Read Me A Story: Favorite Kid Books Right Now

Last week passed in a blur of late night fevers and kiddo tylenol. JC hardly ever gets sick, so even a minor stomach bug like the one he contracted last week seem major. And while I didn’t do anything last week but care for him–no blogging, no writing, no laundry or house cleaning–being stuck on the couch with a sick kiddo was the perfect opportunity to read some of our favorite books and discover some new ones. On the hot list at my house right now:

The Berenstain Bears: There are always a handful of Berenstain Bear books in rotation at our house, but our current favorites are Too Much Vacation and Messy Room.

DisneyBedtime

Disney Bedtime Favorites: JC loves to hear stories about his favorite Disney characters outside their movies, so the “collection” stories are always big hits. The bedtime stories all end with the characters falling asleep. Some of the stories are a little lame–like the one we read last night about Princess Aurora singing her fairy friends to sleep–but for the most part they are pretty good stories.

The Minion Movie Junior Novel: I’m not sure which part of this chapter book JC likes best: hearing the movie retold, or hearing me try to talk like a minion. 

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10 Minutes till Bedtime: This simple countdown book has been a favorite for a while now.  It’s hilarious, and every night JC finds something else to look at in the busy pages: the baby hamster and his funny phrases, the hamster that is stuck on something different on each page, or the hamster that bounces his soccer ball off different things (including the hamster host). It always amazes me how the simple books are the ones that offer so much.

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The Paddington Treasury: Before we jumped into the full Paddington chapter books, I introduced JC to him through this treasury. It is beautifully illustrated and I find JC going through it on his own often. The stories are a little on the short side, but that just means we get to read more than one.

What are your kids reading right now?  What are your favorite kid recommendations? 

Creativity

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I’ve been thinking about creativity a lot lately.

This summer has been absurdly busy, and I haven’t had a lot of time for creativity: no crafting, very little writing, no projects. All work and no creativity makes for a very unhappy Mama. Am I right?

We’re all busy. We all have children, jobs, responsibilities, pets, schedules and other creativity suckers that get in the way of the process. And creativity is a process. For me, creativity begets more creativity. painting salt dough Easter eggs with my son one afternoon this spring led to a late night where the words just flew out of my pen. The more I do, the more it flows. On the flip side, the less I do, the harder it is to start back up.

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In what I consider to be perfect timing, my Writer’s Digest magazine for July/August arrived at the beginning of the summer with the headline “The Creativity Issue”. I immediately dived in and became obsessed. I subscribe to several writing magazines and usually flip through them leisurely, reading what applies to me and skipping the parts that don’t. I read this particular issue cover to cover…and then started again. When we moved, I kept it in my purse (which may sound dramatic to some of you, but let me point out I carry an enormous Mom Bag, in which things go in and are not seen again for weeks).

The first half of the issue is devoted to creativity roadblocks when it comes to writing. Some of my favorite takeaways:

From Amy Sue Nathan, Making More Room for Writing: 

  • Having a designated writing space of any sort increases the likelihood that you will actually use that area for writing.
  • Know what you need. Quiet, a window, a sweater, a crunchy snack.
  • We hold ourselves to high standards with word counts and deadlines and critiques. But letting ourselves off the hook–just a bit–can open up room for writing. (This is a big one for me. I am a little anal when it comes to filling out my calendar on Sunday night with goals and plans, and if I get behind or they fall apart, I fall apart with them).  

From Grant Faulkner, Naked (On the Page) and Afraid

  • I suppose that somewhere within myself I believed my stories were good enough–or feared others’ reaction would prove they weren’t good enough. Perhaps I worried about being exposed as a creative charlatan, a dilettante, a fool.
  • It’s a common writer’s fear: that one’s life will be confused with the text. Because I grew up in a small town, where lives were constantly under scrutiny, such a fear was embedded within me and had surely become magnified over the years.
  • There are two levels of vulnerability at play: Having the courage to write those words in the first place, and then having the courage to share them with the world. 
  • Why put a book into the world with hesitation? Why be ashamed of a creation I put my heart into?
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Anyone have Phoebe’s problem?

From Steven James, Creative Under Pressure: How to Write Yourself Out of a Corner:

  • Forcing yourself into a place where you can’t easily discern where to take things will allow for twists that readers never see coming, stretch you as a wrier, increase reader engagement, help you avoid cookie cutter stories and add mystery and intrigue.
  • After writing yourself into a corner, examine the walls for hidden bookshelves and secret passages. 

From Deb Caletti, Cultivating Creativity:

  • Creativity is often described as a garden that needs tending–accurate if that garden also includes rocky ground, carnivorous plants and periods of doubt. 
  • Expectations, self-pressure and attempts to outsmart the market are the surest ways for creativity to make a run for it. And, they’re the surest ways to jeopardize the most powerful thing in your corner–your honest self-expression.
  • Focusing on the experience, on the joy of the act, on what makes writing (or any other creative endeavor) what you love to do, keeps the rewards coming and the desire alive.
  • Creative professionals understand that practicing their craft is not an indulgent, frivolous extra, but an essential piece of a rich, productive life. 
  • We mistakenly link creativity with writing a book or painting a painting, but ongoing artistic expression is often more about the continued search for meaning and understanding.

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Of course, the hard part is putting all of this into action. For me, creativity flows most freely when I don’t feel like I should be doing other things–so my first step is to give myself time each day. The way my life is right now, it won’t be at the same time every day–perhaps it will be when JC starts kindergarten and we’re a little more structured, but we’re still in summer mode! So my goal this week is to look at each day and find the best space to give myself a little time.

How are you creative? Do you have a certain space you create in or time to be creative?

How are you creative? What is your trick to make time for creativity?

Is Target on Target or did They Miss the Bullseye?

You won’t often see me writing about current events and even more rarely about politics. Of course I have an opinion, but I feel like the internet is so full of people spouting off that I don’t necessarily need to add to the noise. However, this story has popped up on my news feed so many times this week, and it hits close to home.

Target announced earlier this week that it would be removing gender separation from its children’s bedding and toy section, meaning instead of having  “boy” and “girl” sections, it’s just going to be kids. They’ve been applauded for this decision by some and dragged  through the coals by others.

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As you all know, I have a son. I also have years of experience working with children in many capacities, so I’ve seen gender stereotyping–and the fight against it–firsthand for most of my adult life. I’m going to say this, and it’s going to tick some people off: gender stereotypes exist for a reason. They exist because, as a whole, little girls like girl stuff and little boys like boy stuff.

Before I lose half of you, let me point out that obviously this is not cut and dry. Take JC for example. He is obsessed with trains. And crashing them. He likes giant construction vehicles, dinosaurs and race cars.

Know what else he likes? Tucking his favorite stuffed animals in for a nap, rocking them to sleep if he deems them fussy, and making them food in his pretend kitchen–a play kitchen, I might add, that we received second-hand, and is a bright and glittery pink. I thought about spray painting it, and then I thought, why? It’s fine how it is. Why should JC feel like he can’t like pink?

He’s a boy. He likes “boy” things. And that’s okay. He also likes “girl” things. And that’s okay, too. Why can’t they just be “kid” things?

And that’s exactly where Target was trying to go with the choice they made–taking away the stigma between girl toys and boy toys. But since Target doesn’t manufacture many of the toys, all they’re doing is taking down signs. They can put Lego City sets next to Lego Friends sets and it’s still going to be clear which gender they are marketing to. If you really feel like you need to remove gender stereotypes from toys, the problem is much deeper than taking the signs down.

Why can’t we just let kids play with what they want to, dress like they want to, be who they want to? When we go to Target, or The Disney Store, or Toys R Us, we look at all the toys…because toys are fun. We never say, “no, don’t look at this because it’s for girls.” We let him choose what he wants, whether that’s a superhero lego set or a Doc McStuffins play set.  This Target decision is the tip of an iceberg that encompasses a lot more: like the fact that girls can be anything, do anything boys do, and be considered strong–but if boys want to take on traditional girl roles, it comes with a stigma. Like the whole #LikeAGirl campaign that popped up earlier this year. If you run fast and win the race, it’s okay to be #LikeAGirl. Go you! If you’re a boy and you do the same thing, you don’t get to celebrate–because, well, you’re a boy. It’s expected.

(Also, can I point out that the #LikeAGirl campaign was started by a feminine hygiene company? That’s just…backwards).

I got to grow up and be exactly what I wanted to be: a mother who gets to stay at home and write. Did I want to do this because I felt like it was my role as a woman? Nope. My three best female friends are all successful career women in their own industries, and I applaud them, because it’s what they wanted. I’m thankful that JC gets that point of view as well. He is surrounded by people who love him, and every single one of them is different. They run the gamut from traditional married couples, like myself and his father, to long-term unmarried relationships and same-sex marriages. Some of these people break gender stereotypes. All of these people are good people. And frankly, that’s what I really care about.

I suppose my point is that we need to stop focusing on doing what is right for our kids and just DO what is right for our kids. If you have a little girl, let her dress up like a princess. Princesses are pretty and it’s fun to be pretty. If you have a boy, let him be rough and tumble. Playing with sticks is awesome and sticks are free. And when the little girl wants to dig in the mud and the little boy puts the crown on his head, applaud and be happy they are figuring out who they want to be.

Do you think Target taking down the gender specific signs will make a difference? Do you let your kid play with toys that aren’t marketed to their gender?

Planning a Literary Garden

I am so excited about the yard in our new house. We have so much space and I’m both delighted and overwhelmed by it. I’m not much of a gardener, and I know I can’t do it all at once, so I’m starting to plan and research, and of course my mind goes to books.

I want to create a literary green space. Keep in mind I’m in the day dreaming phase, but here are some ideas I’ve had.

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  • Lilies and petunias for a Harry Potter garden, along with some herbs and interesting looking “herbology” class plants.
  • I’m really inspired by The Hundred Acre Wood–a sand play area for Roo’s Sandy Pit, Rabbit’s vegetable garden, a little log tucked away for a thoughtful spot. And hunny pot planters, of course.
  • A flowering tree that has big white blossoms like the “White Way of Delight” in Anne of Green Gables.
  • A spot with bright, colored flowers and curious looking plants that would be perfect for an Alice in Wonderland inspired tea party. Perhaps some interesting looking mushrooms, too!
  • A little scarecrow post with Peter Rabbit’s blue jacket hanging on it.
  • I’d love to find a way to tuck a tiny rose garden back in the woods that border our lawn to make our very own secret garden.
  • A lamp post, so we can find our way home from Narnia.

And of course, I need one of these signs.

GardenSign

What am I missing? What books would be represented in your literary garden?

Lets Be Honest

I read an interesting article recently about books people claim they have read but haven’t. According to the The Guardian, here are the top ten books people say they have read but haven’t:

1 1984 by George Orwell
2 War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
3 Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
4 The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
5 A Passage to India by EM Forster
6 Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
7 To Kill A Mocking Bird by Harper Lee
8 Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
9 Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
10 Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

I have read 8 out of these 10 books, which begs the question: how did I end up with an English degree without reading The Catcher in the Rye or Pride and Prejudice? This is not a new topic for me–if you’ve been here before, you know I only recently read To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time (I know, I know…for shame).

So lets be honest here. Have you ever lied about reading a book to impress someone? Or watched the movie version to make it through a test or have something to talk about at book club? Being a huge reader, I’ll take almost any excuse to read a book. I was the kid who had her summer reading done the first two weeks of the break. When I was dating and felt like things were going well, I asked a magic question: Who is John Galt? I lost many a confused looking boyfriend to that question. One person got it right, and I married him. I take my books seriously.

But even I am guilty of the book lie. Once. I was a senior in high school, and I was overwhelmed by band practice, my AP classes, college applications, you name it. I had a report due on The Great Gatsby, and for the first time in my life, I hadn’t finished the book.

My sweet mother took pity on me. “I read that in high school,” she said. “I think it has a happy ending.”

So I wrote the paper, detailing confidently the first half of the book and finishing with how Gatsby and Daisy lived happily ever after.

The next day, I got my paper back. I got a B, but my teacher had circled the second half of my paper and written, “I think you need to re-read the end of the book.”

I was mortified. I stayed after class and took my paper to her. When she saw me, she looked amused.

“You didn’t read the book,” she said. I nodded.

“Why did you give me a B?” I asked. “I don’t deserve that grade.”

“Maybe not,” she said. “But I like your writing. I especially liked one phrase…” she flipped through my paper to the point where I had started making stuff up. “This transition, right here. I could tell where you stopped reading the book, but you did it with such flair.”

And then, I had written, the proverbial plot thickens.

I have carried that little phrase around with me since then–proof positive that sometimes being confident and wordy can get you out of a sticky situation.

So what’s your dirty little literary secret? Is there a book out there that you’ve always wanted to read but never made it through? Lets be honest.

Midsummer Mini Book Review

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Time for another mini book review! Here is what I’ve been reading:

Shopaholic Takes LA (Sophie Kinsella): A cute addition to the series with an annoying cliffhanger at the end. The book could have been half as long, and it had just gotten really interesting when it ended. I have sort of a love/hate relationship with the main character in this series–I find her annoying but endearing all at the same time. I like that when I’ve had enough of her, I can just shut the book.

Vanishing Acts (Jodi Picoult): What do you do when you find out your father kidnapped you as an infant and changed your identity? As usual, the topic is off the wall, but Picoult writes with a realism and a seriousness that makes it completely plausible. Set in the desert of Arizona, the novel also toys around with the concept of repressed memories, which I thought was really interesting.

In the Unlikely Event (Judy Blume): I was so excited to read this book, and she didn’t disappoint. Blume has never sugarcoated anything in her writing or tied up things the way my fairy-tale romance mind loves, but that’s one of the things that makes her writing so poignant. This novel really paints a great picture of life in New Jersey in the 1950s, complete with complicated relationships. I loved the way Blume tied everyone in town together on some level. If you’re about to travel by plane, I would wait on this read–there are pretty gruesome descriptions of plane wrecks.

The Lies we Told (Diane Chamberlain): I’ve been on a bit of a Diane Chamberlain bender this summer, but I think this one might be the last one for a while. She puts her characters in these insane situations but rarely manages to make them realistic. This is a story about two close sisters whose parents were murdered when they were children. When one of them goes missing, the other hooks up with her husband–while the missing one is stranded on a southern barrier island with a questionable man and a pregnant woman. Chamberlain always has a good twist at the end, but it loses some of its shock value because the stories are always so off the wall.

Paper Towns (John Greene): John Greene is the epicenter of teen angst right now. I read The Fault in our Stars and thought it was okay, and figured I would read this one before I saw the movie. Well…I won’t be seeing the movie. This book dragged on and then had such a lame ending that I don’t even think my self-centered angsty teen self would have enjoyed it. Book fail.

Flat Out Celeste (Jessica Park): This was the third book of the “Flat Out” novels. It was a cute little romance about a socially awkward girl getting ready to go to college. All three of these books are light, easy reading if you’re looking for a beachy read. The dysfunctional family the story revolves around will grow on you!

What have you been reading this summer? I just started the “Selection Series” by Kiera Cass and I’m pretty hooked.