Horse Pinata

Horse Pinata

My daughter wanted a horse piñata* for her party, and I decided I wasn’t spending $25 for a tiny unfilled horse-shaped one from Party City. I thought I was making things simple by making a balloon-shaped pinata with a horse on it, but of course it all ended up taking a lot more effort than I realized.

Still, though, I loved the thing while it lasted. I started with the instructions here, but somewhere along the way I went off script and in the end, the mechanics didn’t really work. It was too heavy, and there was no way to hang it, so I wedged it into the v-shaped crux of our neighbor’s tree trunk. It worked, what can I say?

Drawing the horse on the balloon shape turned out to be the hardest part since I couldn’t see the whole animal at once and had to keep rolling it back and forth to look at the different parts. I followed the drawing guidelines in Sachiko Umoto’s Let’s Draw Cute Animals. Such a fun drawing book, btw, for kids or adults.

Speaking of drawing and painting, my new neighbor came over for the party with all her polish paraphernalia and painted nails for any of the girls who wanted it. Wow! There was also a round of Pass-the-Parcel and Tap-the-Pot. Lots o’ prizes.

My boy (6) has recently gotten turned on to reading via sister’s recommendation of early reader versions of The Boxcar Children. Mind you, not fabulous literature, but boy is it fun to see those “I love this book!” sparks fly. I always loved the Boxcar children myself.

Proud moment: he read while walking home from school. No injuries—I was right there with him and it was really just a moment until he finished the book he’d already started. I just ordered him several used Boxcar easy readers as an end-of-the-school-year present. And I’ll figure out some version of a similar gift for my daughter. We go to the public library a lot in the summer, but it’s always handy to have a large stash of used paperbacks for travels. Goodwill and the used bookstore are great for that. Anything to keep them feeling excited about reading, really. The school is doing a book exchange, too, so I’m hoping especially Little Miss will trade out some of her old fairy books or whatnot for some new-to-her stuff.

I’m still enjoying Gary Shteyngart’s Little Failure and just bought a copy of The Divorce Papers, which I’ve been told is in the vein of Where’d You Go, Bernadette? (which I love love loved). What’s on your summer reading list?

*Sorry, folks, neither WordPress nor my keyboard will let me type a proper ñ in my title text box.

 

 

 

Why May Is Like December

Tree Costume

Well hello again! I’m sorry I’ve been away so long. It’s been a very busy month with not much promise of getting less busy anytime soon. Is it the same for you? I’m betting yes.

I’ve decided that the end of April through May is really just December all over again, with better weather. All the end-of-year events, school testing, gift-buying obligations opportunities, etc. etc. etc. General nuttiness. With that in mind, I’m trying to give myself permission to buy some ready-to-eat meals, to not bargain-shop every last little thing, to split infinitives, and to volunteer at the school only sometimes and not for every single event.

That said, I do love the weather, the flowers coming up, the outdoor meals, and time with extended family. Our daughter also (10) had her theatrical debut in a full-length play at our church, which was so, so fun to see. My most recent sewing project was tree costumes for the play. In the rush I forgot to take a photo of the finished costumes, but the photo above gives you an idea of the look.

Meanwhile, I’ve been very serious about moving forward my nonfiction book and my YA novel. Nose still to grindstone! Both are going well, but I’ve got a few more goals to reach before school lets out. Wish me luck.

Currently reading Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart. Such an interesting and funny read with a quirky, wry voice that I love. It’s a memoir detailing the author’s move from the Soviet Union to the U.S. in 1978, when he was a child. Thanks, Christina, for the loan!

Also, listening to Pop Culture Happy Hour podcasts and now All Songs Considered and Tiny Desk Concerts.

If you’re a kidlit person, maybe you followed the uproar over the lack of diversity at BookCon and the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign that followed on Twitter and Tumblr. One of the coolest things to come out of it was a lot of buzz for a forthcoming book by Varian Johnson, The Great Greene Heist. Billed as Ocean’s Eleven meets middle grade, it sounds like such a fun read and *bonus* has a diverse cast of characters. So excited for Varian, who is a fellow Florence, SC native (though we’ve never met in person, only virtually). I’ve read one of his previous books (My Life as a Rhombus) and was very impressed. If you want to diversify your shelves, join the #greatgreenechallenge and pre-order Varian’s book from your local bookstore.

Hope to see you here again soon before long.

 

 

 

Marco Polo and the Explorer Book

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At the recommendation of a friend (thanks, Catherine!) I bought Into the Unknown: How Great Explorers Found Their Way by Land, Sea, and Air for my six-year-old boy for Christmas. It’s a beauty of a book, written by Stewart Ross and illustrated by Stephen Biesty (of Incredible Cross-Sections fame). Each chapter follows a different explorer and includes a gorgeous fold out map and diagram of the explorer’s route and travel style.

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 I highly, highly recommend it. Reading it straight through from beginning to end isn’t something my son is ready for (the text is geared toward a slightly older audience), but he likes to pick a small section for me to read at a time, and he always chooses a fold-out to study. He wants to read every label for all the parts (not unlike his fascination with Richard Scarry’s books).

I love that feeling of just sort of soaking in the book, meandering through and getting to know it bit by bit, landing on favorite parts and coming back to them again and again on a nonlinear journey. It reminds me of my own love for the Oxford University Press story collections as a kid. Beautifully illustrated by Victor Ambrus, they were these great kid-friendly versions of the Canterbury Tales, the great ballets, and King Arthur’s tales, among others. Sadly, they look to be out of print now, but I think I’ll have to chase down some copies to have as our own. Click here for a few cover images from Victor Ambrus’s website.

I didn’t understand everything about those tales at the time, but when I re-encountered them later in school, it was thrilling to realize I already had a framework in place. The stories were familiar and felt like they were already mine. I’m always hoping to give my kids some experiences like that, and I hope Into the Unknown will be one of them.

The elementary school had its book character parade last week, and my son wanted to dress like Marco Polo. We didn’t find a picture of him in the book, but we found an 18th century illustration online:

 We found a silk jacket at the thrift store (100% real! reversible!), along with a faux fur shrug we could use for the hat. I made the hat (two U-shaped pieces sewn along the curve) from an old T-shirt with a double-thickness of sweatshirt underneath for body. I tacked the fur band around the bottom.

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Marco Polo costume

Since I’m working on a nonfiction children’s book myself, I have a new appreciation for just how much research goes into something like this. I can’t imagine how long it must’ve taken Mr. Ross and Mr. Biesty to create this handsome book. Bravo!

Speaking of nonfiction for children, I just ordered a couple from my favorite local indie, Park Road Books. Amy Karol of angry chicken recommended two comic-type books, one about the presidents and another about the Greek myths: Amazing Greek Myths of Wonder and Blunder, and Where Do Presidents Come From? They sounded so good that I called up Park Road right away. I’ll be there tonight for the spring author line up, sponsored by the local chapter of the Women’s National Book Association.

For more posts about books, click here. For more posts about costumes, click here. (Boy! I seem to make/ assemble a lot!)

P.S. Family: I’d like to get this book (Into the Unknown) for the oldest nephews, so I’m calling dibs now. Sorry!

Kids’ Books for Gifting

Kids' Books

I’m a little late with this list, but there’s still some time to shop for Christmas, if not Thanksgivvukah.

Our family reads a lot. I tried to come up with a list of kids’ books we love that you might not have heard of. These have all been extensively road-tested.

The first two are novels for elementary-age kids. In this age of Harry Potter, my daughter is not a big fantasy fan. Not sure why, but realistic fiction is her bag. Maybe that’s because it’s what her mom writes. Haha!

First up is The Year of the Dog, the first in a series of three (I think, unless there’s a new one?) about a Chinese-American girl and her friends and family. I love these, and was so happy my daughter did, too. In fact, she re-reads them often. I’d say they’re for ages 7 and up, most likely. They’re written by Newbery honor winner Grace Lin. (BTW, Ms. Lin used to work in Harvard Square with my good friend Jamie. So there! I’m tangentially famous).

Summer of the Wolves is the first in a series written by my friend Lisa Williams Kline. The books follow two newly-minted stepsisters in their adventures together, and my daughter doesn’t know it yet, but she’s getting two more of them for Christmas. She has read and re-read the ones she already owns. If you live here in Charlotte, you can get   Lisa’s books (usually signed ones) at Park Road Books.

Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell is a picture book biography of Jane Goodall. I love a good picture book bio, and this one has all the ingredients of a winner: great illustrations, engaging text (but brief enough for small kids) and real-life snippets that kids can really relate to. My six-year-old has often asked for this one over the last year.

If I Built a Car by Chris Van Dusen is the first book my son tried to memorize, he loved it so much. It’s full of zany flights of fancy and imaginary gadgetry, which is perfect for someone who likes machinery, as my boy does.

Tumble Me Tumbily is excellent for toddlers, and I can honestly say it holds up after nightly readings for a looong period of time. This was my son’s first favorite book, from the time he was one.

Finally, The Buffalo are Back by the great Jean Craighead George (she of Julie of the Wolves and My Side of the Mountain fame) is the true story of buffalo in America. It gets very sad, but there’s a hopeful ending. It totally made me want to go out west to see buffalo in the wild. The illustrations are lovely.

For more recommendations, you can check out some kids’ craft books we love in this post.

If you value bookstores and want them to stick around, please consider buying from your local shop, or ordering them from an independent retailer.

And by the way, my own books are available at Park Road Books in Charlotte, as well as online! Have a great weekend.

What’s On the Nightstand

Stack of Books

Here’s what I’ve been reading lately:

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling of The Office and The Mindy Project fame

Um, love her. A fun, quick read.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

This one is going slowly for me (and the foot-binding accounts are hard to stomach) but it’s a vivid window onto a fascinating world: 19th-century China. I’m also intrigued by the idea of a novel about a friendship.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

This is an old favorite I’m reading to the kids. What could be more exciting than running away to live in the Metropolitan Museum?

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen

Laughed a lot reading this memoir.

The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap by Wendy Welch

Nonfiction. A little gem about the at-times hilarious ups and downs of opening a used bookstore in a small town. Felt like I was having tea with a friend.

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

I’d been meaning to read this nonfiction for a long time (I read The Tipping Point  in the last year or so). Fascinating look into our assumptions about what leads to success.

Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking by Kelli and Peter Bronski

I confess I haven’t cooked anything from this one yet, but it’s a lovely book, and I’m intrigued to try, especially recipes involving their special flour blend.

In other news, I’ve been watching Game of Thrones (love that Tyrion!!) and have to try this Top of the Lake I’m hearing about. Also, recently learned that Fashion Star features someone from my hometown, so, I’ve got to catch up on that. What about you? Read anything great lately? Watching anything that shouldn’t be missed?

Common Core and the World of Children’s Books

And now a break from regular programming to bring you an interview about the changing school library market.

I met Jessica Robison at the recent Carolinas SCBWI conference and was fascinated to hear what she had to say about Common Core Curriciulum. I hope you’ll be fascinated, too.

Jessica is a National Board Certified Teacher who teaches eleventh grade English and AP English Language. She’s also a member of the Common Core Curriculum Implementation Team in Richland School District One in South Carolina. “My passions,” she says, “are people, reading, and writing, so English teaching suits me.”

Jessica, we’ve been hearing “Common Core” a lot. What does it mean?

The Common Core standards have been adopted by 45 states in the US, and provide educators, students, and parents with clear, specific goals for every grade level in the areas of Math and Language Arts. Visit this website for more information: http://www.corestandards.org/

What’s the origin of Common Core, and what’s the goal?

For as long as I can remember, college professors and employers have complained that students are not prepared for college or the workforce. Their writing is not up to par, for example, or they are unable to comprehend college-level texts. As educators, our main job is to prepare students for their future, so we’ve known for quite awhile that something had to change in our schools to give our students the skills they need.

     The Common Core standards are based on the actual needs of our students instead of what teachers and state stakeholders think they need.  Our past state standards started with the writers asking what kids should be able to do in kindergarten, and planned forward. Without the focus on the end goal, there was less urgency at the early and middle grades. The Common Core’s use of backwards design makes it more rigorous in its expectations on students from elementary to high school, and I believe it is more in tune with what students will be expected to do after high school.
     The Common Core starts with the end in mind. Here’s what I mean: the creators of the CCSS (Common Core State Standards) asked this question: “What do students need to know and do when they graduate from high school?” They compiled answers from the community, colleges, and other stakeholders. Then, they worked backwards. “Ok,” they said, “then these reading and writing standards should be the standards for twelfth grade.  And what do students need to be able to do by the tenth grade?” Then they planned tenth grade, and so on. After comprehensive study and backwards planning, the team put together the CCSS.
What will change in the reading requirements for different grade levels?
From what I understand, educators will be putting more emphasis on re-reading and checking for deeper understanding. There will be less focus on reading a text, doing a worksheet with questions, and moving on.  Also, the ELA (English Language Arts) classroom will be flooded with nonfiction, and teachers will be encouraging students to read books appropriate for their reading level.
What do you think teachers and librarians will be looking for in the years to come?
Personally, I am on a quest for interesting nonfiction, as our focus shifts in that direction. I’ve recently gotten several good recommendations, but in the words of the famous meme, “I WANT MOAR!”
What are teachers around you saying about Common Core and the way it will affect how they teach reading/ writing/ literature?
Since I work with an amazing group of motivated educators, we are excited. Bring it on!  Once Common Core is implemented, we’ll see more student-driven discussions, with higher level thinking.  I think students will be reading harder books. I think they will get more frustrated, but will learn how to work through their frustration, which is another skill they will need in the real world.
 
Thanks so much for sharing, Jessica! I’ve been reading a bit of back and forth about Common Core. Here’s a recent editorial in the Washington Post, and here’s a post from a blog by a group of nonfiction lovers.
Personally, I think it will be really interesting to see where Common Core takes children, educators, and writers. I hope fiction won’t be lost in the shuffle, but there are lots of wonderful nonfiction texts that I hope will get new mileage in the classroom.
What do you think?

What’s on the Nightstand

Hey! Just thought I’d share a little of what I’ve been reading/ plan to read.

From the top, Writers I’ve Met and Liked is a blank journal given to me by my friend Bettina. It makes me happy just to look at it. But at the same time sad to think how far away she is now (in Germany).

I picked up A Single Shard by Newbery winner Linda Sue Park when I was in Montpelier for the Vermont College alumni mini-residency (which was great, BTW). Ms. Park was the keynote speaker, and let me tell you, this is the woman I want to be when I grow up. She is a serious writer. Such a wordcrafter. She’s also a gifted teacher, a  downright cool person, and has a big, kind heart. I was totally inspired. This copy is signed by LSP herself, as is The Kite Fighters.

Up next is Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, lent to me by my eight-year-old. I decided to re-read (or in some cases read for the first time) the whole series after enjoying Little House On the Prairie so much with the family. Seriously, the woman has got some mad skilz. There’s a reason these books have survived. I’m loving the full-color illustrations in this edition—-go ahead and sue me, purists!

Yes, I realize Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine, about the nature of creativity, has since been recalled, but I’m finishing it anyway since I was already halfway through when I found out. More on that another time. Purchased at lovely Bayswater Books in Center Harbor, New Hampshire.

Also from Bayswater Books is Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby, an old friend from Vermont College.  Oh, the cover is so delicious. Can’t wait to read it.

Then Nueva Salsa from the library. Sadly, I didn’t have a chance to try any of them out, but I’m going to check it out again. Some very interesting combos.

Then Vintage Craft Workshop, a gift from my friend Jamie. I especially loved reading the histories of Aleene’s Tacky Glue and Mod Podge.

Slipcovers—I flirted briefly with the idea of trying to silpcover an old chair, then decided it was just too big a project and swapped the chair instead. Again from the library. It’s a little dated, but the technical info and photos are solid. Appears to be out of print.

Handmade Home, also from the library. Can you tell how much I’m enjoying having access to a full-fledged English-language library? This is a beautiful, beautiful book, and during those awful days when our stuff arrived and the house was a fruitbasket turnover, I’d look at these pages and dream of such cozy, inviting spaces. Oh the handmade wool blankets! The European cottages! The made-from-scratch furniture!

Also enjoyed living vicariously through the pages of Design * Sponge at Home, not pictured.

And lastly, also from the library, Reinvention by blogger Maya Donenfeld of mayamade. A book after my own heart, about making new things out of thrifted/ recycled fibers. I’ll never look at a wool blanket or suit the same way again.

Speaking of fibers, I’m currently making a throw blanket out of some inherited silk. Yeah, gettin’ fancy.

Also, watching some great new shows: Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Veep and Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom.

Have you read anything good lately? Watched anything that’s worth seeing? Do share.

What’s On My Night Stand

What are you reading these days? I like to keep a little stack by the bed. And in the kitchen. And by the couch… and pretty much everywhere. Ever read If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler? Pretty much like the character described there.

I haven’t converted to an e-reader yet. I’m not anti-digital but I do so love the physical presence of a book. I trained in print-making, after all. I’m pretty much addicted to paper.

I ordered a few things recommended by friends. The Island at the Center of the World I stole from my husband’s night stand. That would be the absolute best way of finding new books.

Although now he’s got a kindle, and because there’s no cover I can never figure out what he’s reading. So every night I have to ask him.

Downton Abbey is of course a TV series, not a book. It’s a British show that’s supposed to be awesome, done by the same guy (Julian Fellowes) who did the movie Gosford Park.

I seem to be into British TV right now. We’ve been watching Doc Martin.

Meanwhile, I’ve been tackling a revision of my work in progress, a young adult novel. I found out about the shrunken manuscript technique here and can’t wait to dig into that. Also using the spreadsheet technique (from the same website) and reading Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. It’s nice to have some new approaches to the process.

A shout out to all the SCBWI folks who attended the talk in Berlin on Saturday. It was great to meet you all! What amazing weather we had, as we sat outside all afternoon and evening chatting about books. If you’re a writer or illustrator (or aspiring one) living in Germany or Austria, join us at our website here. You can also find us on facebook at Children’s Writers and Illustrators—-Germany. I’d love to see some more events and gatherings here in Northern Germany, so say “hi”  if you live up this way.

Have a great weekend!

New Patchwork/ Current Reads

I know, I don’t need to be starting yet another patchwork project, but they kind of multiply when you turn your back.

You haven’t heard much from me this week for two reasons:

1) I’m buckling down on my novel and trying to minimize distractions. Ouch! It’s tough. I’m pretty distractable.

2) During craft time I’ve been chipping away at several projects but don’t have much interesting to show just now.

I finally finished Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and have just started her latest novel, The Lacuna. I had heard bits about it several times but somehow until now missed (I guess I wasn’t really listening) that it takes place in Mexico and involves Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Trotsky.

You had me at Mexico. Add Frida, Diego, and Trotsky delivered by the great Kingsolver and I’m totally committed. I’ve been a  Frida fan since before she was cool (1994-ish?) and have been to her house  and Diego’s murals in Mexico City. Notice how I’m on a first-name basis with them?  Though oddly, I never saw the Selma Hayek movie. I suppose I should try it.

Meanwhile  re-reading Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life. Oh I love this book. It’s read-aloud worthy and really a great companion when you’re slogging through manuscript revisions and expansions.

The fabric strips above are for my daughter’s patchwork duvet cover. I want it to be a sister piece to my son’s. You know, related, but not the same exact looks and personality. I’m using some of the same fabrics as I did in his plus some other scraps and a couple of new florals specifically requested by my daughter. She likes prints, my girl. I wanted to add white but she is adamant that it be full color. Okay, okay.

Little Miss is interested in horses right now so I am looking for a decent read-aloud chapter book about horses. We’re reading Misty of Chincoteague, which I had never read. It has its merits, and she seems to like it, but yow! it really bothers me that the little girl happily stays home wearing a dress while the boy gets to do all the horse-wrangling. I know it’s old, but still. She could at least want to join him.

If you know any good horse books that wouldn’t kill me to read aloud, and possibly involve girl characters who are allowed to do anything, please suggest away. I’m all about reader choice, but when it comes to glittery covers and magic ponies I would rather she read those to herself.

Have a great weekend!

The Books Are In!

After a detour to NC, my author copies arrived in Germany this week. Yay!  The best part was having my kids insist that they each had to have their own copy, then demanding that I read it to them twice.

For more information about Slowpoke, click my newly updated website (thanks to the talented Cheryl Nathan).

I’m taking a bit of a blog break for the rest of the month. See you in August.