Monday Morning Music with Catbath

This past Saturday morning, I woke up with a bit of a cold, and my plans for the day looked much less enticing than they had the day before when I promised to take my  daughter to see her favorite local band play an all ages show in the middle of the day. I tried to convince her that a movie marathon of her choice was just as good for the chilly Saturday, but her disappointed eyes ate at my mom-guilt enough that I took some cold medicine and off we went to Indeed Brewing for the Hullabaloo.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned Catbath on this blog before. My husband recommended the band to me after he caught their set at Cause Spirits & Soundbar, which has been closed for a while now. “Trust me,” he said, “This is going to be your new favorite band.” He was right, of course. Though now he probably laments introducing me to them given my habit of listening to my favorite records over and over again. If it were possible to wear out a CD, we would have worn out our copy of It’s Bathtime a long time ago.

Somewhere along the way, our eight-year-old daughter started singing along with the Catbath songs I played in the car or at home while we went about our business. Then she started requesting Catbath when I let her pick the music.  Recently she talked about how Catbath is her favorite band at Sharing Time in her third grade classroom. She was genuinely surprised that none of her classmates had heard of them.  I never set out to raise a hipster child, but somehow it seems to have happened. ;)

In any case, she loved the show. It beat a movie marathon any day.

In Words and Pictures


While it was Young Adult Literature that drew me to the world of children’s book initially, once I started exploring picture books, I fell in love with picture book illustration as an art. I loved the variety, the experimentation, and the visual storytelling evident in the picture books I saw. I can’t claim to be an expert on artistic styles or media, but I know what I like, and after over ten years in the kidlit world, I have a pretty good idea of what works with kids, critics, or both.

The In Words and Pictures exhibit at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design is an opportunity to see a small window into the picture book world to get a sense of what is possible when it comes to picture book illustration. The exhibit includes Debra Frasier’s cut paper collages from A Fabulous State Fair Alphabet, Betsy Bowen’s wood block prints from Antler, Bear, Canoe, and a variety of other artistic styles. But the really interesting part, for kidlit fanatics like myself or kids who are curious about the story behind the books, are the notes and sketches paired with the art that give a sense of the process.

What better way to show kids that the process is messy than to show them the way a rough sketch goes through so many iterations before it becomes the book they know and love?

winterithewarmestI must admit, I was particularly captivated by Lauren Stringer’s paintings from Winter is the Warmest Season, which has long been one of my favorite wintery picture books.  But all the artists and books in the exhibit—from veterans of the field like Nancy Carlson to some that were new to me—taken together offer a fascinating look at the different paths that these stories take from idea to publication and all the twists and turns in between.

If you can get there in the next few days, I highly recommend In Words and Pictures to families. Even those who aren’t usually drawn to art exhibits may find that the opportunity to see where your favorite books come from or discover a new favorite is the real pull here. While you’re there, have a seat in the cozy reading nook and grab a book to read. Whether you are a book lover or an art appreciator, it’s well worth the visit.

Diversity at AWP15

awpIt’s about listening and humility.

At the AWP conference this past Saturday, I made it a point to attend as many discussions about diversity as I could.  The conference is aimed at writers not librarians–I only dream of calling myself a writer–but I found the perspective quite valuable.  I attended panels that featured writers of color discussing their work and their experiences in the publishing world, and the conversations kept coming back to listening and humility.

Can you write outside of your own experiences, including those of race, culture, and gender?  Sure.  But be aware of the complexity there.  Be aware of the history and the stereotypes that exist. Do your research, but–perhaps most importantly–beware of research.  Facts are good, but they only take you so far.  Facts read from books or gleaned from acquaintances don’t tell the whole story of a race or culture.  Facts don’t get at the intricacies of humor and language.  In her panel Navigating the Waters of Authentic Voice in YA Native Fiction Debbie Reese, who writes the fantastic blog American Indians in Children’s Literature, cautioned that even primary sources about American Indians can be problematic.  She urged non-Native writers to focus on being allies rather than being voices for Native people.

WNDB_ButtonIn the Race in YA Lit panel, writers from various cultural backgrounds shared their experiences with micro-aggressions, self silencing, and burn-out at always having to educate people about privilege and race issues.  There was some frustration in the conversation, but there was also optimism.  A lot of optimism actually.  Just the fact that we were having that conversation about race at a major conference means something.  The fact that #weneeddiversebooks wasn’t just a hashtag fad means something.

“Allies are important,” moderator Swati Avasthi (author of Chasing Shadows) said as she noted that the audience was mostly white. But there were cautions in this session too.  Avasthi said, “If you’re trying to do your research, do it with humility. Don’t go in and speak first.” Varian Johnson (author of The Great Greene Heist) offered this consideration: “Are you writing to exploit or enrich? Are you writing to expand the conversation or because you heard diversity is trendy?”

I spend a lot of time on this blog asking people to listen to me or explaining what people aren’t getting about my experience.  My day at AWP was a really valuable chance to stop talking and listen.  I don’t remember who said it, but this sentiment got a lot of nods: We are all on this journey.  No one has all the answers.  Let’s do what we can to keep this conversation going rather than shutting it down.

In the spirit of enriching the conversation, I offer these links:

Zoo Animal’s Return

Zoo Animal may have taken the last year and a half away from the spotlight, but Holly Hansen’s minimalist, poetic style has remained among my most-played music choices as it has for the last several years.  I was thrilled to hear that Zoo Animal was playing shows again, and even more excited to learn that it was going to be an early show with another local favorite, Fort Wilson Riot, opening.

 We were there with our seven-year-old in tow.  She was the one in the pirate costume.  I love it when we have opportunities to share our love of music with our daughter, even if it did mean that my view of Zoo Animal’s set left something to be desired.  Even from a distance, it was a powerful performance.


Later this month, you can hear Zoo Animal get Loud at the Library in St. Paul.  I love it when my favorite musicians play at my favorite places.  :)

  • Read more about Zoo Animal on this blog here and here or see my photos of the show here.
  • Listen to their latest releases here.
  • Watch a documentary about Holly Hansen and her songwriting here.

My Day at School

I spent most of Monday in what felt like a sea of first graders.  I was at my daughter’s school for Parent Involvement Day, and as usual there were questions everywhere I turned.  I don’t exactly blend in.

In the lunch line, a little girl asked me if I was a pirate.  The look in her eyes and the tone of her voice told me she meant it nicely.  “I’m not,” I said with a smile. “But it looks like it, doesn’t it?  My hook is even cooler than a pirate’s though.  It opens up!”  She seemed suitably impressed.

Later one of the boys and I discussed some potential additions to my prosthetic arm after I’d explained to him how it worked.  He thought extendo-arm feature would be cool.  Super strength too.  I told him I hoped he would be the one to invent a prosthetic arm with super strength when he grew up.  He looked thoughtful as he said, “Yeah, I probably will.”

But it wasn’t all adorable. How is one supposed to respond to the child who repeatedly says, “You are scary.”? I still don’t know.  It would have been different if this child had seemed afraid, but he only seemed interested in drawing negative attention to me. There are only so many ways I can think of to say “I know I look different, but I’m really just like you.”  And some people won’t hear that message no matter how I say it.


The good news is that I’m not the only one saying it.

When I first read Wonder by R.J. Palacio, I wanted every kid I knew to read it.  It said what I’d been trying to say for years.  Auggie says in the book: “The only reason I’m not ordinary is that no one sees me that way.”  If you haven’t read it yet, give it a chance.  It may be message-driven (or what some have called “guidance counselor fiction“), but it’s a message to which I feel a strong connection.

jacobseyepatchI have mentioned Jacob’s Eye Patch on this blog before, but it bears mentioning again.  It is a great picture book for talking about differences.  I highly recommend it–and the activity kit–for it’s realistic look at curiosity and questions.  We always tell our kids not to mention anyone’s difference or ask any potentially embarrassing questions, but Jacob offers a “green light” to people who have questions about his eye patch.

My philosophy: When you can’t blend in, you might as well take questions.  It isn’t always comfortable.  But, as I often assure nervous parents whose children are about to ask me anything, I have heard it all, and I swear I’m not as scary as I look.

Walking on air

walkingonair“I don’t get it.  We’re just walking on floor.” My daughter’s initial reaction to the “Walking on Air” installation at the Walker Art Center last Saturday was quite literal.  I heard another little girl nearby echo the sentiment as we stood inside a hot air balloon being inflated by fans.

I looked around the room. “I don’t know. It doesn’t look like a regular room with a regular floor.  What does it look like to you?”  I suggested a new perspective, and a world opened up. In that moment, we were sliding on a rainbow right into a hot air balloon.  We jumped and jumped to get the balloon to fly, and when we needed to land, we had to be calm and slow.  We waltzed around the colorful cavern and practiced yoga poses until we landed safely.  It was quite an adventure.

I have to admit, it’s the sort of adventure I don’t have very often.  I believe in the importance of imaginative play, but I don’t usually want to participate.  I will do almost anything else first.  I will read a story, do a craft, or play a game–no matter how boring to me–with my daughter before pretending with her.  Frankly, it’s one of those guilty parenting confessions that I hesitate to admit because I do feel kind of terrible about my distaste for pretending. I am probably not going to suddenly change and become the sort of parent who plays house as a first choice, but I am grateful for the reminder that it doesn’t take much for a magical worlds to appear around you.  Really–the kid usually does most of the work. artis

Thank you to the Walker for creating a space for us to play.  We also enjoyed the exploration of what art is and isn’t in “The  Time Wanderers.”  We were inspired to continue talking about the idea with the book Art is… by Bob Raczka.  Because finding books to explore interesting ideas is something I can definitely say I am good at as a parent. ;)

It was a great day. You can see more photos from the day at the Walker on my photo blog and on the Walker’s blog.

Highlights from the Twin Cities Book Festival

It had been a few years since I had been to the Twin Cities Book Festival.  Once it moved to St. Paul, I let the distance (and my non-driving status) keep me home.  This year, I’m back behind the wheel of a car, so I thought I’d check out what I’d been missing.

I found a bigger and better book festival in the new location with something to interest book lovers of all ages.  I brought my six-year-old daughter, so we spent most of our time in the Children’s Pavilion.  From the moment we arrived, we were swept into the fun.  It started with meeting Bad Kitty, playing Moo! the game, and playing Legos.  From there it was one story, performance, or science demo after another.


The highlight for me was Lauren Stringer.  I have loved her illustrations for a long time, and a book she wrote and illustrated, Winter is the Warmest Season, is one of my favorite winter picture books.  Her latest book is Deer Dancer written by Mary Lyn Ray, and she turned the reading into a performance with a ballerina as the deer.  It really brought the book alive, and the kids in the audience loved to see the dancer up close.  Stringer also shared a bit about her illustration process by showing the journal/sketchbook she created as she worked on the book.  I loved that she advised readers to take note of the end pages.  They are there to set the mood of the book, she said.  In Deer Dancer the end pages should give you the sense of entering the forest.

IMG_0526.JPGIf I had to guess, I think my daughter would say her highlight was the Kitchen Pantry Science Lab.  I mean, there was a paper bag volcano, cornstarch goblin goo, and several other really cool experiments.  It was messy and full of surprises for the kids.  What more could you ask for?  Well, the book, I suppose.  My daughter declared we just had to buy the Kitchen Science Lab for Kids.  We can’t wait to get a copy and try some of the experiments at home.

I could go on.  It was a great day, full of great bookish fun.  You can see some of my pictures on my photo blog, but I highly recommend that you make sure to attend next year.  I know I will.



Our National Night Out

nno-masthead-logoYesterday was my first ever National Night Out Block Party.  The intersections were blocked off, and the neighbors had set up a couple of grills in the middle of the streets.  Kids were running around, and adults were milling with drinks in hand.  It turned out that we were the newbies among mostly long-time residents of our block, and we felt quite welcomed.  Here were the highlights for me:

  • I may have convinced a woman who lives across the street from me to give bus commuting a try.  Hey, if I can commute from Minneapolis to Burnsville on a bus, then anyone can, right?
  • When a neighbor expressed interest in putting a Little Free Library in front of her house, I enthusiastically agreed to help keep it stocked if she does it.  You all know that I will make good on that promise.  :)
  • I discovered another Unitarian-Universalist family on my block.  We chatted about our kids’ RE classes and about the why we chose UU.  Great to have that connection.

National Night Out started in 1984 as a crime prevention program aimed at creating the community camaraderie needed to enhance safety  for everyone.  One night isn’t going to solve all crime issues, but it certainly represents a beginning.  I was very happy to finally be able to be a part of that in our new home.

Want to keep the sense of community going?  Here are some links:

A Visit to Clifford’s World


Everyone knows Clifford the Big Red Dog.  He has been around for over 50 years–first as a very popular series of picture books and then as a television show.  Now he’s an interactive museum exhibit too.

This exhibit, designed by the Minnesota Children’s Museum, happens to be at my old library (the one I grew up going to) for the summer, and we stopped there briefly when we visited recently. My six-year-old could have played for hours in Clifford’s World just like she has in the Our World exhibit at the MN Children’s Museum.  She served us lunch at the restaurant (while I pointed out the sign that talked about teamwork) and delivered mail all around Birdwell Island (which gave me the opportunity to point out the other signs about being kind, playing fair, and more).

clifford1It’s hard not to like Clifford.  He always has good intentions even if things don’t always go right the first time.  He might be a lot bigger than the preschoolers who love him, but he’s not so different from them.

The exhibit will be back in Minnesota in September at the Rochester location of the MN Children’s Museum and in the Twin Cities in October.  It’s well worth your time if you have a young Clifford fan in your family who would enjoy exploring Birdwell Island and seeing a nine foot tall Clifford statue up close.

My Summer Wonders

We ushered in our summer with a busy weekend that was full of sun.  After several days (weeks?) of rain, it was much needed sunshine–at least, it was much needed by me.

IMG_2009IMG_2012 IMG_2014We celebrated the solstice on Friday evening at our Unitarian-Univeralist church, caught a puppet show on Saturday morning at the library (highly recommend catching one of the many performances of Molly and the Magic Boot this summer; my daughter is still singing the “hootenanny” song–though perhaps that’s not a selling point. . .), and joined ten thousand other music fans for Rock the Garden on Saturday night.

While Matt and Kim stole the show for me (even though I was not previously familiar with them), Best Coast deserves a mention for singing “Why would you live anywhere else?”  Of course, they were referencing California, but on the first day of a Minnesota summer, there is no better place to be.  Why would you live anywhere else right now?

Our summer has just begun, of course.  In the weeks to come we will be camping, swimming, grilling, and more.  What will your summer bring?

If you need some inspiration, try a picture book: Summer Wonders by Bob Raczka is a good place to start. It celebrates summer with simplicity and ice pops.  What more could you want?



Perhaps at the end of the summer we will be able to make our own book of wonders.