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Teaching My Baby to Read Salutes Pacific Northwest Writers

The book version of Bella's truck is on the left, the movie version is on the right.

The book version of Bella’s truck is on the left, the movie version is on the right.

I am very excited to announce my 2012 Salute to Pacific Northwest Writers which will run from Sunday, September 30th, to Saturday, October 6th.

As a mom it can be hard to find time to read books. Sometimes reading two pages in a row without being interrupted feels like trying to climb Mt. Rainer! But sharing the journey of other families through literature can also be inspiring.

Here are some of the books and authors you can look forward to hearing more about:

On Sunday, September 30th I’m kicking off this salute with a review of One Bite at a Time: 52 Projects for Making Life Simpler. This book is by Oregon mom and blogger Tsh Oxenreider. You are probably already familiar with Tsh because she is the creator of Simple Mom.

On Monday, October 1st I will be blogging about Crow Planet, by Seattle urban naturalist Lyanda Lynn Haupt.  I’m also excited to review the debut middle grade novel Pickle: The (Formerly) Anonymous Prank Club of Fountain Point Middle School, by Seattle author Kim Baker.

On Tuesday, October 2nd I will share some of my favorite books by Portland author Ann Cameron, and Bainbridge Island author Suzanne Selfors.

On Wednesday, October 3rd check out my HearldNet blog “I Brake for Moms” for a review of the fabulous YA novel Running for My Life by Ann Gonzalez.  Right here on Teaching My Baby to Read I’ll be reviewing two picture books from Lindsey Craig.

On Thursday, October 4th I’ll blog about Who in This Room: The Realities of Cancer, Fish, and Demolition by Seattle author Katherine Malmo.

On Friday, October 5th I’ll write about one of my all-time favorite picture books: Goodnight, Garden Gnome by Jamichael Henterly.

On Saturday, October 6th I’ll share reviews about some of the many children’s books by Tacoma author Kathryn O. Galbraith.

P.S. If you have a Pacific Northwest author you think is worth me considering, please tell me about it in the comment section below.

For the Sandwich Generation

Today was a very deep day.

First, my children and I visited an elderly relative who lives in Merrill Gardens. Every time I have visited Merrill Gardens I have been highly impressed by the cleanliness and care the residents receive there. But then I came home and read Special Exits and started worrying.

Joyce Farmer’s Graphic memoir made me almost sick to my stomach. (But I mean that as a compliment.) It deals with ageing, elder abuse, care of the dying, and dignity in death. The realism in this book is gut wrenching. At the same time, there is a small thread of comfort, as if you are talking to a friend.

Farmer sets the book in the early 1990s, around the time of the Rodney King riots. Twenty years ago means this is a setting before people had ready access to the internet. I can only hope that Google, YouTube, and Facebook are making a small difference in the care people receive in convalescent hospitals today. If one of my loved ones received a bed sore down to the bone, I would make sure that the entire universe knew about it.

I hope that writing this memoir helped give Ms. Farmer some healing in regards to her parents’ last four years. I was crying right along with her, because the pain was so real.

By pure coincidence however, I had also checked out a picture book from the library for my kids on the same subject!

Getting to Know Ruben Plotnic by Roz Rosenbluth is about how a young boy feels having his Grandmother Rosie live with his family at home, even though she is dealing with severe dementia. This story had a much happier ending, even though illustrator Maurie J. Manning did an amazing job painting visible pain on the parents’ faces. My three year old may not have noticed, but I did.

After reading both books in the same day I was really shaken. (Enough so that it seemed worthy of a blog post.) There are a lot of childhood memories floating around in my mind right now that I won’t share. But I would like both authors to know that I think their work is brilliant.

Jackson the Iron-Willed Commander

Get ready, because I am going to make all of my Tennessee ancestors roll in their graves. My opinions about Jackson The Iron-Willed Commander by Paul Vickery, which I received a free copy of from Booksneeze, would probably make most Tennessee folks upset.

The book itself is well written and informative. It follows a quick pace but still manages to educate. It is part of a series of books called “The Generals”, of which I have also read the volumes on Sherman and Pershing. So far, the whole series seems to be really dependable in terms of quality and educational value. They also are great books to give your father-in-law for Christmas, so keep that in mind if Grandpa is hard to shop for!

My issue with the Andrew Jackson book has nothing to do with the actual writing, but entirely to do with Andrew Jackson himself. I know it is tricky to judge past people by the standards or today, but whoa! I had no idea our former president was such a hot-head and rash decision maker. I do not find his actions in the Creek War to be brave and inspiring like the author Paul Vickery seems to suggest. I think that if anything, Andrew Jackson was guilty of conducting war crimes against humanity in his treatment of the Creek people. Then at the end of all of it, he betrayed the Creeks who were friendly to him by taking away half their land!

There was also an incident where one of his young soldiers named John Woods was really freaking out and disobeying orders, so Jackson had the young man executed quite quickly. Reading about this through my 2012 goggles, I can’t help but wonder if the young man had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

So there you go Tennessee ancestors. I totally disavow your hero. Thank goodness Old Hickory isn’t up for election today, because I would gladly take either Romney or Obamma over Andrew Jackson, any day of the year (or in any century).

I review for BookSneeze®

Understanding World Religions in 15 Minutes a Day

I received a complimentary copy of Garry R. Morgan’s Understanding World Religions in 15 Minutes a Day from Bethany House in exchange for my honest opinions and review. (Honestly, I am usually such a harsh critic of all Bethany House books that I am surprised that they keep sending me free copies of their books. That must speak volumes about the integrity of their PR department.) But I digress.

This latest title is a real winner in my opinion. It is shockingly neutral, fair-minded, and well researched. I learned a lot from reading it, especially the section on Zoroastrianism, which I had never heard about before. I’m surprised that Spell-Check even recognized it!

I think that even secular homeschooling families would appreciate this book, for eighth graders and above. Professor Morgan does really a nice job of covering the essential facts, without sounding biased. You could turn your teenager loose on this book, and not worry about him or her being converted.

Of course, if I was going to impose my own bias on this review, I would add that Professor Morgan might have chosen to mention John Wesley. 😉

How do you eat an elephant?

A friend and teacher I know from church shared with me the following question: “How do you eat an elephant?”  The answer is: “One bite at a time.”

Bruce(7) has a book report due in a month. His teacher has challenged the kids to choose a “just right” book that will take a week to finish, and then to write about it. Bruce (entirely of his own accord) chose to read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. There was no talking him out of it.

Different faith backgrounds have different opinions on whether the Harry Potter series as a whole is appropriate for children. My opinion is that J.K. Rowling has made the basic tenants of Christianity approachable to children in the same way that C.S. Lewis did with Narnia. I love this article from Christianity Today by Bob Smietana, which expounds on this comparison.

Back to the issue at hand with my issue, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is at a Guided Reading Level W, which means it is a the seventh grade reading level. The last time I assessed Bruce’s reading ability was a few months ago at Christmas and he was at a level S/5th grade. Level W is a bit of a stretch for him.

But if all Bruce ever does is read multiple Goosebumps books (level P/3.7) every afternoon, he’s not learning a lot about resilience or sticking with something big because it is worth reading. So together, we looked at the calendar and mapped out a plan. He chose to read 55 pages a day for two weeks, and then spend a week writing up his report. We wrote everything down on our family calendar, and then I helped him out by putting little post-it flags in the book. Now the rest is really up to Bruce.

The Golden Moment of the Day

I snapped this picture yesterday night while making dinner.  The cost?   Well…..


My latest foray into scraping out time for myself and actually reading for pleasure, has been Momaholic, Crazy Confessions of a Helicopter Parent by Dena Higley. I received a complimentary copy of this book from Booksneeze in exchange for my honest opinions and review.

Honestly, this has been the best Booksneeze book ever!!! It sounds trite, but I could not put this book down. I kept trying to sneak and read it when I was supposed to be making dinner. Then I caught my first grade son trying to sneak and read it, because he wanted to see what was so special about it. His report after reading a few pages: “I don’t see what the big deal is Mom. This book isn’t that good.” So sorry Dena. If you thought soap opera fans were tough, you haven’t met my seven year old.

I mention soap operas, because Dena Higley was the head writer for Days of Our Lives. She is also the mother of a college-age son who has Autism, a college-age daughter who did something unexpected, and two teenagers that she adopted. Dena was also a self-professed “helicopter parent” who obviously never read Parenting Teens with Love and Logic (at least until it was too late). She describes her book as a “how not-to story”.

What makes Momaholic so entertaining is Dena’s cleverness as a writer. She is funny, witty, relatable and makes observations that you or I might have thought in our head at one point, but never fully articulated. In short, she is everything that I want to be as a writer myself.

An example of Dena’s cleverness is an observation she made about picking her kids up from school, and how she so often sees mothers taking naps in their car while parked at the curb. But then fast forward to 10 PM that night when they really are supposed to be falling asleep, and they can’t because they are thinking of about a million things they have to do the next morning. (Okay, when I write that out it sounds rather dull, but when I read it in Momaholic it was hysterical.) It was insights like these that kept me hooked on this book even though I don’t consider myself a helicopter parent at all.

Another funny part was when she talked about her older son with Autism slipping in a funny line from the movies during a football game. We have a family member with ASD who does this all the time. A lot of his favorite lines come from his childhood Buzz Lightyear toy that my kids still play with today. “Hmmm… Very interesting. Adventure is my middle name.”

I’m not a soap opera viewer myself so I don’t know any of the juicy/gritty back-story as to why Dena lost her job at Days of Our Lives. She is such a good writer that I have no idea why the powers-that-be could not see this. But if she does decide to stay out of TV and write another book, then I know exactly what I want to read from her next. Thomas Nelson Publishers, please listen up!

Dena, I want you to write a book about parenting older children with Autism. There are lots of memoirs out there about parenting young children with Autism, but there aren’t many about making the transition to adulthood. You could spend a few chapters in the book discussing your own family’s situation, but then spend the rest of the book profiling other kids who have “made it” and the tremendous parenting that was involved. I know the perfect, not-so-perfect, ASD college student who you could devote a whole chapter to.  I wish he and your son Connor could be pen-pals.

Create a Reading Nest

This idea doesn’t cost any money at all! See if you can carve out a tiny bit of space in your house to build a “Reading Nest”  The spot should be just big enough for your child, a pillow, and some books.   This special spot for independent reading doesn’t have to look great from an interior decorating standpoint, and it doesn’t have to stay part of your decor forever. Feel free to turn things back around when the novelty has worn off.

Hope for Parents of Troubled Teens, by Connie Rae

Hope for Parents of Troubled Teens by Connie Rae has a lot of real gems in it that I appreciate even though my children’s teenage years are still on the horizon.  I received a free copy of this book from Bethany House in exchange for my honest review on both my blog and on Amazon.com.  I am giving this book 3 stars.

I love Connie Rae’s idea on pp. 97-98 about leaving a surprise word of encouragement taped to the milk carton, when you and your child are going through a rough time. That’s definitely a tip worth remembering! Her emphasis on prioritizing family time (p118) is an important concept to remember too. Chapter 3’s theme of taking care of your children and teens by nurturing and protecting your marriage is a really refreshing addition to a parenting book, which I have not seen before.

My favorite advice is from page 192 when Rae shares her three rules to teach our kids to live by, adapted from her time as the parent-ed instructor at her community college’s preschool. (We are very active in our local community college preschool too.) To paraphrase, the three rules are: 1) Don’t hurt yourself, 2) Don’t hurt somebody else, and 3) Don’t hurt your toys. —Simple advice, but awesome!

If I was the parent of a troubled teen I think I would probably read every book out there about how to help my child, and how to cope. There are many parts of this book that would offer me hope and encouragement, as promised in the title. The problem I have with Hope for Parents of Trouble Teens is that even though I am a member of the United Methodist Church, this book is written for a Christian audience and I’m not sure that Connie Rae would consider me the “right” type of Christian.

The author really threw me on page 128 when she was discussing evaluating your church to determine if it was a good fit for your teen. One of the questions she wants parents to ask is whether or not your church is “too liberal”. What should church have to do with politics? Interestingly, she does not advise parents to question whether or not your church is “too conservative”.

I also have concerns about how Rae addresses (or does not address) teenage sexual orientation. On page 19 the author interprets Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” with the advice that parents need to discover and honor the individual bent and nature of a child. Great! I love that thinking. But then on page 114 Rae says that parents need to help teens find “an acceptable masculine or feminine role and to learn sex-appropriate behavior.”  What the heck is that supposed to mean for parents of gay teens? From Rae’s caution against churches that are “too liberal”, I have a guess. The author could have used this passage to encourage parents to accept teenagers of any sexual orientation, but she did not. I really wish she had.

The Founders’ Key, Review

If I could have a “dream book club” to discuss Larry P. Arnn’s The Founders’ Key I would invite the author himself, the late Ayn Rand (of Atlas Shrugged fame), Douglas Wilson (Classical Christian Education advocate and author of Southern Slavery, As It Was), and Sarah Palin (Tea Party darling).

In this imagined dinner party Dr. Arnn would edify us all about the great significance and impact of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution.  Ayn Rand would agree with Dr. Arnn that the so-called “fourth branch of government” (the regulators and bureaucrats), must be cut down to size. 

Douglas Wilson would be invited because of a shared common interest with Arnn in Classical Education (at least, I’m assuming this based on footnote 3:4 on page 200).  Also, because after reading in “Christianity Today” that Wilson refers to himself as a paleo-confederate, I would really like to hear someone as learned and respected as Dr. Arnn stick that type of racism to its sticking place.  Arnn makes very clear in chapter six of The Founders’ Key that while some of the founding fathers could be accused of hypocrisy at time, they were not white supremacists and that type of thinking is nonviable with the founding principles of our country. 

The last invitee to my imagined book club night, Sarah Palin, would be there to secure out spot on the evening news.

For my own contribution to the book discussion, I would offer that I thought that Dr. Arnn’s book was meticulously researched and well written.  However, I’m not sure that I agree with his main thesis; that the Constitution is under attack by Progressives.  I think that the Constitution has always been under attack from one political group or another, but that the great beauty of the Constitution is that it can hold up, no matter what type of ideology is thrown against it.  Take Prohibition for example.  To me, the 18th and 21st amendments indicate that the Constitution is both flexible and unchanging at the same time. 

On the question of the constitutionality of mandatory healthcare, I am more likely to think with my heart, instead of my head.  But I trust that the nature of our political system in America, will ferret out what is legal.  Hopefully, that will include ensuring that children of my neighbors can see the doctor when they are ailing.

Now I believe, imaginary dessert and coffee are being served!  Thank you Booksneeze for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinions and review.

LM Montgomery, Suicide and Depression

Recently one of my friends from church has suffered the loss of her father due to mental illness.  I thought it was very brave of my friend to be so upfront about saying this, because it takes some of the stigma away from depression and other mental health issues. 

Another family that has done an enormous public service along this vein is the Montgomery family, the heirs to Lucy Maud Montgomery who was the author of Anne of Green Gables and other beloved classics.  When Canadian television ran a documentary about suicide and depression, the Montgomery family released their long held family secret, in the hope of helping others.  LM Montgomery had succumbed to a life-long battle with depression and ended her own life.

When I read this as an adult I was truly shocked.  My two favorite authors growing up were LM Montgomery, and Laura Ingalls Wilder.  As it turns out, The Little House on the Prairie series was most likely written by Rose Wilder Lane, Laura and Almanzo’s brilliant and unhappy daughter who also suffered from depression.  So now it turns out that the entire body of work (exclusive of the Bible), that was critical to my identity formation as a young tween was written by two women who suffered from mental illness.

In retrospect, the revelation about LM Montgomery makes a lot of sense.  If you have read any of her work you know that she often described what she called “white nights”.  These were times when her characters work up at 3AM and brooded; worrying so much that they were unable to fall asleep.  As an adult I can see that sure, everyone goes through tough times at one point or another and has trouble sleeping, but to actually have this happen to you so often that you name it, could be a sign of mental distress.

Another common element of LM Montgomery’s work was her characters expressing the point of view that there was only one path for them, towards happiness.  In the Emily of New Moon series, this was termed “the Alpine Path”.  As a child, I took this a gospel truth; that smart, brilliant people were hard-core and pursued their goals single mindedly whatever the cost.  Now as an adult, I can see how psychologically detrimental that narrative can be.  Happiness is a choice, not a state of being, and there are many avenues towards achieving a happy life.  When I was 18 I got turned down by Harvard, but I went to Stanford instead and that ended up being okay!  🙂

I still absolutely love all of LM Montgomery’s work.  Plot-lines, creativity, passion, funambulism with scenic descriptions… To this day, she remains one of my top five favorite authors of all time.  I would be devastated if my either of my children did not love her work as much as I do.  But when Bruce and Jenna do read Montgomery’s books someday, I’m going to have a lot of new talking points to discuss with them.  I am also saddened that LM Montgoemery did not live in a time where modern medicine could have done more to help her.

Leonardo and Steve, Review

Reading Leonardo and Steve: The Young Genius Who Beat Apple to Market by 800 Years, by Dr. Keith Devlin is easy, entertaining, and educational.  Those are three qualities that make Leonardo and Steve a good choice for a leisure-minded non-fiction enthusiast like me.  You don’t have to be a math genius to understand this book either.  In my case, that’s a good thing!

The crux of this book is the parallel between Steve Jobs and Leonardo Pisano; how they seized upon, changed, and communicated the inventions of other’s and sparked financial and personal computing revolutions.  Leonardo (also called Fibonacci) did this in 1202 by writing the book Liber Abbaci which introduced Hindu-Arabic numbers to the businessmen of Pisa, and explained how these numbers made accounting much easier than the Roman numerals they were using.

All of that would be interesting in its own right, but to me as a former elementary school teacher and participant in the world of gifted education, there are some other random things about Leonardo and Steve’s stories that really strike me. 

Dr. Devlin briefly mentions that after the publication of Liber Abbaci, arithmetic schools sprung up over Italy, where maesti d’abbaco would teach students the new Hindu-Arabic methods.  He says that these schools “followed a specified syllabus, typically comprised of reading and writing in the vernacular, arithmetic, geometry, bookkeeping, and occasionally navigation.” (Loc 274, 29%) A specified syllabus?  That almost sounds like Common Core Standards from the Middle Ages!

The other section of Leonardo and Steve that I found fascinating was this description of what it is like when a computer programmer gets lost in thought while at the computer: “Once you get into the project, it develops a life of its own.  You find yourself in what is often referred to as “The flow”.  Time stands still, and the mind is able to cope with any amount of fine detail. Indeed, it does not seem like fine detail; at that moment that design or that piece of code is all that matters in the world.”  (Loc 235, 25%)  I thought that was good explanation of what happens to gifted people in general when they get super-focused on a project.  In fact, perhaps it is the gifted brain’s ability to focus on something for a long time (the so-called 10,000 hours effect) that leads to achievement.

A final thought about Leonardo and Steve is that it could very well be read as a sequel to Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell.  What would have happened if Leonardo had not been born into the nobility? What would have happened if his father had not taken him to Algeria where he encountered Hindu-Arabic numbers?  What would have happened if Steve Jobs had not lived in Cupertino?  You could very well make the argument that these men would not have made such a big impacts into modern lives if they had not been born in the right places and the right times. 

P.S. I have no idea if I annotated these page numbers correctly or not, so I apologize if I made citing errors.  This is only the third eBook I’ve read and it took me a good deal of time figuring out how to use the highlighting function.  If I don’t make a concerted effort to keep up with technology I’ll end up someday as the grandmother who doesn’t know how to turn on her TV!  🙂

Tyndale, The Man Who Gave God an English Voice

David Teems could write a book about dirt and I would find it fascinating. Quite frankly, he is an artist with the English word and much of prose he writes sounds like poetry. 

The author’s bio on the back of Tyndale, The Man who Gave God and English Voice says that David Teems is from Tennessee, which doesn’t surprise me.  There is a lot about his writing style that makes me think of great Southern authors.  Listen to this line about John Colet from page 27: “Granted, his sermon was in Latin, but a dead language never preached so hot.”  I came across phrases and sentences like this over and over again in this book that made me smile.

Teems has taken a subject that I was mildly interested in, William Tyndale’s creation of the first English translation of the Bible, and written it in such a way that I found the story completely gripping.  He fleshes out historical characters like Erasmus and Sir Thomas More, in a way that is very relatable.  I had no idea that Thomas More was such a dirt-bag for example.  Who ties up people in their backyard and whips them?  It makes me want to go back and reread Utopia, looking for the sinister.  Heck, I even want to go back and reread Dinotopia with new eyes!

As a reader, I really appreciated the careful scholarship that went into this book.  Everything Teems writes about Tyndale is carefully backed up with footnotes and annotations.  He writes with the point of view of someone who appreciates bravery, scholarship, and the truth, but not in a way that tries to push a particular religious, or political agenda.  I think you could read this book coming from any religious background, and find it entertaining and edifying.   

P.S.  I received a free copy of this book from Booksneeze in exchange for my positive (or negative) review.

Kindle Fire for Kids

For Christmas this year my in-laws have very generously purchased Bruce(6.5) a Kindle Fire. My husband and I have been staying up late loading it up with books, music and educational aps for him, and are then going to give it back to my MIL to wrap. That way it will be all ready to go Christmas morning. It’s like the classic story of mom and dad staying up to put toys together the night before Christmas, but in the digital age. 🙂

I’ve read some reviews of the Kindle Fire criticizing it for not having any parental controls. This is a big issue for sure, but one that is easy to overcome. We are simply going to turn off the Wi-Fi before we hand the Kindle over to our son. That way, he can only access the media that we have loaded for him. So for me, the lack of a parental control setting is not a big deal. I am the parent, and I am in control!!!

Amazon has a large selection of classic books for children which are free to download: Black Beauty, Alice in Wonderland, Tom Sawyer, etc. The same goes for Classical Music. There are also a number of free games such as chess, Sudoku, backgammon and more to load, as well as lots of educational games that only cost 99 cents. The one big splurge I added was the video Little Pims Spanish, which cost me $14.99. Yes, I have still got a little flicker of hope in me that Bruce will learn Spanish!

Our local library allows you to download ten children’s books for Kindle at a time, but only for 14 day periods. So when Bruce is ready for more titles, I’ll take the Kindle back, turn on the Wi-Fi, download some books that he chooses off of our library webpage, turn off the Wi-Fi, and give it back to him. Pretty cool, hunh?

The Voice, Review

Over a month ago I received The Voice New Testament free from Booksneeze, in exchange for my honest opinions and review.

The subtitle for The Voice is “Step into the Story of Scripture”. That denotes the layout and organization of the book, which is somewhat like a play. Colloquial additions are put in italics, and occasionally there is an insert with information you might find useful. Here’s an example of what that would look like if I was telling you the story of Little Red Riding Hood:

Little Red Riding Hood was on her way to Grandma’s house. She was going through the woods at a leisurely pace when all of a sudden she met the wolf.

(Enter Wolf)

Wolf: “Why hello Little Red Riding Hood. What are you doing?”

—Interesting fact about wolves. A big, bad wolf also appears in The Three Little Pigs. —-

Little Red: “I’m on my way to Grandma’s house to bring her some cakes and pies because she is sick in bed.”  etc.

To someone who has the NIV or NRSV road mapped into my mind, it is really quite jarring to read familiar passages from the New Testament in an unfamiliar translation. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy reading a new translation, it just wasn’t particularly easy. It would be akin to driving to work one morning in a rental car. You know how to drive and where you are going, but you really have to pay attention because the turn signal and windshield wipers are in a different place than you are used to. It took me a really long time to just get through the book of Matthew. Now I’m reading the suggested selections for the season of Advent.

I don’t really know what rating to give this book in my Amazon review. A three? A four? I think I’m going to give it a four. I’m happy to live in a country and a point of time where it is safe to read any religious text you like, and where you have the freedom to choose from many different translations.