Friday, February 25, 2011

Dying to Share

I've been trying to avoid children book reviews. This was based off of reader comments when I was asking for blog feedback.

But the other day my sister-in-law said she missed them, and I have been missing them too. I will still hold back--unless I hear otherwise from all of you.

Since this week has been a salute to kids and books, I thought it would be fitting to end with some of my reading favorites of late.

1. I've been loving this book ever since my son got it for Christmas. The Jesus Storybook Bible is amazing! I've been brought to tears on many occasions reading this Bible storybook to my sons at night. The visuals are gorgeous and captivate a child's imagination. The stories are written with high-energy and high-interest. The writer, Sally Lloyd-Jones feels divinely inspired as you read her narratives. We have just read through the Old Testament. Last night my oldest started a monologue all about Moses and the Israelites and the Egyptians. I didn't even know he knew the word Israelites. He had some interesting thoughts and observations about what if the Egyptians and Israelites had changed places and the Pharaoh had to be a slave, then maybe he wouldn't have chased after the Israelites on those fast horses. Then his monologue turned to David and Goliath and later Daniel. From the descriptions he was using I knew he was retelling all the stories from this picture Bible. He ended with, "And next we get to read the New Testament! I'm so excited!"

2. The Rooster Prince of Brestov is a famous Yiddish folktale. First I love folktales, love the morals and lessons they teach young readers. Here is the traditional lesson of this folktale as interpreted by Rebbe Nachman, "For a teacher to raise his student to the heights of spiritual ecstasy, that teacher must approach the student at the student's own level, no matter how low." But also there is the author's view (Ann Redisch Stampler) of the embedded modern-day lesson, "I see the rooster prince tale as a coming-of-age story that explores, with great humor and tenderness, the question of how to nurture a child so he or she will grow up to become a good person. In the story a confused and alienated boy becomes a man by developing true compassion and practicing good deeds.....His stature as a prince suggest that all children, no matter how privileged, must go through this developmental process in order to become kings and queens---adults with moral authority in their families and communities."

So, why did my boys love this book? Well, a red-headed prince decides he is a rooster. And to fully become this rooster, he strips himself to the buff! He walks around and eats corn off the floor. An old, wise man joins him. The pictures are amusing and funny, but the teacher (old man) is gentle and patient as he returns the rooster back to his parents as a worthy prince.

3. 1001 Things to Spot Long Ago is my last recommendation. This is an interactive book that helps teach history and time to young children. Each page is a visual mastery with items to spot and find. The first historical era is "At the market" Mesopotamia, 4000 years ago. One task was finding 10 necklaces. At, "A castle feast" England, 600 years ago my boys had to search for 10 silver goblets. The most recent was "The drive-in movies" North America, 45 years ago. One of the many hunts was for 9 boxes of popcorn.

This is one of those books that your children can look at on their own. I love catching my sons sitting on the couch together spotting and finding items and getting a taste for time and culture, society and they change and evolve with time.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Raising Confident Readers

If you read my last post, then you know why I checked out Raising Confident Readers by Dr. J. Richard Gentry, at the library.

I haven't read through it yet, but have skimmed it and am very excited to share with you my review of this informative book on be posted in the near future.

In the "Acknowledgment" Gentry states that his mother was his first reading teacher.

Mine too. No, she didn't sit me down and have me work through phonics charts, although she was capable of this since she taught 2nd grade beginning the year Kennedy was shot and ending the year of 9/11. No, my mother showed me a love of reading and a love of books.

She praised me when I read aloud with expression. She took me to summer reading programs and cheered me on in summer reading contests. She told us that we could stay up late, reading. We had bookshelves filled with children's literature.

Most importantly she read to herself. She always had a book by her side. When she took us swimming down at the river she read on the bank. When the days weren't sunny enough to read outside, she sat in her green chair: tea in hand, book on lap.

Even when we were old enough to read books to ourselves, she read to us. My sister and I sat on either side, listening. These were good times from my grade school summers.

What about you? Who was your first reading teacher? What and who made you love to read?

(If you missed my first post about reading, check it out.)

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Little Opininated About Books (Warning, this gets random.)

So I have to admit, I was suckered in. I was almost like one of those parents who gets a bumper sticker that says something about their child being an honor student. You see, my son got bumped up to a 1st grade reading group, one of only two kinders to do so. We, me, celebrate literature in our family. He's been a lover of books at a young age, hence the slight gloat!

My husband and I keep anticipating the day when he will read and be devoured by his reading. Things were looking promising. Recently, he wrote in class that he was an expert in reading. He asked me, "Why am I just so good at reading!?" He was feeling good and seemed to be loving it.

Then it all stopped. Instead of relishing his times of reading with me in the evenings, he bristled at them. There was a noticeable change. He was still glad about the move to 1st grade reading, but something happened. I decided to check it out.

I observed and took part in his reading group today. The school is using Reading Mastery, a new adopted curriculum with the test score data any district would want to bet their curriculum money on. And while I observed some great reading strategies in the program, there were a few things that concerned me.

1. Where was the love and passion? The stories and sentences the kids were reading were so dry. I found myself struggling to focus and pay attention.

2. Because it is very rote and drill based, behavior issues were creeping up everywhere, especially in little kinder boys' wiggly bodies.

3. There were wasted moments. While students were taking turns reading lists of words, totally with no context, other kids had to sit and wait. And so they zoned. I would too. Actually that isn't all bad. I understand that happens when you have such large groups of students reading together. This is not the school's fault really.

4. It hit me. My son was showing the same body language he had been showing to me for the last few weeks. He was not engaged. This was not fun. And I happen to think reading is one of the easiest things to make fun.

5. One thing I do know, is that RM was first developed at the UofO for special ed students. I can see why. But is this the best tool for students who are eager learners, who would thrive under a more creative and literature based approach to reading? There must be a balance.

6. Luckily my child's teacher supplements the reading in the afternoon with the old curriculum which is filled with wonderful stories that should motivate most children to read. (And it does. He brought home one of these books and we read it together. He laughed all the way through and kept looking at me to see if I was getting all the jokes.)

7. I'm going to have a meeting to talk to the principal about my concerns. I don't want to get rid of the program. I just want to make sure my child is motivated by school to become a life-long-learner. I want his passion for reading back.


(I talked to the reading mastery specialists at the school, my meeting with the principal was canceled due to illness. Things are looking up.)

A. Reading Mastering is just though the 2nd grade. Once kids work their way through all the levels they are free from RM! So, once my son gets though the 2nd grade, which I anticipate happening sometime next year, he gets to do other reading and other projects. There is currently a small group of 2nd graders who are working on research projects together and reading together because they tested out of the RM levels. I like this. This excites me! I would love it even more, if they read with these children out of fun literary books. I told her my "dream."

B. Teaching decisions are being driven by tests because politicians love to use the test scores for their own agendas. The more the public buys in to these scores and the idea that teachers should be paid based on these scores, the more the curriculum is going to be dictated by what is on the test. And guess what is on the reading test? Informative reading, not literary. Passages about science and history. So, if you want kids to pass you have to teach them how to read these types of passages well. I get that and do not fault the schools for this move toward RM. I blame us and our vigilance to "fix" public schools, but not really understand what we are demanding or wishing for...or how to best fix them.

8. Note: I taught 7th and 8th grade reading and each year had a class of 30 low-level-readers. The best way, I found, to get them reading and improving their reading, was having them read high interest books. Two examples of this were The Outsiders and Harry Potter. Each one of my kids found a way to read and complete those novels. I can still see them scattered around my room, reading in comfortable corners completely engaged and transported to another place. When I had to close down our reading time the room irrupted with, "Awe, really? Please let us read some more." And I always did.

9. Early reader books are way too overrated. I've noticed that section at the library keeps growing. For the most part these books are dull and boring. I see more and more parents checking these books out and having their kids read to them, but I think story and understanding story gets missing from these types of books. I would encourage you to read traditional picture books to your kids each night. These books are art. These books breathe life into literature. I read a blog once from a children's agent that spoke about the decline in publishing of kids' picture books because of public demand. Wendy Lawton noticed that there was a trend for parents to skip picture books and to push their kids into chapter books. I think we as parents are missing the point of reading if this is how our pocket books are speaking to the book industry.

OK, those are my thoughts. Still looking forward to my meeting with the principal, and feeling more positive about RM after speaking to the school coordinator. And I am so thankful my son has an awesome kinder teacher. I still think she's one of the best, and I love that she teaches to the whole student.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Its Coming...The Book Is Coming

I can't believe how long this process has taken, this book-writing-to-publishing process. (It has been four years since Melanie Mock and I had our first conversation about a book idea, a book written by moms and for moms, about something we were passionate about: teaching our children the values of social justice and peacemaking.) I have learned so much from how to write a proposal and shop the book around, to putting out a call for submissions, to editing, to arranging chapters and topics, etc. And I've loved all of it.

I really liked the editing process the best. I secretly love editing. I guess I should have gone into the profession, but maybe then I wouldn't like it as much. But editing is when writing gets good, refined, and beautiful. This is what I love best.

I loved editing with Melanie, my co-editor. I loved how we complimented each other. So far, we are still on time with all our deadlines. Making some glorious day in April our release date! We get one last chance to look our manuscript over and then we need to get it back to Barclay Press by the beginning of March. I'm excited to get my hands on it one more time. We sent it off to them in October and it is like we sent our youngest child off to has been out of our hands; we have had to trust the professionals, the experts. (Pst, I do trust them.)

I'd love to tell you the title of the book, but that is top secret. However, I would like to offer one of my reader/bloggers a chance at a sneak peak to our anthology.

If you'd like to read a first copy and write a review on your blog please make a comment to this post and follow the directions below:

1. Tell me why your blog would be a perfect place to create buzz about our book. I want to know how your readers are different from mine. I want to know how many readers you get daily? How many followers you have, and how many blogs regularly refer to you and your posts.

2. Leave me the link to your blog so I can come check you out!

3. If I pick you to receive a complementary first copy, then you will need to share a brief post about this opportunity with links back to my blog posts about our book project. Then I will make sure you get your copy! Happy reading and happy writing.

I'm so excited to reveal more to you, my readers! I can't wait to share the title. I can't wait to share the cover design. I can't wait to share who the contributing authors are! We have an excellent group of writers in our anthology with great stories to share. You are going to love them.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Zumba: Hip Shaking Fun

Zumba. It is my thing of late. This is not because I am a believer in New Year’s Resolutions. This desire to shimmy and shake my way into a fitter self has been brewing ever since I had to give up group exercise in 2005....yep, after the birth of my oldest. It just got too complicated.

My exercise was a scheduling nightmare that didn’t just involve me, but affected my husband and my sons. Classes either happened right in the middle of supper or were during prime family time. There was always the option to take a late-night water aerobics class, but by then I was exhausted and needed my rest so that I could wake and feed whatever baby was currently waking and feeding.

But, we are coming out of the tunnel of early-year-intensity. I even find that I don’t need a nap everyday like I used too, not that I don’t want a nap every day, but I hardly need it. In fact if I do chose to snooze I’m often struggling to fall asleep at night---when I really do need to sleep or my next morning is a bit sluggish.

I’ve tried other means to muscles. I’ve tried Netflix exercise videos, but I’m really not motivated. I mean, that woman on the screen shouting at me to do more deep-leg-bends, well, she really doesn’t know if I’m doing them or not. Plus, my boys try to join in and when a move dictates that I lay on the floor, my exercise routine turns into WWF wrestling, three boys to one mom. The boys always win.

Then I tried running, but if it was too cold...well, then I didn’t really want to go out. And if it got too hot, well, that wasn’t good either. So that left about 6 sporadic weeks out of the year that fit my running temperature needs.

Then I thought, “Well, maybe I’ll just do a few sit-ups each night.” But even that didn’t last. Nutella was way more fun.

The thing is, from the outside I look great. No one would know that I didn’t do a thing to keep my figure. I’ve had people ask me how many miles I run, assuming that I must be a runner. I just smile and say, “Yeah, I run after my boys. Not sure how many miles that gets me in a day.”

But I know. I know I’m not the fit person I used to be. I know that if I try and go on a spontaneous hike up a mountain with my family that I will perhaps die somewhere near the summit. I know when my sister-in-law asks if I want to snowshoe with her I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to keep up with her drive and stamina.

And it is because of this knowing that I signed up for Zumba. I bought a new outfit, recruited some friends, and found a class that is after the dinner hour, but before bedtime.

There is no reason this won’t work. No reason why I shouldn’t claim this as a New Year’s Resolution, but really it is not. It is just a sign of a new era in our family, that’s all it really is....and a whole lot of crazy hip shaking fun.

Friday, February 11, 2011

What's In A Name

You may have noticed that I deleted some of your past comments. This is because they included the names of my children, and for some reason I have this need to keep their names "their" names and not out on my blog. When I first started blogging I wasn't even going to use their real pictures...obviously I changed that opinion, but I still like keep their names private. So in the future you can just refer to them as my oldest, middle, and youngest son.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Freedom to Choose-My Take on Franzen's book Freedom

(Note: All authors write with an audience in mind. This book review, minus some minor editing, was originally written for a MOPS newsletter. So, that might explain the angle I took in promoting and reviewing this read.)

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen is one of the more challenging books that I’ve read. Not because of the writing style or language, but because of the content. Jonathan is being acclaimed as the “Next Great American Author.” He attempted, with his latest novel, to capture current American culture.

That is why it was so challenging. All of us, at book group, agreed that he really did write an accurate portrayal of the values and views of the culture in where we live.

Walter and Patty meet in college. But there is Walter’s best friend, Richard. Walter and Richard have a very competitive relationship, almost brotherly. Patty loves Walter, but it takes her making some poor choices involving Richard to discover this.

I cannot adequately summarize this book, it is way too long, but I can tell you that it follows the lives of Walter and Patty from college, in the late 70’s, up until the present day when their children become adults. Each character is faced with the dilemma of FREEDOM. Each person has the freedom to make whatever choices they want. However, they must also live with the negative and positive consequences of their actions. All of us at book group liked how real and truthful Jonathon was in accurately narrating the various consequences each character had to deal with and work when Patty has an affair with Richard.

Joey has the “freedom” to marry his girlfriend, Connie, in secret and then go on an overseas trip with his college roommate’s sister, who he has always been interested in seeing what might materialize between the two of them. But then Joey must face the consequences of Connie’s emotional break down and the irritation and annoyance of the roommate’s sister when she finds that our Joey is actually married and not available.

Jonathon captures the culture view that each person creates their own definition of right and wrong, but he also does an accurate job of showing that regardless of your view on absolutes, there really are some universal consequences in choices that involve relationship with others. We cannot control all the variables.

The book does actually end happy. We were all surprised and glad by this. In the end Patty and Walter forgive each other and realize how much they need and love each other. Joey also sees Connie for who she is, his best friend and his wife...someone he does not need to be ashamed of. And the competition between Walter and Richard becomes obsolete because Patty and Walter work through the insecurities in themselves and with each other.

I think this last book discussion was one of our best. There were some pretty sexually explicit scenes in the novel which made many of us leery of recommending this book to just anyone.

God’s truth is out in the world whether we agree with it or not; all good writer’s observe this truth and write about this...intentionally or not. Franzen did just this with Freedom and because of that observed TRUTH I would agree with many who call him a great writer, and I would even venture to say that his novel will remain a classic.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Birthday Success-The Best Toys for a Two-Year-Old Boy

It only took me three tries to get it right, to buy developmentally appropriate toys that I won't find myself sneaking into the garbage can at a later date. It probably helped that I didn't shop at Target or Wall-mart, but went to a locally owned toy store. My sister and sister-in-law did their perspective towns, and it was a hit!

So, if you need to buy a gift for a two-year-old boy in the near future I would highly recommend these presents!

I'm sure that his love of this chicken comes from the fact that we have our very own pasture-fed chickens.

Yep, these are crayons. Great for little fingers.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Happy Birthday Baby!

Yep, my baby turns two! What a great decision he was. My husband and I have no regrets that we went for three and that we got three boys instead of two boys and a girl.

Our little baby is two and full of vim and vigor! He is on-the-go! He is pure joy. He is Mr. Adventure/Mr. Outdoors. His bestfriends are dirt, grass, the chickens, the dog, and no particular order.

He might only be two, but he thinks he's as old as his brothers and holds his own well.

Today we celebrate!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

God-Sighting 10,001--Our Lost Dog

I had a sick feeling, not in the pit of my stomach, but in that place we call the soul. My soul was bleeding. Each morning I'd wake up with hope. This would be the morning he'd come back. I'd look out our bedroom window and scan the yard. I'd go out onto our back porch and holler, "Oscar, Oscar, where are you? Oscar?" My eyes would play tricks on me. I'd think he was here, our dog. I was sure he was at the end of our lane. I jumped into our van and drove down to rescue him, but it was just the right colored bush and from a distance and with the right imagination that bush seemed to really be him.

Our dog went missing on a Thursday night between the hours of midnight and 3 am. If you've been reading my blog, you know that Oscar is one of the family. He is part of us and not just us, but the lives of my parents who live next door.

My dad searched the woods. Walked down by the river. We tried to go on with our day, but as the day progressed this horrible feeling increased. We all knew a most horrible thing had occurred. Someone had stolen our dog---our faithful dog who is so extremely loyal that he doesn't even leave our porch unless we take him on an adventure around the farm.

We started asking around, talking to people who might have seen something.

Friday night came, no Oscar. Saturday was a long, painful day. We started praying, begging really. I was driving our van and just started verbally speaking out to God, begging him to move in the person who took him. That, that person would somehow feel remorse and return him. Others were praying this same prayer. I just kept repeating, "Lord hear our prayer....Lord hear our prayer." I kept praying the impossible, claiming that He was the God of impossible. Our boys witnessed this.

In the midst of all this turmoil, our youngest fell off our play structure and ended up needing stitches at the ER. This only added to the distress of this last weekend.

I started praying that if Oscar was dead, that we'd find his body, so we could move on, and not keep wondering. He was not even three yet. If we never found out what happened to him, then each year I'd think and wonder about him...wonder where he was, if he was happy, if he was being loved.

Then we started hearing more reports of dognappings, of desperate people selling large dogs for research to make extra money. This made my heart even more sick.

Sunday was fading. We'd finally decided that if he didn't show up by the following weekend, we'd get a new puppy...we needed something to make us joyful again. I fond myself just wanting to sleep, not wanting to be industrious or even eat.

My father stopped working in the orchard because he was just too lonely without Oscar.

Then I saw a flash. It was 5 pm on Sunday. My 70-year-old mother was sprinting across our back yard and flailing her arms in excitement. "He's back! Oscar is back!"

And there he was. We all smothered him. He had come sprinting across the two eastern fields. His heart was racing, a scared, desperate racing...not just a tired, running racing.

In the clump of trees he ran from has an old gravel road where someone could sneak in and let a dog go, undetected.

We hugged our dog and kept saying, "Its really him. He's really back. God really heard our prayer."

"Boys! God heard our prayer. He did a miracle. He brought Oscar back. His Spirit helped Oscar find us."

What a blessing. Through this very sad and desperate experience, which I'd never want to repeat, our boys felt the love of their very real, heavenly Father. They saw their parents pleading and praying to God, and they saw that God responded.

There are so many metaphors I could bring God is desperate for all his creation to return to him and know he's a loving God who wants to give good gifts to his children.....that his Spirit is working and powerful...

Now, if you aren't a dog lover you may not realize how amazing this whole experience was. You may be mumbling, "Um, its just a dog." But, it was our dog and is our dog. And I continue to be grateful that he has been returned to his rightful place in our family.