Book Review: Alas, Babylon

Alas, Babylon piqued my interest with an annotation that held promise of a “stunning” survival story after a nuclear attack.  I am not too proud to admit my interest in such stories, so I quickly procured a copy from my local library.

The title refers to a code agreed upon by two brothers in case of an end-of-the-world type of emergency.  It was the 1960’s, after all.   Our main character, Randy, isn’t given much time to prepare for the looming apocalypse but he has more time than most.  His home (and supplies) quickly become a refuge for family and friends in need, and we watch Randy slowly turn from failed politician with an alcohol problem to community leader and survivalist.

I can’t imagine it’s too realistic for a small area in Florida to be completely unaffected by radiation, but  I didn’t really expect post-apocalyptic fiction published in 1959 to be particularly realistic.  I also wasn’t expecting much in the way of character development.  With those expectations set aside, I can say that I was satisfied with the story.  Fascinated, even, with certain aspects of the how the group managed to survive and what their world was like after such a catastrophe.

Readers who liked Life As We Knew It who want more but aren’t quite ready for something quite as heavy as The Road (full disclosure: I was not quite ready for The Road) will probably like Alas, Babylon.  There was nothing particularly “stunning” about it, but it was a decent survival story that shows its age in a somewhat charming sort of way (if you will).

Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank
Harper Perennial Modern Classics (2005)
Originally published 1959
More info: Wikipedia, Reading Group Guides
Read More: Dystopian Futures

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Review: Devil’s Paintbox

Aiden and Maddy have been fighting to survive on their own since their parents and siblings died. Most of their neighbors have moved on due to the harsh conditions in the Midwest in 1865. The two have stuck together, worked hard, and kept themselves alive. Barely. The kids take the first opportunity out of there, which turns out to be a wagon train bound for Seattle. The two promise to work in a logging camp as their ticket out of lonely survival living.

Like any good saga, the story covers a lot of ground. It is easy to lose yourself in the richness of the journey. I must admit that I was much more keyed into the cross country journey portion of the book over the life in the logging camp portion. Interesting subplots about small pox and vaccines tie the parts of the story together. It doesn’t always seem realistic, but the details make it clear that a lot of research went into getting the historical back drop just right. Fans of historical fiction, whether teens for not, will likely appreciate that. Elements of survival and adventure may draw in some readers, and patient readers will see this saga to its drawn out conclusion.   I was glued to the page for most of the book and found myself experiencing the whole range of emotions as the action in the book brought hope and despair again and again. I was fascinated by the details (including the author’s note), and some readers will likely be just as drawn in as I was.

The Devil’s Paintbox by Victoria McKernan
Knopf (January 2009)
Honors: Publisher’s Weekly Starred Review, School Library Journal Starred Review
Blog Reviews: Becky’s Book Reviews, Book Talk, Inkweaver Review, Flamingnet Young Adult Book Blog
Read More: Teen Historical Fiction

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Hello, hello, hello fish

My family in the aquarium tunnel
My husband and daughter at the aquarium

Can you imagine being face to face with a shark? Here is my husband and daughter 14 feet under water with sharks swimming all around them. It was Ladybug’s first time at an aquarium, and Underwater Adventures is a pretty intense fish tank. Various creatures swam over our heads, and my little one stared wide-eyed at it all. This was a long way from  Lucy Cousins’ Hooray for Fish! We read that board book so many times that it fell apart before she turned two.  Those fish were bright and colorful.  They rhymed or alliterated.  It was pure toddler fun.  This tank was full of the real deal.  Sharks.  Stingrays.  Turtles. Octopus.  I was worried that my toddler might be scared.  But she wasn’t a bit afraid.  More like fascinated.  It was even better when we got to the Rainbow Reef, where the colorful fish live in a coral reef.  She also spent a good bit of time watching the seahorses in the new Seahorse Kingdom.  But my favorite part was the touch pool.

In the tide pool

Hands on!

We’re big Eric Carle fans here, and I think Ladybug will have a new appreciation for Mister Seahorse and A House for Hermit Crab now that she has seen these creatures up close!   I started a running list of titles related to ocean life and aquariums, and I’d love more suggestions–especially toddler titles.

Eating, sleeping, and toddlers. Ugh.

Nutrition and sleep.

We could have asked questions all night, but we had a mere two hours to grill the pediatrician who spoke at the Parent Education Night at my daughter’s preschool tonight. Hands shot up as soon as she asked for questions. I found myself nodding as other moms and dads asked about dealing with night wakings, how to establish bedtime routines, healthy meals, and getting kids to eat them. The doctor’s answers were quite helpful, but, to be honest, the highlight of the evening for me was the knowledge that other parents have the same issues I have. We’re new to the preschool, and it feels so good to finally have a community of parents around us.

We spent the bulk of the conversation on sleep. The doctor spoke about the importance of routine, which wasn’t new to any of us. But she pointed out that the purpose of the bedtime routine, in part, is to help the kids wind down from activity to sleep gradually. She recommended gradually dimming the lights as it gets closer to bedtime as a visual cue. The more senses involved the better, she said.

Then we turned the conversation to food. We segued in to the new topic by discussing how what we eat affects our energy level and the quality of our sleep. “Don’t eat too close to bedtime” is pretty common knowledge, but with kids who go to bed at 7:30 or 8pm, that can be more of a challenge. She cautioned us to watch the kids’ sugar intake and to make sure they get enough protein. If our kids are craving starches, which, lets face it, most kids do, they likely aren’t getting enough protein.

We ran out of time before we could get much further in the discussion, but I suspect that many of the parents in the audience would appreciate Feeding Baby Green by Alan Greene. I reviewed it for Library Journal some time ago, and, in addition to the information on eco-friendly food, it also had some very helpful tips for engaging toddlers and preschoolers with healthy food. If that goes well, Annabel Karmel’s The Healthy Baby Meal Planner: Mom-Tested, Child-Approved Recipes for Your Baby and Toddler would be a great next step. I’ve made a few of the recipes in this book with excellent results. And if it doesn’t work, there’s always Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food. I’ve yet to try any recipes from this one, but I have my eye on a recipe for sloppy joes that includes pureed squash. Sounds good to me!

Check out the list of parenting books on my wiki for more resources. The list isn’t comprehensive by any means. But it’s growing regularly as I read and review books.

*Amazon affiliate. I receive a percentage of the purchase price on any purchases made from links on this blog.

Book Review: Red Sings From the Treetops

Colors come alive in ways you wouldn’t expect with the poetry of Joyce Sidman and the art of of Pamela Zagarenski in this magical picture book.  I must admit I love Joyce Sidman’s books and Zagarenki’s art is just the sort that I would love, so I was sure I was going to love this book even before I picked it up.

I loved the way this book pulled me into the details.  It reminded me to notice the things that I am often too busy to see.  It was a lovely invitation to see each season as something new to explore.  I can’t recommend it enough.

Red Sings From the Treetops by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski
Houghton Mifflin (April 2009)
Audience: Anyone who loves poetry, but especially those in Kindergarten through second grade.

Reviewed from library copy

Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate. I receive a percentage of the purchase price on any purchases made from links on this blog.

Getting back to blogging

I learned my lesson.

I had been blogging at since 2005 or so, and I loved it.  I’m not sure I ever had too many readers, but I really enjoyed it nonetheless.  Until this past year.  Life got really busy, and the blog began to feel like a chore rather than a fun hobby it had been for so long.  So when a technical glitch gave me the excuse I needed to put it on the back burner, I must admit I was relieved.

I kept telling myself I would fix it.  For months I would plan to sit down and reinstall, so I could get back to blogging.  Only when  I finally got around to it (nearly nine months later?), it was gone.  Years of blogging gone.

I could be mad about it, but I’ve decided to focus on the future.  I’m making things simpler, and focusing on what I used to love the most: just writing.  I’m also hoping to change things up a little bit.  The blogs I like to read the most are the ones that put things in context.  They bring the subject alive.  I don’t want to just post book reviews.  I want to get to the next level.

So, here goes!  Proper Noun Blog starting over!