“The Birthday Fish” by Dan Yaccarino

I don’t even want to know how long it’s been since the last post. I could start this entry with trying to explain my long absence, but why would I bother? Most of you are either parents or writers, so you know everything about parent’s block, writer’s block, or what happens when they both hit at the same time. Besides, starting with explaining myself, I would run a risk of running out of my blogging time. So, let’s just start with “Hello, Everyone!”

Today’s post and the book are about birthdays, expectations, and making lists.

Last month in our family was definitely about all of the above. As our son was waiting for his birthday, he was making and updating his I’d-like-to-get list. When he came up with the whole list idea a couple of years ago before Christmas, I was a bit skeptical. I was worried that it would lead to mutual frustration. Our family (friends and Santa) will have a hard time finding things from his list, and he might feel disappointed when getting something else. And what about surprises? But list by list, I was getting more and more convinced that his input was actually quite helpful. The things he wanted were mostly inexpensive, useful, and in line with his interests, from markers to ‘speedy’ clothes, and books about dragons. Instead of throwing money away on what we thought he would enjoy, we’ve found a golden compromise.

But of course, the whole list system begs a question: is it always good to give children what they want? No, it is not. (That’s why we don’t have a video game system in the house yet) Not getting what they (and ourselves) want and dealing with it is a crucial life lesson. Not only does it teach our children patience, humility and perseverance, but it also teaches them flexibility. It broadens their horizons, exposes them to new experiences.  As parents, we should feel good about disappointing our children from time to time, even if it sounds like a paradox. 

In “The Birthday Fish”, one thing Cynthia always wanted was a pony. She kept putting it on her Christmas lists but she kept getting everything but ponies. She was hoping to get one for her birthday, but no, her parents thought a goldfish would be a better gift. Cynthia was frustrated. She was about to dump the golden present down the drain, when her fish suddenly spoke. She offered to make Cynthia’s wish come true in exchange for freedom. Cynthia didn’t hesitate. She wished for a pony.  Off to the lake they went.  But as they walked, something miraculous happened… 

In order to know WHAT happened and WHAT came back home with Cynthia, you have to read the book. I can’t spill all the beans, but I can tell you that whatever it was called Marigold.

A smart story with a lot of humor. Typical Yaccarino-style illustrations. A great book to add to anybody’s reading list.

“My Buddy, Daddy” by Agnieszka Chapas

If I’m going to die as a self-published author, at least I’m going to be a prolific one!

Check out my tribute to the father-son bond, inspired by my own sons and their bigger buddy, Dad.

 

http://www.blurb.com/books/5650861-my-buddy-daddy-agnieszka-chapas-dagna-ziolkowska

“I Don’t Want a Cool Cat!” by Emma Dodd

One of the advantages of having more than one child is that you get to read more picture books. When my older son was at preschool, I discovered Emma Dodd’s “Dog’s Colorful Day” A Messy Story about Colors and Counting. (You can read about it in my 2012 March Archives)  Now that my younger son is a toddler and we go through another round of old and new picture books, I was lucky enough to stumble upon another gem by Ms. Dodd, “I Don’t Want a Cool Cat!”

The story is pretty basic. A little girl is telling us what cat she would like to have and what feline she wouldn’t care about. But the wording and pictures are just delightful. 

She doesn’t want a “stuffy, over-fluffy cat” or “a slinky, dinky, twinky cat”. My favorite phrasing was for a greedy cat that she didn’t want:  “A “Meow, meow, please feed me cat.”  But she wants a “purry “cat, “a glad when I come home cat”, that she can call her own cat. 

I can’t tell you how many times my son demanded to read this book to him, over and over again. And I can’t tell you, how much pleasure it was to read it. This book virtually reads itself. It flows so effortlessly that you just want to keep enjoying it page after page after page.

Now the book has returned to the library, but the story still rings in our heads and we frequently recite our favorite lines.

“Mom-to Be & Mom-I-Am” by Agnieszka Chapas

“week by week

rolling

strolling

on two hearts

my wheels”

No, no, not me this time. My turn is over.  But I have just heard the big news from a friend. And y brother and his girlfriend will become parents in a few months. Another friend has just become a mom. The Miracle of Motherhood happens all the time and everywhere! And this little book of poetic reflections is dedicated to everyone expecting or living it.

http://www.blurb.com/b/5612959-mom-to-be-mom-i-am

“The Very Inappropriate Word” by Jim Tobin

Even though I don’t own a pair of yoga pants yet, I already feel like I belong to the Bay Area. I’ve found my favorite morning radio program. Fernando and Greg are my second cup of coffee, a perfect blend of wit and sarcasm to wake me up during the school drop-off ride. Unfortunately, I don’t think I will be able to listen to them anymore. It turns out that while I enjoy the humorous chat, my five-year old turns on his listening ears for the songs played during the music breaks. The music is groovy and upbeat, so naturally he wants to sing along. He tries hard to memorize the lyrics, which, to say the least, are not the most appropriate for a little boy. It was time we sat down and talked about words worth and not worth using, repeating and singing.  I came across “The Very Inappropriate Word” by Jim Tobin at the right time.

Michael was a word collector. He kept finding words everywhere.  He discovered “slugger” at baseball practice,  and “spokes” at school. He loved huge words for little things, like “smithereens” or tiny words for large things, like “vast”. One time Michael picked up a new, strange word on the bus. According to his sister it was a very bad word. But Michael  kept hearing it around and finally started using it and even sharing it with friends at school. It was time for the teacher to act. And Mrs. Dixon knew just what to do. She sent Michael to the library to dig up some new words for his collection. It couldn’t be more effective a solution. Now that Michael’s word pile contained such treasures like chortle, vibrato or shenanigans, it was hard to remember where the strange “!&*^#” word was. 

In other words, the art of distraction at work. It’s certainly a trick worth trying. Children like learning new words… so why not to give them lots of opportunities to learn those things. The appropriate-for-their-age things, that is. As a result, there will be no room in their young brains for the “!#%^*” words.

And if we do happen to hear a  little swear word coming out of our innocent child’s mouth, let’s not overdramatize it. It will only make the child want to use it more. In my opinion, acting like nothing has happened works best with the little children. They will forget the unfortunate expression as quickly as they have picked it up. With bigger children, though, I think it is worth clarifying the appropriate/inappropriate difference and suggesting better word choices. And last but not least, it only works if we lead by example.

Bye-bye the morning radio programs. Hello “The Wheels on the Bus” song.

“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” by Judi Barett

I’ve seen this book many times in bookstores and libraries but somehow I never felt like even browsing through the pages. I judged it by the cover and decided that the title and the illustrations (by Ronald Barett) seemed too weird-kind-of-absurd to me. But now that my son is in Kindergarten and this book was a part of his weekly reading assignment, I had no choice but read it through with him. I’m glad I did.

It truly is an amusing story.

In a town called Chewandswallow, it was raining food. Orange juice and eggs for breakfast, salads for lunches and spaghetti for dinner. Who wouldn’t be content with such convenient and delicious weather? Until the climate changed and the town was getting hit by most unpredictable menu and long spells of storms, floods, fog and hail of huge and undesirable portions. The people of Chewandswallow had no choice but to flee the town (on boats made of stale bread). And that’s how they discovered that in other places food came from stores. 

A very imaginative story with numerous puns and humorous illustrations, that start black and white and get brighter and more colorful as the story unfolds. My favorite image was the jello sunset. My son laughed at most of the inventive images, like a tree covered with fried eggs and a man covered with noodles.

I know that the story is meant to entertain but somehow I can’t help thinking that it must contain some hidden message. Perhaps it warns us about the effects of the climate changes caused by our ignorant misuse of natural resources and our selfish lifestyles, and calls for action before the ozone layer vanishes and the glaciers melt. Or perhaps it insinuates that our food portions have expanded out of proportion. Anyone has eaten at The Cheesecake Factory for example? Hope you came very, very, very, very hungry.

 

The Right Time to Have a Good Time

It’s only Monday, and the school year has just started, but I already feel like I’m running out of gas. Too little sleep, too much coffee, too little time with friends, too many errands. Too much  “No!” and “Mine!” from my toddler and one too many pouty face from my kindergartener. Drop offs, pick-ups, cooking, cleaning… Not sure when but I got fully sucked into my daily grind. I guess I was afraid that too much ME time would take away from the MOMMY and WIFE time. I’m a lousy multi-tasker. I was putting off my own want-to-do-it list till the next year, when both boys are at school and I have more time to do MY things.  But I’m getting burnt out. I need to reset. I need more ME time. Now.  More workout, yoga, dance classes, maybe finally start working on my novel? Whatever it will be it, now is the right time to do it. 

Funny, but I have already been through a phase like this. In a different context but with the same symptoms. I even wrote a poem about it.  Time to reread it and live by my own words again.

By the way, I was planning to start my novel today but the babysitter canceled on me. At least I managed to work out during my toddler’s nap. One thing at a time, I guess.  

The Good Time

I lived 100m/h- chasing time

the good time, the one yet to come

addicting mirage, driving me insane

from A to B to C to A

driving in circles,

everyday, to stop too scared

I failed to see bad time was catching up

STOP!

the tank is empty

I live 10 m/h

far away from rush hour jams

racing on my tiptoes with snails

I’ve finally found a sense

in my journey and my senses

have found an essence in dance

in the rhythm of silence

in tune with my neural universe

no more chasing the good time

it is now and here

“You’re Finally Here!” by Mélanie Watt

Mélanie Watt, a Canadian author and illustrator has a talent for creating  memorable picture books with even more memorable characters. You must be familiar with the resourceful, yet a bit cautious, Scaredy Squirrel, or the sassy and arrogant Chester the cat.  Today, I’d like you to meet the bunny, a bit needy, emotionally unbalanced and at the same time quite hilarious creature.

In “You’re Finally Here!” the bunny, gives the reader a hard time for showing up late. Apparently the reader has kept him waiting long enough to learn “accordion solo”. It’s so unfair to keep the bunny waiting. It’s just like “being too short to go on a ride” . And as annoying as “an itchy sweater”. Not to mention how rude it is. Just like “sticking gum under the sofa”. Finally the bunny starts feeling bad about the whole emotional meltdown and appears very happy to see the reader, if they promise to stay with him forever, that is. And then Vernie calls and the reader basically stops existing. Who is rude now, right?

However obnoxious the bunny is, I must say that he is quite a character. My son got some good laughs from this self-centered carrot lover, with most expressive eyebrows.  Next to the laughs, though, I wouldn’t mind if my son learned a thing or two about being less self-centered, more understanding, more patient, more forgiving, more accountable for his words… I know it’s a lot to ask and it’s not going to happen overnight but I think it’s always good to talk about it.

To sum up, “You’re Finally Here!” is a an amusing read with lot os wit in the text and tons of humor in the cartoonish illustration. The book reminds me of the Pigeon series by Mo Willems. It’s written in the same format, in which the character speaks with the reader. What do you call it, by the way? A silent dialogue? Whatever it is, it makes a good book even more engaging and memorable.

 

“Lost for Words” by Natalie Russell

“Lost for Words” by Natalie Russell was a quick pick at the library, that turned out to be both inspiring and sharing-worthy.

Tapir (what an original choice for the main character) and his friends had new notebooks. Giraffe felt inspired and wrote a little poem about her favorite tree. Hippo was more into short stories and wrote one with a perfect beginning and ending. Flamingo wrote song lyrics. Only Tapir could not think of anything to write about. He decided to walk away. Suddenly, as he was  watching his friends from a distance, he got an idea. He took out his pencils and started drawing. Page by page, the notebook was filling up with colors. Tapir rushed to show the drawings to his friends. They all liked what Tapir told them without using a word.

What an uplifting story and what a powerful message!

We all have talents, just not the same ones. We all have something to say, but perhaps not in the same way. Perhaps using a different medium. John has a gift of the gab, but Mike can dance his story out and Chloe will do it with a piano.  I personally love words, but I realize that others might be more expressive, touching and to the point when speaking the language of art, music or even science.

It’s a great responsibility of a parent, and even a greater privilege, to help our children discover their own ways of expressing themselves. Children have so much to say. In so many ways. We just need to activate all of our senses.

I guess I couldn’t avoid talking about parenting after all. Just like all roads lead to Rome, all picture books bring us to parenting, don’t they?

I’m Lost for Words. Parent’s Block.

As much as I like writing about parenting, this week I need a break. It might be parent’s block. I’m lost for words. And solutions. My sassy kindergartener takes every opportunity to negotiate with me basically anything. When I asked him why he never tries making deals with his dad, he said  it’s because I’m nicer. Go figure!  And then there is my cute as a bug and gross as a booger toddler, who needs to try, touch or taste anything from poop, to rocks, to any, edible or otherwise, garbage he can find in the street. I was hoping that a mild version of germ-phobia runs in our family but apparently I was wrong. How am supposed to keep my little raccoon safe now?

Before I figure that out, I have a picture book review for you. Just check my next post. Someone else was lost for words too.  

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