Friday, March 30, 2012

My thoughts after Mockingjay

Last night I read the last words of Mockingjay .  *sigh*

{Don't read below if you haven't read the books yet.  I'll try to be vague, but I'd hate to ruin anything for anyone.}

What a long and harrowing journey.  There was so much darkness, so much brokenness, I couldn't see a way out of it within the story.  The destruction left no room for resolution.  It invaded my sleep -- Snow and roses, the shell that was Peeta, mutts, fear, loss, chaos, evil and death.   My mind was so bothered by what I was reading.  I haven't felt that emotionally tense and drained in a long time.

But just when I thought Panem, Katniss and Peeta couldn't rise above the hopelessness, they did.  When I thought there was no room for a fresh shoot to spring up from the ground, it did.  Somehow Collins managed to believably convey the depth of the despair and personal damage, while also weaving for us a fragile tapestry of hope.  I wasn't sure if beauty could rise from those specific ashes.  But rise it did, tentative, fragile but alive.  Even after fire, life is persistant.  Even if it takes fifteen years.  Green still springs from ash; the sun still paints the sky with its soft orange glow.

Even though I would not have wished such a path of horror upon them, given the events that transpired, the ending was nearly perfection.  I've read the last chapter and the epilogue five times, just to make up for all of the ick that came before it.  To relish the good.  Props to Suzanne Collins for being able to wrap up an amazing trilogy with such a beautiful last paragraph, and a perfect last sentence that left me impossibly satisfied and happy.


Monday, March 26, 2012

15 ABC Books We Love + 5 We Wanted to but Didn't

My three-year-old, Nolan, has a love affair with letters.  In his world, the ABCs rank right up there with trains, McQueen and superheroes.  So I'm always on the look-out for great alphabet books for him.  Here are 15 that we love, followed by 5 we wanted to love but just didn't.  Enjoy!

Alphabeasties: And Other Amazing Types
by Sharon Werner and Sarah Nelson Forss.  
Alphabeasties: And Other Amazing Types is by far my favorite alphabet book.  If you love typography - this book is a must.  From its thick, matte paper to it's creative use of each letter, the book is a beauty to behold.   Using a variety of font, size and style, animals are beautifully and playfully crafted from each letter of the alphabet.  My three-year-old cannot get enough of this book, and neither can I.  In fact, I'm thinking of finding a way to frame our favorite letters to hang above Nolan's bed.

Apple Pie ABC
by Alison Murray.
Nolan loves this book.  I wasn't sold at first reading.  The quality paper (I guess I'm weird about nice paper) and fun retro graphics kept me hanging on long enough for Apple Pie ABC to find a place in my heart.  With just a few words, this books still manages to tell a story, in alphabetical order of course.  And its the story that keeps Nolan coming back for more.  He loves the dog and the more we read it, the more fun it becomes to add some life and personality into the sparse storytelling.  Definitely worth a look, especially for 3-4 year-olds.

by Bill Martin and John Archambault.  Illustrated by Lois Ehlert.
You can't compile a list of abc books and not include Chicka Chicka Boom Boom , right?  We are newcomers to this book.  It never interested me in the past.  Matthew fell in love with it in his Kindergarten class and received it as a Christmas gift from his teacher.  To be honest, it's still not one of my personal favorites, but my kids love it.  And, really, that's how you have to judge a book in the end.  If the kids give it a thumbs up, you've found something good.

Dr. Seuss's ABC: An Amazing Alphabet Book!
Both boys have loved this book since they were babies.  There is just something about Dr. Suess.  The repetition and the zaniness are irresistible.  Case in point:  "Big Z, little z, what begins with Z?  A Zizzer-zazzer-zuzz, as you can plainly see."

The Hidden Alphabet by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
The Hidden Alphabet is a lift-the-flap book.  My three year-old cannot resist anything with flaps.  They intrigue and amuse him to no end.  A square hole in each flap shows an object that beginnings with the appropriate letter.  The child guesses the letter, then lifts the flap.  The picture cleverly forms part of the revealed letter.  Even my six year-old liked this one.

The Turn-Around, Upside-Down Alphabet Book
by Lisa Campbell Ernst
The Turn-Around, Upside-Down Alphabet Book is the kind of book I love.  It stretches a child to see things differently and encourages out-of-the-box thinking.  Lisa Campbell Ernst forces you into action with this one, flipping the book four directions on every page.  Letters are perceived as graphics, rather than dealing with phonetic sounds.  I knew Matthew (6) would love this one, but I was pleasantly surprised that Nolan (3) was giggling and entertained as well.

Animal Parade: A Wildlife Alphabet
by Jakki Wood
Animal Parade feels like an all-out alphabetical animal stampede across the pages.  Though it's wordless, and basically story-less too, Nolan can't get enough of this one.  Each page displays a parade of animals that begin with a designated letter.  From ant to antelope, butterfly to bison, a wonderful variety of creatures -- large and small -- is represented.  One animal from the following page is hinted at on the edge of the preceding page, which makes for a great guessing game, while creating the feeling of a true parade across the pages.

Eating the Alphabet: Fruits & Vegetables from A to Z
by Lois Ehlert
Bright and colorful, Eating the Alphabet is conceptually similar to Animal Parade.  Instead of a parade of animals, it's an explosion of fruits and vegetables.  A great way to expose children to a wide variety of healthy foods.  Nolan loved pointing to different images and shouting, "I like that one!!!"  

Gone Wild: An Endangered Animal Alphabet 
(Caldecott Honor Book)
by David McLimans
Gone Wild is another graphic take on the alphabet.  Being a lover of graphics myself, it is right up my alley.  Each amazing letter graphically represents an endangered animal.  Both my boys were totally engrossed in these images.  Not only does McLimans create gorgeous graphics, he also teaches a bit about each endangered animal.  Many we already knew, but we also learned many new ones.  A winner for animal or nature-loving kids.

Museum ABC
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Admittedly I love Museum ABC more than my boys do.  But -- I still stand by its fabulousness.  Each page contains four works of art, each depicting the same object in a different way.  For example, on the first page, the concept of "A is for APPLE" is broadened to include the interpretation of apple by Lichtenstein, Cezanne, Brian Connelly and a Greek artist from 460 B.C.   I am planning to use this book to prep my kiddos before their first trip to our local art museum.  

Smithsonian Alphabet Set with Audio CDs  
by SoundPrints
My mom bought this set of Smithsonian Alphabet books as a gift to the boys.  They have been quite a hit.  Anything that comes with an audio CD is catapulted to the top of the boys' favorites list.  I love that  Nolan starts the CDs on his own and reads these books by himself in his room all the time, with volume full blast because he likes things LOUD.  Each CD starts with a song, then reads the book in detail.  The illustrations are brightly colored and very realistic.  Our set contains 6 books and CDs: Space, Sports, Music, Insects, Dinosaurs, and Animals.  This exact set is only available through QVC, and I don't think it's available right now.  But Amazon has a similar package of these books available though {here} .  The books are also sold individually; other ABC topics (not included in our set) have been published as well.  It's something I wouldn't have picked up myself, but that has become a kids' pick favorite around here.

Alphabet City
by Stephen T. Johnson
My Freshman year of college we had to create a found-object photographic alphabet; it became one of my favorite projects of all time.  Since completing that exercise long ago, I see letters everywhere.  A former co-worker once gifted me with architectural photographer Balthazar Korab's book, Archabet: An Architectual Alphabet.  It's a beautiful book; even a glance at its binding on my bookshelf makes me smile.  Alphabet City is like Archabet for kids.  Again, it's a book about looking at our surroundings with new eyes.  The alphabet is everywhere.  Now we see it too.  Traffic lights are Es; The pitch of certain roofs form As.  With a bite or two, the boys turn their donuts into Cs.  If you love this one, Johnson created another beautiful book, City by Numbers .  I love the cover shot.

Agent a to Agent Z
by Andy Rash
Agent a to Agent Z manages to tell a story, emphasize letters, and engage my boys with spy gadgets and humor.  Sometimes ABC books can be static, quiet and serious, I love that this one is full of action and humor and secret agent stuff galore.

by Charley Harper
Like Alphabeasties, Charley Harper ABCs is another frame-worthy book.  Filled with Charley Harper's stylized nature art, this simple, modern book would be a perfect gift for all those "bring a book" baby showers.  Beautiful and engaging.  I love when a book is child-accessible, but also a feast of gorgeous artwork.

by Peter Catalanotto
With our very own Matthew, it's easy to guess why we like Matthew A.B.C.  But even if we didn't, I'd love it anyway.  Poor Mrs. Tuttle has 25 Matthew's in her class - how can she possibly remember who is who?  She has her ways.  Matthew A is affectionate; Matthew C has a friendly cowlick (that spells friendly words in every scene, which cracks up my Matthew to no end); Matthew V volunteers (all the time, check out the Matthew in the purple shirt on the cover).  The illustrations are filled with wit, quirk and plenty of reason for giggles.

+5 That Weren't for Us:
The ones we wanted to love, but didn't.
Like I said above, I'm always on the hunt for a great ABC book.  So many are ho-hum.  Others I like but don't catch my kids' interest.  Then there are some that are supposed to be fantastic that just don't strike a chord with anyone in our house.  You might love them; lots of people do.  Here are why they didn't make our list:  1. The Alphazeds has a lot of potential.  I love that the letters have personality and are described with adjectives.  I loved it right up until the ending, which uses two quotes from scripture borderline sacreligiously; I didn't feel comfortable reading it to the boys.  2.  Alphabeasts is full of surreal paintings that are kooky and very-well done.  But I've never been a surrealism fan and the illustrations totally freaked Nolan out.  "Close that book!" he cried, and that was the end of it.  3.  Mordicai Gerstein's The Absolutely Awful Alphabet is really quirky (which I usually love) but we weren't lovers of the references to drooling demons, extreme evil and pulverizing predators.  It's done well and with a witty edge, but just isn't our cup o' tea I guess.  4. AlphaOops!: The Day Z Went First is a cute book, but it ended up just making Nolan confused.  He had trouble following the mixed-up storyline, so we set it aside.  5. The Dangerous Alphabet gets rave reviews from many, but, though I love the illustration style, we just can't stomach the oozing skulls, blood and shackles.  D is for disturbing.

I hope you find our list helpful.  There are scads of ABC books out there and I know I haven't tackled them all.  I'd love to here your family favorites.  Did I miss a great one???  Let me know!  Comments make me excited, and I LOVE a good book recommendation.  =)