Friday, January 29, 2016

Swimming in Picture Books!

It's been a week since I put the brakes on my hot and heavy relationship with my Fitbit, and one unexpected outcome has been more time spent writing.  Until I manage to procure one of those fancy treadmill desks, writing will remain a sedentary activity for me, and one that at odds with my step count (spoiler alert: my step count loses).  I took on a new writing challenge this year, writing twelve picture books in twelve months.  My amazing husband gave me a membership to the 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge for Christmas, and the community has been amazingly supportive, informative and inspiring so far.  It feels a little scary for me to tell you guys this, because now you know I'm doing this thing, and you can ask me how it's going and then I'll have to answer honestly and what if all of my stories are terrible or I don't manage to complete the challenge and honestly how could I even consider writing for children when I love run on sentences so much? 

And because I like to keep things interesting, I added a side challenge of reading 1,000 picture books this year.  I know, that sounds crazy, but if I told you how many I was already reading before this challenge you'd know it's exactly my kind of crazy. 


But, this is good news for you!  (Well, it's good news for you if you stop by my blog for book recommendations.)   Since I have picture books on the brain lately, I'll have even more great reads to share. 

Here are a few books that stood out from my January reading.  (If you follow me on Instagram, you'll recognize these titles.) 




This book was awarded the Newbery Medal for best children's book of 2015, now part of a very small group of picture books to ever win this honor. This little book alluded me at my library for awhile, so I did the sensible thing and reserved it. Last weekend, I did the even more sensible thing, marched myself over to Left Bank Books while the kids were at chess club and purchased it, because it is beautiful. It follows a young boy, CJ, and his Nana on a weekly bus ride across town.  In the short span of the richly illustrated pages, we see how lucky CJ is to have such a Nana in his life, as she helps him behold wonder in the everyday. "Sometimes when you're surrounded by dirt, CJ, you're a better witness for what's beautiful." A wonderful reminder for us all. Congratulations Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson.



Is it too early to choose my favorite children's book of 2016?  Really?  Too soon?  Well, Be a Friend is certainly on my short list.  From the opening line "Dennis was an ordinary boy ..." I was hooked, and not just because of the ellipsis.  This endearing story of finding friendship when you show your true self is lovely to the very last page. 


This one almost made its way home with me too, but my book buying budget for January said no, and my budget is the boss of me.  Maybe next month!  Sophia has a lot more than one word up her sleeve when she tries to convince her family she needs a pet giraffe, but this loquacious girl finally finds the perfect one to get the job done. I just loved this book! Sophia is a hoot, the secondary characters are well developed, and the illustrations shine.




It was multicultural children's book day earlier this week, so I thought I'd share this gem I read over the weekend. It's the story of a young girl whose Abuela moves in with them as she ages. The language barrier between them makes it hard to communicate at first, but with the help of Mango, a parrot, they come up with a creative solution that has them both learning a new language. This book hit close to home, because a large part of the reason my husband started learning Spanish was to speak to his Abuela, who lived with them part-time when he was young. He worked hard to learn the language, and was able to not only talk to his Abuela in her last years, but sit beside her and watch her beloved telenovelas too.


I read this book over the weekend when the East Coast was blanketed in snow and loved the story, based on the author's experience as a boy in a New England blizzard. The illustrations are gorgeous and captivating, I especially loved the image of them climbing out their windows into the four feet of snow when they could not open the door.  A great winter read!


This book takes such a clever twist on the evergreen subject of a child wanting a pet.  I picked it up as a mentor text for a manuscript I'm working on, and was completely impressed with the creative and fresh take. 

This is a very sweet book that will resonate with both kids in blended families and kids who'd like to understand blended families better. Cardell loves his two families, his dad/stepmom/siblings and his mama, who he has all to himself, so when Otis comes to court his mama, he's not so sure he wants things to change.

Only picture books this time.  But, next time I pop in with book recommendations, I'll include a middle grade graphic novel I loved and a young adult book that currently has me entranced.  In the meantime, what books are you reading right now?  What are your kids loving?  I'm always eager to add to my list - 1,000 books is a lot - help a reader out!




Thursday, January 21, 2016

Every Step You Take




Dear Fitbit,

We need to talk. 

I know it’s totally cliché to start a letter that way.  And unfair really, given that you can’t even talk back.  But I have a few things I need to get off my chest.

When you came into my life a few short weeks ago, I had no idea you would turn my world around the way you did.  I’ve never fallen so hard, so fast.  I mean, I slept with you the first night we met.  My dog hasn’t even slept in my bed yet, and I’ve lived with him for three years.  But you, you promised so much.  You promised the moon and I believed you.

We were inseparable in those early days.  You were literally attached to me every second of the day.  I could hear you singing in my head, “Every breath you take, every move you make…” and I knew it was borderline creepy and I didn’t care.  I couldn’t take a single step without you.  I needed you to count them all.  “Every step you take, I’ll be watching you….”

Oh, and the way you made me feel when I hit that 10,000 step goal.  The vibrating, flashing party on my wrist never lasted long enough.  I’d stay up late, stealing away from my loved ones to sneak in extra steps with you.  Anything to make you happy.  “Every game you play, every night you stay….”

But when I didn’t make the goal I worried.  I wondered if you knew about the other women on my leader board, the ones walking 14,000 steps a day.  14,000 steps a day!  And in Canada no less, where it’s freezing outside?  Did you look at their numbers and wish you were on their wrists instead of mine?  Was I becoming a disappointment?  “Every vow you break, I’ll be watching you….”

And then one morning, I forgot to put you on after my shower.  And when I saw you sitting on my counter three hours later, I panicked.  Did you think I had left you?  All of those wasted steps, steps you didn’t know I was taking.  I took them for you!  I affixed you to my wrist tighter than before, desperate to prove my affection.  “Oh can’t you see, you belong to me…”

But since that morning, it hasn’t been the same.  I remembered those unencumbered hours, hours I spent free from the counting.  And I have a confession to make.  I’ve been looking at other wrists, bare wrists.  I’ve been imagining my wrist without you.   “How my poor heart aches, with every step you take….”

I don’t want to end this thing, but I can’t go on this way anymore.  I see now that what we had was a lusty infatuation, and not the kind of relationship that can last.   We can still see each other, but not every day.  Not every step I take.  Not every move I make.

I’m willing to try again if you are. 

Here's to a fresh start,

Jess

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