Friday, February 10, 2012

Bibi's Bookshelf 2012-01

I’ve decided to share the occasional review of children’s books, sharing recommendations from my granddaughter, Brianna (whom I prefer to call Bibi until she decides she’s too old for that nickname).  These reviews will focus more on her delight or lack thereof although I will interject my own responses as well.  She is four-years-old and some of these books may be revisited when she’s older, meaning I’ll read them to her again in another year and maybe she’ll love what she previously found uninteresting.  In the meantime, here are Bibi’s recommendations.
You know a book’s a winner when, at the end, the child immediately says “Read it again.”  Four times, again again again.  The illustrations are simplistic and perfect for what proves to be an uncomplicated story.  So what is there to love?  The story is interactive.  The child is encouraged to interact with the book by repeatedly refusing the pigeon’s request to drive the bus.  Sounds pretty tedious to read, doesn’t it?  It’s not!  It is fun to be emotive, following the expressive quality of the illustrations while having Bibi there giggling and say “no” as she points to the page.  I don’t know how many times she had someone read the book to her when she took it home but I know she loved it from the very first.

In previous reviews for children’s books, I’ve occasionally recommended ways to use the book as the child grows.  I’ve called these “For Further Exploration.”  I will continue to do this whenever possible.

For Further Exploration
  • When the child is old enough, have the child pick a favorite animal and create a similar story in which the chosen animal wants to drive the bus.  Perhaps an elephant would offer the reader a peanut as a way of bribing out a yes.  Or maybe a snake wants to drive a taxi.  Or maybe that same pigeon comes back and wants to drive a train.  Let the child have fun choosing what they want to do and then write and illustrate a book of their very own.  (Why not scan a copy of this book and share it with family and friends and the author?   Or send me a copy.  I’d love to see how some of these suggestions are used by you and your child(ren).)
  • Make a book of transportation.  In this book the pigeon wanted to drive a bus so begin with a bus and then think about other ways of going from one place to another.  Include everything from walking to flying, running to sailing, riding in a car to crawling.  Perhaps you can make a scrapbook with photographs of your child doing the various things like walking, skipping, running, etc.  Take other pictures of your child in a car, bus, bicycle, etc.  This is a project that can grow with the child and maybe will never be fully finished but can still be updated for many years to come.  (Sure, this will embarrass your teenaged child but when that same child is an adult they will be delighted to see this book and maybe be reminded of something they have yet to do.)
  • If you live in a city that has a public transportation system, plan a bus trip to somewhere new.  Together look at a bus schedule and map and show your child where you will begin your bus trip and count the number of stops between there and your destination.  Be sure to talk about etiquette rules like letting people get off the bus before climbing aboard. 
  • If you don’t live where there is public transportation, why not take an imaginary trip to a family member who lives in another city or state?  For instance, a lot of Rob’s family live in Kentucky while most of my family lives in New York and New Jersey.  Using a map, find the cities where different family members live and plan an imaginary trip there and back or even from one family member’s home to another.  How much would it cost to take the trip there and home again?  How much time will it take?  If you go to more than one place, have your child use math skills to calculate the cost.  Be sure to suggest that longer trips will also require having food packed or extra money to buy food on the journey.  
Book she also liked very much.

My First Words at HOME from Star Bright Books
This book is available in a bilingual Spanish/English version but the version I read was only in English.  Darn.  I am a strong believer in starting a second language early.  This is a simple book full of brightly colored pages.  The first four pages show things your child might find in your kitchen although some of the things may be a little more obscure in some homes than in others.  I don’t know that most people have a scale in their kitchen (we do) but that doesn’t mean your child can’t recognize a picture of a scale.   Other things include a cookie jar, refrigerator, colander, apron, dustpan, and rolling pin.  The next four pages have photographs of things found in a living room.  Then other rooms—such as a bedroom, bathroom—as well as a few pages for the back yard.  I don’t know if it was the simple design of the white pages with items on it or what but Bibi asked for this one to be read to her more than once as well.

For Further Exploration
  • Some of the things in one room may be found in another room.  For instance, the book says a phone is in the kitchen but your phone may be located in another room.  And the outlet in the book’s living room can be found in all sorts of other rooms.  Hunt for some of these things in your own home.
  • Count how many of each thing is in one room.  How many outlets?  How many chairs?  How many lamps?  How many plants?  Then count how many doors there in the house.  How many light switches?  Etc.  For the early mathematician, try adding up one room with another.  If one room has 2 outlets and another room has 1, how many outlets are in both rooms?
  • Make word labels for some of the things in a room and put a little double sided tape (or a loop of tape) on the back and make a game of taking the labels and taping them to the different things around the house.  Or, if you want to make this game re-usable, don’t use any tape and just put the label close to the object.  (Post-It © notes can also be used but won’t last very long.)
  • Try mixing up the labels and putting them on the wrong item and then have your child put them where they belong. 
  • Take a photo scavenger hunt and take pictures of the different things in a room and create your own picture book using your own things.  Use the labels you made to head each page.  Create a furniture scrapbook and add to it as your child gets older, from crib to first bed to older bed, etc.  (You can also do this with the homes of family who live nearby or even far away and collect pictures of different things your child would find in a grandparent’s home or an aunt’s home or even a relative’s home who lives far away.  Why not ask your family members to take a picture of their bed or desk and send it to you?  Be sure to send a thank you note from you and your child.)
  • Make a set of cards the same size as the labels and put photographs of the different things onto the new cards.  Have the child match the word with the picture.  (These can be stored in a file folder or manila envelope.) 
  • Have your child cut photographs out of magazines or store catalogues of different pieces of furniture.  Collect these and when you have enough sort them in different ways.  Find all of the red things or things you sit on or things you would find in a bedroom.  You can also do this with the cards you make if you made, especially if your family helped you by adding photographs from things in their own homes. 

Book she didn't like enough to sit through.

It’s a Big World Little Pig by Kristi Yamaguchi
I have a feeling that Bibi is too young for this book because she was not the least bit interested in my reading it to her.  I can’t say I blame her.  Sometimes when she is not interested in my reading a book to the very end, I still go back and read it when I’m alone.  Perhaps because I found the story engaging enough or liked the illustrations and wanted to keep exploring.   I was not immediately drawn to finish the book.  In fact, a few days passed before I picked it up to finish it.  The story is cute and the images work very well with the content.  I think that if Bibi were older or interested in ice skating, I would have had a hard time tearing her away from this book.  Or perhaps if she loved pigs as much as my mother does.  A portion of the  proceeds for this book goes to Kristi Yamaguchi’s Always Dream Foundation.  And although I wasn’t blown away by the book and Bibi wasn’t swept away either, I did think of some ways I would build upon the content.  (Note to Parents:  I would recommend you read this book through before trying to read it to the child.  Some of the greetings won't be easy for non-multi-lingual readers and you may want to practice saying these phrases so you can read them more smoothly.)

For Further Exploration
  • There are many books about pigs, from The Three Little Pigs to Charlotte’s Web.  Why not read several books about pigs, both fictional and factual.  Watch pig themed movies as well including Babe and Charlotte’s Web.  Even small children can enjoy novels when you read one chapter an evening.  This also helps develop attention spans as children have to remember from one day to the next what previously happened in the story.
  • In the book, Poppy goes to Paris.  Using a map or a globe, trace Poppy’s trip for New York City to Paris, France.  Poppy also makes friends from all over the world.  Try to find a city or place that begins with the letter P in each of these other countries and see how far away from Paris these friends live.  Maybe even plan an around-the-world trip for Poppy as she goes to visit each of her friends.
  • Using blank post cards or 5x7 index cards, have your child make their own travel postcards.  They can either pretend they went to a far off country, like Poppy, or they can draw a picture of places they go closer to home—like school, the park, the library.  Have your child dictate or write a note to a relative who lives far away and mail it.  Hopefully the relative will send a card back.
  • With your child, plan a trip to Paris, France.  Make a list together of the places you would want to see and the things you would want to do.  Plan on where you will stay and what you will eat.  (Many restaurants now have their menus online.) 
  • Why not spend the day eating French foods?  Have a croissant for breakfast and some French Onion Soup (or even French Garlic Soup) for lunch.  For dinner, a quiche and salad.  And of course, don’t forget a dessert.  Perhaps a plate of small petit fours or an éclair or Napoleon would end the day right.  Be sure to listen to some French music while enjoying your meal.
  • For older children, watch a French foreign film.  Cocteau’s La Belle et le Bête was a personal favorite of mine when I was growing up.  Other classics include The Three Musketeers, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Cyrano de BergeracFor younger children, you might prefer to watch Beauty and the Beast, which has several French terms sprinkled throughout. 
  • Poppy learns many ways to say hello in the book but there are many more languages out there so why not learn different ways to greet people in different countries?  Write these words onto Post-It notes and put the appropriate greeting on a map of the country.  Try to have at least one greeting on every page of your family atlas.
  • Visit the official website for the Louvre Museum, the Eiffel Tower, and anywhere else you and your child would imagine Poppy and her parents went while in Paris.  Many museums now offer “virtual tours” on their websites.  If you’re fortunate enough to live near a city where an exhibit from the Louvre is scheduled, be sure to take your child with you to the local museum.  But, if you’ve never been, don’t forget to “always dream” of someday going to the Louvre for yourselves.

If you have further suggestions for exploration, please leave a comment because someone else may be reading who wants more ideas.  Needless to say, my suggestions are not meant to be exhaustive.  But it is my hope that the ideas will allow a picture book to grow with your child and years or even decades from now it will still be there on a shelf, perhaps being shared and loved by a grandchild or two.

(This post and future Bibi Bookshelf posts are a part of my participating in the Illustrated Year Challenge.)

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Challenge Dropped

I've dropped the Fantasy Reading Challenge from the blog because after over two months nobody had signed up for it.  I donated the first gift card prize to a charity and won't be attempting to promote it at this point.  I think that it would have been more of a success if the artist had given me the piece I'd commissioned back in November or at least told me back then that there would be no artwork.  I could have started talking about it sooner.  But as a result of the delay and the very late final announcement, there was only me doing the challenge and it seemed silly to give myself a prize for my own challenge.  Especially since the first prize was donated by someone who was hoping it would be a success.

This was my first attempt at creating a reading challenge.  I don't know if it will be my last.  That remains to be seen.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J K Rowling

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J K Rowling is the sixth book of the series and once again I find myself just awed by the series as a whole.  I’ve said before that each book becomes progressively darker and this one finally gives a long anticipated loss that still manages to bring tears to my eyes, even though I’m not reading this book for the first time.

I don’t cry easily and I don’t think it would take all the fingers of both hands to count how many books have made me cry in my lifetime.  That this book made me tear up more than once, especially given that the climactic moment is one I had anticipated for at least two books already, just explains why I’m willing to revisit these books when there are so many unread books out there waiting for me.

Harry is no longer as annoying as he was in the previous book.  The experiences have matured him and he is now burdened with an awareness he did not have before.  With each volume, Harry’s innocence is stripped away as his own suffering and loss become greater.  Other characters likewise change.  Needless to say, Ron and Hermione remain loyal friends.  Dumbledore, unlike in the previous book, takes Harry into his confidence and asks of him what he asks of no other student.  Even Draco seems to have lost some of his arch-nemesis status as he no longer seeks out opportunities to harass and annoy Harry and his friends.

However, from the first chapter the awareness that stakes have yet again become higher and Harry is going to face more this year than he ever has before is obvious.  He is not alone in carrying a burden or with a consciousness of his own fate.  The enemy must be faced and someone is going to die.

I’ve already said that the inevitability of what occurs in this book could not have come as a surprise to older readers but that even the older readers continued to read the books is further evidence of Rowling’s story-telling prowess.  I’ve alluded before to things that are mentioned briefly in previously volumes that come up again in later ones.  Needless to say, this one is no different and a necklace (#2), a cabinet (#2, #5), a bezoar (#1) all turn up and become pivotal whereas before they were just momentary allusions that had no relevant weight.

When I first read this book, I hurried through the reading so I could pass my copy on to my son for him to read.  I came downstairs after reading the book and handed it to him.  I didn’t say anything. To him or to my other children. I just went into the kitchen, got myself a drink, and went back upstairs.  I was so deeply touched by how Rowling handled what I knew would happen, allowing the reader to see the aftermath of the events more so than in the previous volumes.  The last sentence of the book (actually the last paragraph which is one rather long sentence) draws it all to a perfect conclusion while building anticipation.  There is a delicate balance of emotions being drawn out in the final chapters and it is summed up in that last paragraph so beautifully it is no wonder that people anticipated the long-promised seventh book with an eagerness rarely afforded a book. 

And now to read the seventh book, the only Harry Potter book I’ve only read one time.  It made me cry the first time and I think it’s safe to say it will make me cry again.  After all, this book did and I honestly wouldn’t have expected it to do so, all things considered.  

Monday, February 6, 2012

Original Yoga by Richard Rosen

Original Yoga:  Rediscovering Traditional Practices of Hatha Yoga  by Richard Rosen looks at hatha yoga as a physical and spiritual practice, drawing on traditional primary texts to bring the teachings and practices to a western practicality.  Recognizing that some of the traditional advice for how some things should be practiced.  For instance, when saying that one yogi says to do a headstand for three hours, Rosen interjects that ten minutes will suffice.  Or when a sequence should be practiced for 2 hours each and the entire sequence would take 10 hours, he suggests trying a more realistic 3-5 minutes. 

Traditional yoga teachers, after all, were men who could devote every waking moment to their practice.  Western yoga practitioners typically are trying to enjoy their practice while also balancing the responsibilities of a job, family, and more.  And if it is unrealistic to expect most western yogis to immerse themselves so fully in hours of asana and meditation, the author knows how to make the unrealistic ideals more realistic. 

Rosen doesn’t limit his advice to the length of each practice, however.  He repeatedly cautions the reader that some things should not be tried without a living teacher.  In other words, kids, don’t try this at home.  Even something as seemingly inane as a pranayama (breathing) practice includes some methods that should be approached with reverential caution.

When I did the practice outlined in chapter 2, Rosen writes “repeat several times” and I chose six repetitions as my starting guideline.  This may be an appropriate number for some people and the author may even think six is too low a number but I ended up feeling shaky and a little nauseous afterwards.  This is not unusual for me, when a practice is focused on energy.  I have even experienced this when following along with a yoga dvd.  And given that the purpose of the practice in chapter 2 is to focus on the energy channels, the nadis, and so I was bound to experience some intense energy.

Having loved Richard Rosen’s book on pranayama, I was bound to love this book but my expectations were also high and Rosen fulfilled and exceeded my expectations.  He suggests the reader refer to Iyengr’s Light on Yoga throughout and someone who does not own this book will probably be frustrated by some of the explanations.  On the other hand, I was heartened to read how he doesn’t recommend a lotus pose for most western yogis because, although Iyengar says it is merely a 4 on a scale of 1-60 in difficulty, for those of us raised in homes where we use chairs, the flexibility in the hips and openness in the groins may simply be impossible.  At no point does Rosen disparage any of the traditional yogic practices; rather he reframes them for a different audience:  a western audience and, let’s be honest, most likely a feminine one as well.

On page 131, Rosen writes, “The more common ‘to-the-knee’ interpretation does suggest at least an ultimate though not ultimately important goal” and I feel this summarizes things wonderful.  While being able to move into a particular asana as photographed in The Light on Yoga may be the ultimate goal, it is not ultimately important.  Albeit, one could argue that I would naturally feel this way since I have never been able to do a full-lotus.  But very few of us can do scorpion pose and even fewer of us are aware that many yoga teachers consider corpse pose is the most difficult.  (Ponder that one for a while.)

There are other things I appreciate about how Rosen teaches yoga throughout this book, including a seemingly minor point when he says he thinks of “pairs of complements” rather than “pairs of opposites” (6, 32).  Semantics aside, his point is an interesting one and is suggestive of how traditional teaching may need to be modified to accommodate a western way of thinking.  When a teacher suggests holding a pose in a balance of “opposites” with one part of the body moving down while another moves up, it is natural to think about the disparate parts as being in opposition to one another.  However, if a teacher were to say that one part of the body moves downward while the other body moves upward in a complementary fashion, the internal experience of that pose is subtly shifted.

Rosen’s intention, to remove unrealistic expectations, is the greatest strength of this book.  Some teachers may find it frustrating to read about a practice that shouldn’t be done without the guidance of a teacher but the author is very aware of his audience.  Even with a seemingly harmless meditation practice, Rosen recommends a conservative approach.  
All of these exercises ask you to concentrate and hold your awareness at a specific point, and until you have some practice under your belt (or unless you’re already an experienced meditator), it’ll take you some time to maintain a steady connection.  When you feel comfortably established at a minute, add 15 seconds and practice for 75 seconds until you again feel comfortable.  Continue in this way until you reach 5 minutes, which may take several weeks or months. (242)
How many people would consider progressing so slowly without someone saying to do so?  And what if the individual were to approach a yoga practice slowly, focusing on a single pose or a single sequence and staying with it for weeks or months?  Which is why, if you fall in love with this book as much as I did, then you will probably want to already own a copy or rush out to buy one.  As for me, I’m adding it to my wish list and the next time I do the practice explained in chapter 2, I’ll definitely move through it a little more quickly, just to ensure I don’t feel sick afterwards.  In the meantime, I highly recommend this book to anyone who is ready to take their physical practice to a level where they no longer "do yoga" but begin to live yoga in every area of their lives, both on and off the mat.  

This book is due to be released in May 2012.  I was fortunate enough to read an electronic ARC.  It is available for pre-order on or through your local independent bookstore owner.  

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Girl Who Owned a City (The Graphic Novel)

The Girl Who Owned a City by O T Nelson was originally published in 1975.  It is being adapted for a 21st century audience as a graphic novel by Dan Jolley and artists Joëlle Jones and Jenn Manley Lee.  When this graphic novel begins, Lisa Nelson is foraging for food in an abandoned home.  She and her younger brother Todd live in a dystopian reality where everyone over the age of approximately twelve has died.  Lisa and Todd are not alone, however.  Within the first few pages we see other children who are struggling to survive and Todd is worried that the Chidester Gang will return.  Lisa’s resourcefulness not only allows her to keep her and her brother from desperate starvation but inevitably results her being seen as a leader with the other children who live nearby, who come to her because she has food and supplies they need, and who allow her to show them what they are capable of doing for themselves.

The timing is perfect for this revisionary approach to a novel that somehow missed my radar when I was a teenager.  (Seriously, how did I never hear of this novel?)  The audience is out there, as The Hunger Games has clearly proven.  If this future vision is not as bleak as more contemporary young adult dystopian novels, it nevertheless hints at possible darkness and the novel lends itself to future volumes.  Nelson did not write a sequel but if this graphic novel is successful enough, no doubt the publisher will encourage the writer and artists to continue Lisa’s story.

Thankfully, this one volume does not end on a cliff-hanger.  Which begs the question:  Would I want to read more about Lisa and the rest?  Yes.  While I found this first book a fairly quick read, I also found it compelling.  I kept reading “just one more page.”  Visually, I think the washed out colors are an excellent choice, suggesting the worn-out quality that clothes would have after several washings and even the dulled down shade of dust and dirt.  I’d want to know what happens next, especially if the possibility that the virus that killed everyone is still out there and likely to infect these children as they mature.  The groundwork for more story is clearly there and it is probably only a matter of seeing how well this first volume sells that will determine whether more of the story is coming.

I had the pleasure of reading this as an ARC and is scheduled for publication April 2012.  It is available for pre-order on  

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

My Business is to Create by Eric G Wilson

My Business is to Create: Blake's Infinite Writing by Eric G Wilson is an inspired book drawing on William Blake as the primary muse and source of inspiration.  Blake’s own mysticism permeates the text because it is not practical, in the sense of the author’s suggestion how the reader should apply the ideas he presents.  In that way, this is not merely a “how-to” presenting theory and then suggesting applicable exercises one can do.  Rather, it is a presentation of a creative philosophy, informed by the writings of an artist who was as much a mystic as anything else, and allows the reader to draw relevance in action.

To fully appreciate this remarkable book, it helps to be conversant with the works of William Blake.  Facsimiles, which include his illustrations, are available in print and some can be found online.  His poetry is canonical and can easily be found in most public libraries.  While it most surely helps to be familiar with Blake’s works, this is not necessary to enjoy Wilson’s discussions and the seamless way he connects Blake’s theories with works of other artists, writers, philosophers, et al, from eras past to the more contemporaneous persona who were themselves inspired by Blake’s visions.

Each chapter is a sort of presentation cum meditation and each builds one upon the other.  To read this book quickly, chapter by chapter, is as inevitable as is the desire to stop at the end of each one to reflect upon what has just been read, to perhaps seek out a movie that is referenced (i.e. Wilson mentions The Powers of Ten, a short film which can be found on youtube) or opening up a collection of Blake’s poetry and read with new eyes to see. 

In other words, this book is one that will need to be read initially to get an overview, then again to begin to experience the deeper meaning of each of the chapters, and again with the innocence that Blake himself contended could only come with knowing, and yet again to see how a previously overlooked idea can be put into personal practice.  Wilson trusts the reader by removing himself and not suggesting how the one should live out Blake’s inspiring theories.  In doing so, the reader is invited to become a mystic, to allow your art to become your life and your life to become your art.  Surely this is what Blake would have hoped for anyone who learned from him long enough to go their own way.
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