Monday, July 30, 2012

Super Girls, Gangstas, Freeters and Xenomaniacs: Gender and Modernity in Global Youth Cultures, by Susan Dewey and Karen J. Brison (eds.)

I thought from the title that this was going to be a hip-talking "teenspeak" book aimed at young women to make them feel empowered through fun little antidotes about roller derby girls in Brazil or something.

I'm an idiot.

This is actually a very serious collection of essays on the ideals of gender, particularly the gender expectations and ideals placed on young people (girls and boys both), around the globe in the modern world.

Oh, for the record, the title refers to

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Butterfly, Flea, Beetle, and Bee: What Is an Insect? (Animal Groups Are CATegorical Series), by Brian P. Cleary

I admire the thought--make an informative book for kids about insects that is cute, well-illustrated AND has a rhyming verse AND teaches kids about insect classification AND showcases a few popular insects AND fits into the existing "CATegorical" series of books. I admire it in theory. But in practice? Pick a lane and stay in it. This book tries to do too many things and does none of them well. Plus, it fails to address the most obvious question: What ISN'T an insect (spider, centipede, earthworm, etc.) even if it seems like one?

Saturday, July 28, 2012

My Brother is Different: A parents' guide to help children cope with an Autistic sibling, by Barbara J. Morvay

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For many years I worked as an Early Childhood Educator at a developmental daycare (one that specialized in Special Needs Education). During that time I met and worked with many children with Autism and their families. I've also been a daycare teacher for about a decade, so I've read hundreds (thousands?) of children's books. My Brother is Different was written by a Special Needs Educator, not by a children's book author, and it shows.

It's informative (at least on a simple level) and it covers all the points the author was trying to make (that the sibling of an Autistic child may be confused, scared, frustrated, etc. by their sibling's behaviour) but as a children's book...well, it's terrible.

I'm sure it'll find its way on to the shelves of many teachers' and parents' collections, and perhaps it should. It does give good ideas for parents on how to talk to their children (all of their children) about Autism. But if it were used as the author intended, with the illustrated portion of the book being read to (or by) a child directly, I can't imagine it would be very successful.

There are a lot of books on the market that present Autism and other special needs to children in the form of picture books, and some of them are excellent. I've read a fair number of them to daycare classes over the years. This would probably not be added to that list. It has wonderful intentions but it might be better used as a starting point for parents and educators to have a conversation with their child, rather than as a picture book for a child to read and respond to.

Do you have favourite books about Autism? How about books that help children deal with difficult subjects?

Friday, July 27, 2012

SAVEUR Easy Italian: 30 Classic Recipes, by The Editors of SAVEUR magazine

Every time I watch a Golden Girls marathon I start to think that I could be a great Italian chef. I'm not Italian and I'm not a chef, but my spaghetti's okay and Sophia is my favourite character on that show. If she can do it... Then Saveur Easy Italian puts me in my place. Their idea of easy is things like "Swordfish Puttanesca" which, to me, sounds very intimidating.

It's a gorgeous cookbook but I think having Saveur Magazine teach you how to make "easy" recipes is a little like having Neil deGrasse Tyson teach you long division. Sure he's charming and entertaining and colourful, but you just know he's going to sneak some astrophysics in there.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Soup of the Day: 365 Recipes for Every Day of the Year, by Kate McMillian

I am so in love with this book that I want to lick the pages. Not only are there 365 different soup recipes (SOUP! I FREAKIN' LOVE SOUP!), but it actually has a calendar with menu plans.

Hit the jump for a book trailer that actually doesn't suck...and will make you hungry....

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Big Blue, by Vanita Oelschlager (illustrated by Kristin Blackwood)

I originally published a review of this book on my blog, Cozy Little Book Journal, and received a lot of angry comments about it because of how much I hated this book, but I stand by it, even if my original review was a lot more flippant than this one. (If you'd like to see the original review, scroll down after the jump.)

I really disliked this book. There are a lot of different ways to put a message into a book for kids, but I think any author who does that also needs to do two things: 1. Make sure the story still works and the book is actually good, and 2. Make sure that the message is actually one worth relaying. I think this book fails in both cases.
First of all, the story about the bird who eats so much that he's too fat to fly with the other birds for the winter is troubling. If that actually happened, the bird would die. But in this book he just learns to stop eating. That's the solution. THAT'S NOT A SOLUTION! It doesn't show him being more active, or eating better foods, it just says he stops eating. So when the other birds return he's skinny and happy.

Second, this is a terrible message. I get that the author is trying to tell kids that if they eat too much they'll be fat and therefore their lives will be awful but, again, that's a TERRIBLE message. The issue with this bird seems to be ONLY his size, not his actual health or skills or personality. The author perpetuates the myth that size alone is an indicator of health, which it absolutely is not. Some children, like adults, are going to be bigger than others based on genetics and body type, even more so for kids because they grow at different rates.

Driving home the point that eating a lot and being bigger than others is something you should be desperately ashamed of is not only irresponsible and inaccurate, I believe it's quite damaging to children. I don't mean that children shouldn't be taught about healthy choices, but size alone is NOT an indicator of health and fat shaming like this is just encouraging children to develop body image issues at a younger age.

UPDATE: Lexi Fairheart and the Forbidden Door, by Lisl Fair (illustrated by Nina de Polonia)

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I originally reviewed this book on July 12, 2012 (and on June 8, 2012, on my other blog, Cozy Little Book Journal), when the publisher sent me an email asking me if I would read a digital copy and give her some feedback. (You can read the original review here.) I thought the book needed a little work but definitely had potential. It had grammar mistakes, an unresolved ending and didn't distinguish between insects and spiders (which, sorry to give away the ending, is a plot point in the story). But the book has been reworked and re-edited and it looks better than ever. The illustrations are still the star, with rich and satisfying artwork on every page. The ending is much better than before, and my two-year-old certainly enjoyed the finished product (which I believe is still only available in digital format at this time). It's still a bit wordy for a picture book, and could maybe be condensed a bit. My daughter is younger than the target audience for the book (listed at 6-8 years), but she still enjoyed it. Her favourite part was "the cookies," the page in which it says that Lexi's curiosity has paid off in the past and shows her discovering a cookie jar. I think a lot of young children really enjoy solving "mysteries" within a text by looking at clues in the illustrations (which is part of the reason why picture books for young children usually don't have too many words, since the pictures tell the story as much as the text).

Cooking from the Farmers' Market: Shop, Cook, and Eat, by Jodi Liano, Tasha DeSerio, and Jennifer Maiser

This is exactly the book I've been looking for! For all the books I've been reading lately that talk about the ethics and politics of food production, what I really want is a book that just shows me the benefits of eating seasonally with recipes and gorgeous food photography. And we're definitely having those tempura green beans this week (wait, I mean if they're in season).

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Healthy in a Hurry: Easy, Good-For-You Recipes For Every Meal of the Day, by Karen Ansel

This book read my mind. With a young child at home, I'm forever thinking about ways to prepare healthy meals that she'll be happy to eat without just having the same things over and over. I always try to make healthy food, but sometimes I'm pretty low on inspiration. This book makes healthy eating accessible (I might even consider buying quinoa, whatever that is). It even has some helpful menu plans. Plus, it's divided into sections called "Breakfast," "Lunch," and "Dinner" so it's easy to find ideas in a hurry (oh hey, just like the title!).

Monday, July 23, 2012

OMGqueer: Short Stories by Queer Youth, by Radclyffe and Katherine E. Lynch, PhD., eds.

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I was excited to read and review this collection because I love queer youth. Wait. THAT didn't come out right. I don't mean in a creepy way. I mean, I'm a fervent supporter of queer rights and of young people in general, particularly of young people who write. I was once a young person who wrote and it was nice to be supported and encouraged. That being said, I expected to read this book for the same reasons I occasionally go to youth poetry slams: to show how super supportive I am, to hear what the young people have to say, and to politely ignore any bad writing (because hey, I'm super supportive).

But holy sh*t, ya'll! (Sorry, I'm still recovering from the Jenny Lawson book. I'll try to tone down the cursing and "y'alls") A lot of these stories were good! Like, really good. Not just, I'm a super supportive queer ally who supports young people's writing, good. Granted, a few of them were that latter category of "good," but I revert back to my previously stated politeness and refuse to say which ones those were.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Case of the Ruby Slippers: A First Kids Mystery #3, by Martha Freeman

The Case of the Ruby Slippers (First Kids 3)
What a delightful book! It's exactly the kind of kids' mystery book that made me fall in love with mysteries when I was a child. I can't wait until my daughter is old enough to read it!

The First Kids series follows Cammie and Tess, the young daughters of POTUS Marilee Parks. Along with their Aunt Jen, their cousin Nate, their grandmother and their dog, Hooligan, the girls find themselves solving one mystery after another, all while living in the White House and being followed around by the Secret Service. 

In The Case of the Ruby Slippers the girls have ordered the ruby red slippers from the movie The Wizard of Oz for their aunt's birthday. But when the shoes are missing--and then quickly found--the girls feel an investigation is in order.

This book makes me wish

Friday, July 20, 2012

Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat, by Bee Wilson

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Consider the Fork is brilliant. It is not a history of what we eat but how we eat, which I found absolutely fascinating. Bee Wilson makes a strong argument that the utensils, cooking methods and table etiquette that we've developed over the millennia have shaped--and been shaped by--our individual cultures and have direct links to our food itself. 
          For instance, which came first--the Chinese stir-fry or the wok? The answer is both. Woks were developed to address a shortage of firewood and fuel. Cutting food into small, even pieces helps them cook faster and conserve energy. But the stir-fry and the wok are so linked to Chinese food culture it's hard to imagine Chinese food without them. And the other impact of wok cooking was that all knife work was done in the kitchen, not at the table, thus solving the age old question of how to make sure no one pulls a knife on you at dinner (one of the main concerns behind most British table etiquette). The British, on the other hand, had no such fuel shortage and were therefore able to slow roast meats for hours at a time, giving rise to one of England's most beloved culinary traditions--roast beef. 
          Bee Wilson gives a history of various aspects of food preparation, cooking and food storage that is so fascinating and detailed that it should be required reading for anyone writing historical fiction. Reading about typical late Victorian London kitchens had me thinking back to all of the novels I'd read from that time period (which is a lot) and reassessing how accurate they'd been.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

My Two Moms: Lessons of Love, Strength, and What Makes a Family, by Zach Wahls and Bruce Littlefield (audiobook narrated by Kris Koscheski)

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Zach Wahls skyrocketed to fame in 2011 when, at the age of 19, he testified before the Iowa House Judiciary Committee regarding a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. He stood up in defence of his family, of his two lesbian moms, and of himself as a child of gay parents who turned out just fine after all. "If I was your son, Mr. Chairman," he said. "I believe I'd make you very proud." His testimony was uploaded to YouTube and went viral almost instantly.

My Two Moms is about Zach Wahls' family. It's about what led up to his testimony in Iowa. But mostly it's about Zach Wahls, a twenty-year-old who has had, for the most part, an incredibly easy life. Yes, he's had some instances of embarrassment over having gay parents (my mom's not gay and I spent half my childhood being embarrassed by her for one reason or another--that's what kids do) and he's experienced the incredible pain of seeing one of his parents battle a serious illness (his mom Terri has MS, which is definitely painful for the whole family, but this kind of hardship is certainly not exclusive to gay parents). In fact, if you were to describe Zach Wahls based on the characteristics that are most important to who he is, you'd probably say he's a twenty-year-old student, an Eagle Scout (he mentions that on nearly every page of the book), a giant nerd (he comes by it honestly--his parents walked down the aisle to the theme from Star Trek Voyager), a child of loving parents, a debate champion, a minor internet celebrity and budding entrepreneur, and oh yeah, his moms are gay.

Hit the jump to see Zach Wahls' testimony before the Iowa House Judiciary Committee...

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Sh*tty Mom: The Parenting Guide for the Rest of Us, by Laurie Kilmartin, Karen Moline, Alicia Ybarbo, and Mary Ann Zoellner

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Hahahahahaha! What's better than an hilarious book about parenting written by four comediennes (one of whom is the fabulous Laurie Kilmartin from Last Comic Standing and Conan)? One that is hilarious AND full of helpful tips. Like, "How to Sleep Until Nine A.M. Every Weekend" (Answer: leave breakfast on the table the night before and the TV already turned on to cartoons. Sh*tty? Maybe, but it's also really nice to sleep until nine a.m. once in a while). With chapters like "Stop Not Taking the Easy Way Out" and "How to React if You Think Your Child Might be Gay (Hint: Celebrate)," Sh*tty Mom is a giant love letter to moms who are exhausted from trying too hard not to be sh*tty. I read the entire book while locked in my bedroom while my child screamed at her father that it was definitely not her bedtime yet. Sh*tty? Yeah, a little. But I think it's exactly how the authors would have intended their book be read.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained (audiobook), by Robert L. Wolke (narrated by Sean Runnette)

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The concept behind this book is exactly the sort of thing that usually appeals to me. It's about the science of the kitchen. Things like "Why does meat turn brown when you cook it?" (Answer: The Maillard reaction. I totally knew that, y'all! Food Network FTW! Also, I just listened to Jenny Lawson's audiobook so I'll be saying y'all a lot. If you've listened to her book you'd know that my new word tick could have been much, much worse.) So I expected that this audiobook would be great for a nerdy foodie wannabe like me. I expected it to be kind of science-y but also interesting and mouth watering. I mean, it comes with a PDF of recipes. I was all set to LOVE it. 


Somewhere around what felt like the third hour of the section on sugars, I thought, "Should learning about candy be so painful?!" I don't know whether it was Sean Runnette's narration, which is a combination of fussy NPR voice and computerized robot informing me of the time after the beep, or whether it was the fact that a lot of the "science" sounded a lot more like cranky Andy Rooney rants (why do we call so many things "salt" when we're referring to a lot of different kinds of chemicals?), or whether it was the fact that the author uses the term "tech speak" after every fifty words, but this book was....oh, what's the word? Boring. Yeah, it was boring. I can't tell you how much it pains me to say that because I LOVE kitchen science. Like, LOVE it, as in I already knew about the Maillard reaction and I'm neither a cook nor a chemist. So yeah, I'm pretty easy to please in this genre. But this audiobook isn't a fun listening experience. Maybe stick to the actual book?

Again, it's not that the subject matter is boring. I really do find it interesting. But...not in this book.

Monday, July 16, 2012

MAGDA'S BLOG: A Mouse Called Wolf, by Dick King-Smith (illustrated by Jon Goodell)

We read this book aloud to Magda (she’s two-and-a-half), finishing around June 2, 2012. I asked Magda questions about it on June 5, 2012. Here’s what she had to say:

What book is this?
A Mouse Called Wolf

Who wrote it?
          Wolfgang Amadeus!

Haha. No, that’s the character in the book. Who’s the author of the book?
          Dick King-Smith

Was it a good book?
Yeah, we read it all!

What is the book about?
It’s about Wolf.

Who’s Wolf?
A animal.

Is it a wolf?
No, something else.

A boy! A mouse who’s a boy.

Hit the jump for more, plus Magda's sheet music painting...

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Buy, Buy Baby: How Consumer Culture Manipulates Parents and Harms Young Minds, by Susan Gregory Thomas

Like NurtureShock, this book says plainly what Early Childhood Educators have been trying to say for years. Young children learn by playing with simple, open-ended toys that encourage imagination and problem-solving. They learn language by listening to people talk and by being read to. They learn by being exposed to real life experiences with real life materials. They don't need magic videos, computer programs, "science-y" sounding products that promise to make your child a genius based on research that is either made up, misinterpreted or inconclusive. They don't need Disney characters in order to be engaged with the world. In other words, they don't need half the crap we parents are being sold on every day.

I guess I never realized just how different the marketing to parents is from my experience as an ECE. At daycare we had blocks and dress up clothes and books and clay. But I'd always have some parents asking why we weren't doing flash cards and work sheets with the two-year-olds or why our story time didn't look more like an elementary school classroom.

Now that I'm a parent myself, I get it. Sometimes it feels like the whole world is conspiring to make me feel guilty that my child isn't a member of the Disney Club or that she'll never be a "baby genius" because I didn't buy the right videos. I've had neighbours stop me at the store to tell me about computer programs that will teach my baby to read. I know that most of these "wonder products" are complete crap. But I also know that the marketing of this crap to parents is fierce.

What do you think? Are you drowning in "must have" products for your baby?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Jacob's Ladder Reading Comprehension Program - Primary Level 2 (1-2), by Joyce VanTassel-Baska and Tamra Stambaugh

Jacob's Ladder Reading Comprehension Program - Primary Level 2 (1-2)
What a wonderful book! I'm a preschool teacher and my partner is a junior high English teacher, so we are both interested in reading comprehension resources but we don't usually read ones specifically aimed at elementary school teachers. Nonetheless, we both found this book very easy to use and very scale-able. The ideas for questions and activities for each of the recommended poems, stories and novels could be adapted for younger children just learning to read or for older children who are having difficulty with reading. They're also open-ended enough to provide good ideas for lesson plans for books and programs not included in the guide.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Fish Tank: A Fable for Our Times, by Scott Bischke

FISH TANK:  A Fable for Our Times

The sea creatures in Professor Brown’s aquarium have a problem. The professor has gone on sabbatical for a year and left the care of their tank to someone who does not have much interest in the job. The hapless assistant attaches a fifty gallon drum of food to the tank and leaves, presumably never to return. Will the fish (and crabs, shrimp, seahorses, etc.) have enough food to last the whole year? Some of them say no, while others argue that there is nothing to worry about.

Fish Tank is a parable. It can be used to draw parallels to human concerns (such as climate change, which is the author’s intent) and human behaviour. It’s meant to appeal to all ages and has a reading guide for teachers available from the author.

I expected Fish Tank to be sanctimonious and tedious, too focused on the “message” to be a good story. But it’s a fantastic story! The real genius of the book is that, though the parallels are easy to draw, the author keeps the story really about the aquarium. (It’s like the scene in Finding Nemo when all the sea creatures are in the dentist’s office,

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Lexi Fairheart and the Forbidden Door, by Lisl Fair (illustrated by Nina de Polonia)

The following review originally appeared on my other blog, Cozy Little Book Journal, on June 8, 2012. Since that time the author has let me know that she will be re-editing the book before publishing it in wide release. So the following review may be out of date:

This book is beautifully illustrated and the story has potential, but it needs work. First, to state the obvious, the vast majority of children's picture books are 32 pages long (It's true. Go look at your kids' book shelves if you don't believe me. I'll wait.) so the author would probably want to adjust it a bit from the awkward 17 pages of the e-book edition is she plans to have it published by a major publishing house. Beyond that, though, it could use some editing. There are grammar mistakes, which aggravates me in children's books ("one of these creatures were on the loose"? Really?), and the ending is unsatisfying and flat. Why was the door so forbidden? What's the resolution to the story? Just because the book is for preschoolers doesn't mean
these things should be ignored. But with some editing, this book could become the first in a series.

Hit the jump for Magda's take!