superhero.  My six-year-old daughter was obsessed with this book for months, which is a pretty strong endorsement right there.  Definitely a fun pick for the kids who want to dress up in pretty clothes and do the rescuing.
  • Princess in Training by Tammy Sauer features a disappointing princess.  She’s not very princessy, but those non-princessy interests come in handy when a dragon sneaks in the castle.  This picture book is cute and fun.
  • Princess Sparkle Heart Gets a Makeover by Josh Schneider has enough pink sparkles on the cover to attract the princess loving kid, but the story isn’t really about princesses.  It’s about a girl and her doll and what happens when that doll is attacked by the family dog.

Parents and other people who interact with kids might also be interested in this post on Princess Shaming in which a librarian advises, “Find out what it is about the princess that makes your kid want to read about her and be her; find out what your kid thinks it means to play princess.”

Right on.  Instead of hating princesses, let’s think critically about them.

An unexpected gratitude

I meant to post something about gratitude during the week of Thanksgiving, but the days were full of holiday preparations to the point that I had no time to spare on putting such words together. Now that I have a moment, let me express a surprising bit of gratitude: I am thankful for my mornings.

No one in my family is a morning person, least of all me, so any positive feeling at that time of day is outside of my usual. But things have shifted with the beginning of this school year. After years of getting up super early to take the bus to work well before my daughter woke for school, I have traded in my bus pass for a set of car keys.

My mornings are no longer a frenzied rush to make my bus. They are comparatively slower and much happier.  They have become my most treasured moments with my daughter. We talk about our dreams and plans over breakfast, and sometimes we even have time to share a story or two.  By the time I send her off to school and leave for work, I am smiling.  I can’t help it.

Best Time of Day by Eileen SpinelliOne of my favorite morning moments was from a story we read one day before school. The book was The Best Time of Day by Eileen Spinelli, and my daughter shared her own best, which was not far off from my own. She had a dreamy/happy voice when she said how much she loved mornings–at school. Her favorite time of day is that moment when she first gets to school. “There are kids and teachers talking and laughing. The piano is playing, and everyone is saying hi to each other and rushing around. I just love it so much.”

These are the moments I don’t want to miss.  It’s the stuff of happiness, right?  Watching this little girl experience the world as her own individual while sharing so much of who she is with her father and me makes me happy.   I’m grateful for moments like this.

alljoyHappiness is complicated though, especially when it comes to our kids.  Parenting is not all sunshine and lollipops.  You don’t need me to tell you that, I’m sure.  I probably didn’t need a whole book telling me that over and over in different ways, but I still read All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior.  And somehow, I even loved it.  For all the bleak stories and statistics in the book that threatened to be pretty depressing, it was all so fascinating.  She chronicles how the word “parent” turned into a verb, how kids went from being “economically worthless to emotionally priceless,” and how happiness plays a role in all of this stuff in a shifting world where there is no script for any of us.

In the absence of a script, it’s just love.  It’s just little moments where we read stories and talk about our favorite things.  It’s the days when we can’t help but smile.

 

Read or watch more:

Friday Find: Brains On!

brainson“Wait! Pause it!”

We were listening to an episode of Brains On!, and my six year old could barely hold in her comments and questions.  I let her choose among the recent episodes, and she chose Is There Life on Other Planets? which opened with an excerpt from a science fiction story about aliens written by a kid, not too much older than my daughter.

“So this is a real story written by a real kid?” was her first question.  Then we had to go to the Brains On! web site to see the young author’s alien drawings.

Astrocat_001That was only the beginning  of the speculation and discussion that the episode sparked in her.  It wasn’t just the day we listened to it, either.  The ideas stuck with her enough to bring it up again and again.  We explored more about space in Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space, which has a great spread with speculative aliens that my daughter loved.

We will definitely be listening to more of Brains On! And catching up on past episodes.  I love that it features kids asking real kid questions, and I am excited to explore more science with my daughter.

Since I am always thinking about books, I already have a few books in mind for some of the other episodes:

  • For Water, Water Everywhere we will check out Did a Dinosaur Drink this Water by Robert Wells and Let’s Drink Some Water by Ruth Walton.
  • The Soil–Can You Dig It episode fits well with A Handful of Dirt by Raymond Bial.
  • In How Do You Catch a Cold? there is talk of sneezes; Explore more in Sneeze! by Alexandra Siy.
  • If you listen to Is There Life on Other Planets? with kids a bit older than my six year old, you can direct them to The Alien Hunter’s Handbook by Mark Brake for more about what life is and how to find it.

Happy listening, reading, and exploring!

Interested in past Friday Finds posts? Click here

On the week’s events

SecretHum_cover_FINALIt has been a long and difficult week for many people.  My news feed for the past week has been full of difficult topics–stuff that we don’t often want to talk about.  Mental illness, suicide, race relations, violence.  A lot of people seem to be feeling raw and angry over these things.  I don’t blame them.  Parts of me are raw and angry too.

This week I read The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer.  It is a middle grade novel about a girl who is in her own difficult spot.  After years of living a here-and-there life with her mother, Grace is grieving her mother’s loss and trying to figure out where she belongs now.  It is a lovely story about grief and identity that made me tear up several times. Mostly I felt like the novel was about hope.

Whenever Grace had to start at a new school after yet another move, her mother would tell her, “You can do this.  You are brave, and you are loved.”  I want to repeat those words to so many people right now.

You are brave.

You are loved.

I can’t change the world with those words, but perhaps if we keep talking and keep changing our own small worlds, things will get better.

A weekend of solitude

Call me an introvert if you must–you wouldn’t be wrong–but I have to admit that there are few things better than a weekend to myself.  It’s been a busy couple of months (as evidenced by the lack of blog posts), and I was more than happy to spend a couple of days re-charging from all the goings on of late while my husband and daughter traveled for the weekend.

I decided to avoid planning too much, to just do whatever I felt like doing at the moment.  It felt like the height of luxury.  I highly recommend the experience if you have the opportunity.

My weekend consisted of books, art, and writing.  Here are some highlights:

  • 20140406-184336.jpgLive-tweeting my reading of Dangerous by Shannon Hale with the hashtag #dwoh (or Dangerous with one hand).  It is the only novel I recall reading with a main character with a congenital limb deficiency, and I couldn’t help but be excited about it.  Shannon Hale has some interesting things to say about why she chose to write a character who is differently abled, among other things, in this essay.
  • Exploring the meditative quality of writing with Karen Hering, author of Writing to Wake the Soul, at a Sacred Salon at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.  The Sacred exhibit and the Salon were wonderfully inspiring, and I recommend both experiences to anyone interested in meditation or Buddhist ideas.  I’ve mentioned my interested in meditation here and here.
  • Turning up the volume on my latest musical obsession: Catbath.  What says spring more than opening the windows and playing the music a little bit louder?

How would you spend a weekend to yourself with no obligations?

More 2013 Favorites

Back in June, I posted a list of my favorite books of the year at that point.  Here are the books that made the list for the second half of the year.

  • Journey_by_Aaron_Becker1Wild by Emily Hughes – You can’t tame everything.  You might remember this book from this post. (Ages 4-8)
  • Journey by Aaron Becker – Beautiful wordless book.  The trailer gives a peek into the magic. (Ages 4-8)
  • Once Upon a Memory by Nina Laden – A poem turned into a picture book that looks at changes with a gentle touch. (Ages 4-8)
  • The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt – Fun and different. (Ages 4-8)
  • Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo – Great mix of humor and heart.  This was my Book Pick in September. (Ages 8-12)
  • Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan – I love pretty much anything David Levithan does in books, and this one was particularly good.  I had more to say about it in this post. (Teen)
  • Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – If I could only choose one book by this author, I’d choose Eleanor & Park for sure, but Fangirl is a close second.  (Teen/Adult)
  • A look inside What the Heart Knows by Joyce Sidman.

    A look inside What the Heart Knows by Joyce Sidman.

    What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms, and Blessings by Joyce Sidman – The subtitle of this book of poems threw me off a bit, but once I gave it a chance, I found a lovely tribute to the power of words.  (Teen/Adult)

  • Handling the Truth by Beth Kephart – I’m still dreaming of writing, and this book fueled the dream. (Adult)

The best book I read in 2013 was  an old favorite that I reread in anticipation of the movie version, which I still haven’t seen.  The Book Thief was just as good as I remembered it, and I highly recommend it if you have yet to read it.

What were your favorite reads of 2013?

Where are you from?

I’m sticking with the theme from my last post and my new zine, Whereverland, for today’s Thursday Three post.  I have three books in which moving and/or exploring one’s roots plays a role.

  • Tlittlefishhe Language Inside by Holly Thompson – Emma spent most of her life as an American living in Japan–that’s home.  Now she’s back in the States re-orienting to the place her parents have always thought of as “home.”  Really beautiful teen novel in verse that explores connecting with people, places, and poetry.  Teacher/Librarian note: There’s a discussion guide here. (Teen Fiction – Find it at your library or indie bookstore)
  • Little Fish by Ramsey Beyer – Ramsey Beyer captures her first year at art school in this graphic memoir.  She’s a blogger, zinester, and an artist, so I was obviously a little biased toward liking this book even before I started reading.  It’s a more innocent look at college–no parties or hangovers here–than you might find in other books, and Beyer’s sincerity and sweetness make this a cute coming of age book that zinesters and other creative sorts will enjoy.  (Teen/Adult Memoir – Find it at your library or indie bookstore)
  • Becoming Naomi Leon by Pam Munoz Ryan – This is an oldie, but it is not to be missed.  When Naomi’s mom returns and wants custody of Naomi (and not her brother who has a birth defect), Naomi explores her father’s side with a trip to Mexico.  That one sentence description hardly does the book justice.  It is a thoughtful look at identity and family.  A long-time favorite of mine.  (Children’s Fiction – Find it at your library or indie bookstore)

Have you read anything that fits this theme?  What would you add?

A few recent reads

I don’t have the time to write something about each and every book I read.  I try to keep track in Goodreads, but I can never quite keep up.  In any case, here are a few sentences for some books I’ve read recently.

  • onceuponanorOnce Upon a Northern Night by Jean Pendziwol – I will freely admit that I have a particular weakness for winter-related picture books.  Like a good Minnesotan, I love to romanticize wintry weather for all the magic it offers.  This picture book turns the idea of winter into a lullaby.  The illustrations are striking and beautiful.  Well worth checking out.  Find it at your library or buy it at an independent bookstore
  • Emmaline and the Bunny by Katherine Hannigan – Technically, I suppose I still have a chapter left to read on this book.  I’m reading it aloud to my daughter, and we are quite enjoying it.  There are lots of fun words to say (dinglederrydoo and hoopalala) and plenty of alliteration, wordplay, and general silliness to make a good read-aloud.  Check out the author’s web site for instructions on drawing a bunny.  Find it at your library or buy it at an independent bookstore.
  • matteroflifeA Matter of Life by Jeffrey Brown – This graphic novel memoir of faith and fatherhood is a quick read full of real moments of life with a preschooler along with memories from Brown’s childhood.  He was raised in a religious family, but he has since moved away from his childhood faith, which makes for some awkwardness with various family members.  Brown won the Eisner Award for Best Humor Publication for his previous book Darth Vader and Son.  Find it at your library or buy it at an independent bookstore.

You can like this blog on Facebook for regular #Fridayreads posts.  As usual, it’s all over the map.  Some Fridays, it’s a picture book.  Other Fridays, it’s a teen novel.  Occasionally I even read books for adults. :)

My favorite books of 2013 (so far)

We’re six months into 2013, and my running favorites list has already gotten long enough to share.  Here are the seven books I’ve loved so far this year:

  • howtoHow To by Julie Morstad  – This picture book is simple and nostalgic.  It is for anyone who wants to remember what being a kid was like.  I don’t know if it will have tons of kid appeal, but the Mindy appeal is through the roof.  (All ages)
  • The Big Wet Balloon by Liniers – Anyone who has a sibling and a heart will probably at least “aww” a little at this book.  It’s an easy-to-read graphic novel, and it’ll be available in English and in Spanish in September.  (Ages 5-8)
  • The Sleepwalkers by Viviane Schwarz – The Sleepwalkers will save you from your nightmares.  They are the superheroes of your dreams, but they are training in new heroes in this graphic novel.  So we get to watch the new Sleepwalkers take on scary-weird dream stuff of the night.  It’s all about empowering kids to face their fears, and I love it.  (Ages 7-10)
  • Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler – You remember this one from last week’s post, right?  (Teen)
  • Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell – This is the book that everyone in the library world has been talking about.  It took me a while to get it from the library because there was already a long list by the time I added my name to it.  I guess I kind of thought that it wouldn’t live up to the hype since I’d heard and read so many of my colleagues gushing about it.  I was wrong.  All the hype is deserved.  I adored this book. (Teen)
  • Relish by Lucy Knisley – I must recommend this book to all of my foodie friends, if not for the delightful coming-of-age food-related memoir stuff,  then for the visual recipes throughout.  Very cool.  (Teen/Adult)
  • We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Fowler – This is kind of an unusual novel.  It took me a bit to get into it, but once it grabbed my attention, it kept it.  A couple of reviews have advised readers to avoid spoilers on this one, so if you are the sort who likes to be surprised, don’t research too much.  Just give it a chance.  I think you’ll be surprised.  (Teen/Adult)

What 2013 releases have you read and loved?  What are you looking forward to?

For library lovers…

houseattheendI picked up The House at the End of Hope Street with the wish to read something out of my ordinary.  In this novel, Alba is a studious young woman who is at a difficult spot in her life.  That’s when she finds a magical house at 11 Hope Street.  It’s a charming novel that will appeal to readers who don’t mind a bit of fantasy mixed with their contemporary issues, especially if you’ve got a soft spot for libraries.

“Also, she hasn’t been to the library in nearly a month and she’s starting to get withdrawal symptoms.  It’s not just books Alba craves, it’s standing inside a place that houses millions of them.  Libraries are Alba’s churches, and the university library, containing one edition of every book ever published in England, is her cathedral.”

If libraries are your churches, you might like this book.  :)

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