Archive from January, 2016
Jan 30, 2016 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Still Smiling

Still Smiling

Okay, I feel a little guilty for reviewing a book I only skimmed through, but honestly?  It’s too funny to miss!  I picked up Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies because we have LOVED Andrea Beaty’s picture books (at least the ones we’ve read–we’re still working on them!); I figured my 9-year-old would get a kick out of it, but I’d go ahead and give it a quick read-through before I gave it to her.  It might be fun, right?

OH.  MY.  GOSH.

Twins Kevin and Joules are thrilled to be at summer camp while their parents defend their title at an International Spamathon.  When their counselors are hypnotized by Fierce, Large, Ugly, and Ferocious Furballs from another planet, however, it’s up to them to save the world from total domination.

I ask you.  Do I really need to add anything to that?  I feel compelled, however, to point out that Beaty’s tone is deliciously entertaining.  Even if this doesn’t sound like your thing–it’s not really mine–it’s totally worth it.  I promise.

(By the way, there’s a sequel called Fluffy Bunnies 2:  The Schnoz of Doom.  It’s a little ridiculous how much I’m looking forward to it.)

Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies


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Jan 28, 2016 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on It Happens To Be Healthy

It Happens To Be Healthy

I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions, but I am trying to beat back the snacking monster that a couple of (brief) vacations (not to mention the holidays) have unleashed.  I am therefore looking to make meals I particularly enjoy (instead of, say, snacks or treats I particularly enjoy); this is why I am so belatedly delighted with the lemons my friend found for me at an insanely good price.  One of the things I make with lemons–when I make the time to do the chopping–is Mel’s White Bean and Tuna Salad, which has one of my very favorite flavor profiles AND just happens to be healthy!

The best part is, tuna doesn’t have to be your thing.  I eat it, but I don’t necessarily love it.  What I do love, however, is the combination of lemon zest, fresh lemon juice, and parsley (as well as green onion, to add to the flavor party).  I’ll eat pretty much ANYTHING with that flavor profile; the best part is, the beans and tuna are all lean protein (and fiber, for the beans), and so it’s light and fresh and filling and delightful.

I have made a couple of changes, mind you.  Raw onions are not so much my thing, so I use green onions rather than red to make the onion flavor considerably more mild.  Lemon, on the other hand, really IS my thing, so I use two lemons instead of one.  (It’s really hard to make anything that I would consider too lemony.)  And finally, I prefer to use small white beans rather than Great Northern, although Great Northern are fine.  Mel talks about scooping the salad with crackers, as well as a variety of other ways to eat it; me, I just dig in with a spoon.  Either way, it’s delicious, and I love it, and it fills me with joy to know that it’s sitting in my fridge right now!

Jan 26, 2016 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Perfect For Comparing and Contrasting

Perfect For Comparing and Contrasting

Reading Little White Duck:  A Childhood in China was an interesting experience; I’ve never before seen Chairman Mao portrayed so positively.  The funny thing is that it’s not at all a political book, but rather a series of vignettes about the author’s, well, childhood in China.  Her parents, however, were both born into poor families, and they benefited from Mao’s policies.  (She does quite a good job at portraying that without taking a political stand, actually.)  If I were teaching, I would have my students read this and Red Scarf Girl:  A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution together; the possibilities for a compare/contrast essay are endless.  (Red Scarf Girl is incredibly compelling, and its naive narrator is perfect for its subject matter.) But I digress.

Little White Duck is another of the graphic novels I picked up for my oldest, and we both enjoyed it.  It’s around a hundred pages and gives you a nice glimpse into a completely different life and culture while still being accessible to grade schoolers.  Bottom line?  Totally worth your time, even if the graphic novel format is still not my first choice.  (If you’re wondering why I linked to Red Scarf Girl instead, it’s because that format really IS my first choice, but I promise–it’s completely a personal preference.)

Jan 24, 2016 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on More Complicated Than I Realized

More Complicated Than I Realized

I picked up T4 at the library because, hey, how could I not?  (If you know me, you know that a verse novel about WWII is pretty much irresistable.)  When I tried to mark it as currently reading on Goodreads, however, I hit a snag; I can only assume that it won’t let you search for currently reading titles until you’ve typed the third character in the title.

This is a problem when the title is only two characters.

I ended up having to look it up in the main search field and flag it from there, and because I was on the page anyway, I took a quick gander at the reviews.  A surprising number of them were definitely negative, which piqued my interest enough that I finished the book with more critical an eye than I would normally use.  (As the book is short and the plot simple, I’ll just say that it’s the story of a deaf girl in Germany and her experiences after Hitler passes a law allowing the state to euthanize the mentally or physically disabled.  It’s short enough that saying much more would just start spoiling it for you.)  For a time I started to somewhat agree with the negative reviews; by the end, however, I concluded that not one of them (at least, of those I read) had enough perspective to entirely back up their claims.

A few of them, of course, were just ridiculous.  Verse novels are a thing, and T4 is a verse novel.  Giving a verse novel a bad review for BEING a verse novel just makes you sound, well…stupid.  (I really can’t come up with a better word, so it’s a good thing my kids are asleep–that’s a bad word at our house.) Quite a few more, however, complained about the language–they had issues with it not feeling poetic. (There were complaints that “hitting enter in the middle of a sentence doesn’t make a poem.”  Lois Lowry is quoted on the front cover as saying “told with spare lyricism and haunting imagery,” and at least one of the reviews took issue with that.  The author opens with a sort of forward in verse, beginning “Hear the voice of the Poet!”, and there were complaints about that.  (I’ll admit, I didn’t think it fit terribly well, but at the end the author mentions modelling it after William Blake’s “Introduction,” the first poem in his Songs of Experience.  Okay.)  Some readers loved it, but overall, the majority seemed unimpressed with the book.

Here’s the thing.  I spent a lot of the book questioning Lowry’s use of “spare lyricism”; I didn’t find the verse as poetic as I wanted it to be.  When I got to the end, however, I read the ‘About the Author,’ which is where you learn that the author is deaf.

Let me repeat that–the author is deaf.  As in, “completely deaf from a birth defect and illness.”  She had a percentage of hearing in one ear during grade school, which made learning to speak and assimilating into hearing culture easier, but she spent years doing most of her communicating with a pad and pencil, and she learned ASL in her early twenties.

How does being deaf affect how one writes poetry?  What is lyricism in a silent world?  How does “speaking” (I have no idea what the proper term is) ASL affect one’s use of written language?  (I know it’s a more blunt language than spoken English, for example.)  A few of the negative reviews pointed out that the book is a bit agenda-y–the characters are less well developed than the issue–and they’ve probably got a valid point.  The ones that complain about the style of its poetry?  Unless the reviewers also happen to be deaf, I don’t see how they’re fully equipped to judge.  (I certainly can’t bring myself to criticize the language.)  I don’t know that the book is amazing, but it’s interesting, and clearly told, and it offers an unusual perspective on the Holocaust.  I’d still call it good.  As for you, well–you’ll have to decide for yourself.  Ultimately, however, I think it’s worth your time.

Jan 22, 2016 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Using Up Ricotta

Using Up Ricotta

I rarely have half a large container of ricotta in my fridge.  Stuffed shells and traditional lasagna require a whole one; baked ziti uses 15 ounces, so I buy a 15 ounce container for it.  I’ve tried a few new recipes lately, however, and once used 15 ounces when all I had was a 32 ounce container–hence, half a container.

The problem with half a container, of course, is that it’s open.  Sealed ricotta can last; open ricotta, not so much.  Since I already have baked ziti in my freezer, I went in search of another recipe that used 15 ounces; I ended up with this Simple and Meaty Skillet Lasagna, which called for less.  More cheese is always better, right?

Here’s the thing.  It was pretty good, especially for how easy it was (my oldest broke the noodles, and I think she had fun); the extra ricotta, however, was too much for me as is.  If I had mixed the Parmesan in with it, or added chopped fresh parsley?  It would have been another story, I think.  As it was, the dollops of straight ricotta were a bit overwhelming.  (Using the amount it calls for, mind you, would likely be perfect.)  My other issue is a very weird, it’s-not-the-recipe-it’s-me thing–I’m weirdly fond of the dryer pasta at the edges of baked pasta dishes, and the texture of the noodles in this was uniform.  I’m guessing this will be a good thing for most of you, but I missed the dryer bits.  On the other hand, it’s hard to overstate the appeal of an easy skillet meal; I’ll likely tweak it and try it again.  I’ll let you know!

 

Jan 20, 2016 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Not the Reaction I Was Expecting

Not the Reaction I Was Expecting

You know how when you’re pregnant you make lots of easy meals, because hey, you’re tired and you feel icky and it’s what you do?  And then you have the baby, and you make lots of easy meals, because hey, you’re tired and you’ve got a baby and (in my case) three other children, and it’s what you do?  And THEN your baby is teething, and you make easy meals, because OH, the fussy evening baby, and then one day you think–if I make one more of these easy meals we’ve been having for the last two years, I’m going to SCREAM?

The problem, of course, is that my baby is still teething, and so I still need easy meals; I’ve just gone out in search of a new crop of them.  And THAT, my friends, is why we had this Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup Bake for dinner last night.  I was in the mood to try something not only new, but different.  And it was.

Now, if you ask me, it was also weirdly delicious.  My picky second girlie and my cantankerous 3-year-old (the one that announced on his way to the table tonight, “I don’t like dinner, I don’t want dinner, I want lunch”) both liked it as well, which was also weird; neither of them is known for loving new recipes. My hubby said it was okay, but he doesn’t really care for tomato soup (you do have to be okay with tomato soup to like it).  My oldest girlie, on the other hand–the one who generally LOVES to try new things–HATED it.  It’s true that she started out the meal in a bad mood, but still.  She thought it tasted too much like ketchup, and she doesn’t like ketchup, and there it was.  I can’t remember the last time she put up such a fuss about dinner.

Assuming, however, that you’re okay with tomato soup (it doesn’t have to be your favorite thing ever, mind), you should totally try this recipe.  (With Campbell’s, by the way.  I used a can of Campbell’s and a can of Western Family and tasted them both, and there was a noticeable difference.)  The bread is actually more chewy and toasty on top than soggy, if that’s a concern, and the butter and the cheeses are lovely.  The thing that really made it amazing for me, however, was the bread.  The recipe says sourdough, but as much as I want to, I just don’t like sourdough.  I’ve tried, and it’s really just not for me. I went to Costco on Monday, however, and while there I spotted the two-pack of roasted garlic and Parmesan bread, and I thought–hey, that could be really, really good in that recipe.

I was not disappointed.

Try the recipe–with Campbell’s–and use the roasted garlic and Parmesan bread if you can possibly find it.  I’m telling you–weirdly delicious.

Jan 18, 2016 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on For Sisters

For Sisters

I grabbed The Big Wet Balloon because it looked like my six-year-old could read it and might enjoy it, not because I was expecting to love it.

Then I read it.

Do you have an older or younger sister–or daughters next to each other in age?  Because if you do, you need this book.  It was lovely.  Watching the two sisters interact–the older one explaining to and encouraging the younger one, and the younger one so focused on her sister–was a delight.  I don’t know that my daughters were quite as affected as I was, but really, they wouldn’t be.  (They still enjoyed it, you understand.)  The Big Wet Balloon inspired the same feelings in me that my daughters did at bedtime tonight, when they announced that the older is going to illustrated books that the younger writes.  And what’s not to love about that?

The Big Wet Balloon: TOON Level 2


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Jan 16, 2016 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Not Yet

Not Yet

Remember that stack of graphic novels I mentioned on Thursday?  I just read another one from that pile, mostly in a desperate attempt to render a few library books returnable (we have 201 currently checked out, and yes, I know I have a problem.)  Child Soldier:  When Boys and Girls are Used in War is a true story simply told; the author was five when he and a group of his schoolmates were abducted by a rebel group to be trained to fight.  At the time, the turmoil in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was escalating, and Michel’s father was a strong advocate for human rights; luckily, Michel escaped the rebels, but their country was becoming unsafe for him and his family.  He ultimately found refuge in America with his mother and two of his sisters (his father and his third sister, sadly, were not so fortunate), where he was encouraged to tell his story.  This book is one of Michel’s efforts to educate young people about the tragedies that take place in our world–and to rally them to do what they can to help.
How did I feel about it?  Hmmm.  It was powerful, and accessible, and it serves his purpose well; I was riveted.  I cannot, however, give it to my 9-year-old.  Some of the situations portrayed are just a bit too harsh for her age and personality to encounter yet.  The recommended audience is 10-14, and I’d stick with that.  For the right age and reader, it’s completely worthwhile, but be aware–this is NOT light reading.
Jan 14, 2016 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Another Graphic Novel

Another Graphic Novel

Does your library website feature different titles on a regular basis?  Mine sure does, which is how I ended up with a new stack of graphic novels.  They still aren’t my thing, but these looked too interesting to ignore–and the one true advantage to the format is that it means a relatively quick read.

I picked up the first of the stack on Tuesday:  Lily Renee, Escape Artist:  From Holocaust Survivor to Comic Book Pioneer.  Happily, it was just as interesting as it looked, even if the term ‘Holocaust Survivor’ felt like a bit of a stretch (she was in Austria for Kristallnacht, but she got out on a kindertransport, and those stopped when England declared war on Germany).  Lily was already an artist when Hitler intruded on her life; she escaped to England, where she did all sorts of things to support herself, and ended up reunited with her parents in America.  She did a number of things there before landing a job with Fiction House Comics–and the rest is (little-known) history.

This is the kind of book that makes me wish I loved graphic novels, because the topic is right up my alley. As it is, I still enjoyed reading it, and so did my 9-year-old.  Graphic novel fans–and those who like to read about women succeeding in fields dominated by men–should love it.

Jan 12, 2016 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Some Titles Are More Accurate Than Others

Some Titles Are More Accurate Than Others

I finally finished The Spaghetti Detectives the other day, and it is definitely one of the others.  The title and the cover art make it seem a little bit Encyclopedia Brown-ish–boys who solve neighborhood mysteries involved in something bigger, that sort of thing.  In reality, it feels a little like Mary Higgins Clark meets “Rear Window:” child abductions, suspicious neighbors, and life or death consequences.  It does have a weirdly light tone for its subject matter, but that’s due to its narrator’s personality.  Rico is a lovable “child proddity” who pulls us into his life from the get-go, whereas Oscar, by contrast, is an actual child prodigy who keeps his own counsel.  The two become involved in a serial kidnapping case; yes, they had a very brief conversation about pasta at their first meeting, but the noodle involved is incidental to the plot, which is far more serious than pretty much anything about the physical book would lead you to believe.  It’s an interesting mystery, don’t get me wrong.  It’s just that a serious story told from a frank, often unintentionally amusing point of view is not quite the same thing as an amusing story.  Kids should find it both interesting and exciting, mind you, but as a parent?  Let’s just say I flinched more than once.  It may be a cultural difference, of course–it was originally published in German–but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s darker than the title and cover would have you believe. If you have a mystery lover, it’s worth your time; just remember that it’s about as much of a light children’s story as Hansel and Gretel.

 

The Spaghetti Detectives


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