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Plume by Isabelle Simler is a beautifully illustrated book of birds, feathers, and a sneaky black cat. The sleek cat slips into each illustration, twirling its tail around a stork’s leg, peeking out from behind an owl, its whiskers nearly touching a parrotfinch. This is a fun seek-and-find book for little kids, and the illustrations are very pretty, but it lacks an engaging story for older kids. I would definitely buy this as a gift for a 2-4 year old.

Isabelle Simler is a French illustrator whose beautiful book The Blue Hour also includes animals from all over the world. I hope that her illustrated Journey to the Center of the Earth becomes available in English, it looks beautiful.

Plume by Isabelle Simler
Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers

3.5/5 stars


Feather by Cao Wenxuan, illustrated by Roger Mello

Cao Wenxuan is a Chinese author who won the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 2016. His book Bronze and Sunflower is the only other book available in English at my library and on Amazon, but he is a prolific author who is well-known and beloved in China.

Illustrator Roger Mello has also been awarded the Hans Christian Andersen Award (2014), and his illustrations use bright colors in a modern palette to depict lively birds.

Feather is a beautifully illustrated book with a simple plot: a feather is searching for the bird it belongs to. It asks every bird it comes across, “Am I yours?” Like Webster J. Duck, he is searching for his place in the world, and he asks many birds if he belongs to them–a kingfisher, a goose. One sweet skylark kindly takes him up into the sky so that the feather can experience flight, and is summarily EATEN BY A HAWK right in front of the sentient feather. Nothing gory is shown but this jolting event feels very violent. Blood is shed, and the only friendly and helpful character in the book is the victim. The feather is in shock, and feels withdrawn in its fall to the ground. It lies on the ground for several days, then finds its place on a hen with a joyful family, and the feather thinks, “Ah, to walk upon the earth instead of flying up in the sky can also be wonderful!” What is the lesson here?

This book will scare the pants off of American picture book readers. My children are aware of the predator-prey relationship, they know where their food comes from, and they have seen animals eat other animals in books, but I would not even attempt to read this to them.  The feather grieves and finds hope again, which is uplifting, but it does not make up for the shock of witnessing a gory death. The New York Times headline for their profile of this author was “Little Sugarcoating in Cao Wenxuan’s Children’s Books,” and they were not kidding. Despite the beautiful illustrations, I would not recommend this book. The story is not appropriate for a picture book.

Feather by Cao Wenxuan

Archipelago Books

2/5 stars

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Texas Books, Y’all

I’ve lived in Texas for my whole life, and I love the landscape, the diversity, the food, and the art.  I also appreciate our literary legacy.  I am very proud of our amazing annual Texas Book Festival, which brings authors from around the world, and we have some fantastic local book stores. Book People, Book Woman, Brazos Books, and Murder by the Book spring to mind. There are also some fantastic books set in Texas that are top reads.  Some are by our own Texas authors and some are not, but they are all Texas books just the same.

  1. Lonesome Dove. Obviously. Larry McMurtry’s masterpiece is enthralling. Gus and Call are two of the best characters out there. It’s a long book, and I can only say I’m thankful for that because it is so good. Larry McMurtry owns a bookstore in his home town of Archer City, which is kind of in the middle of nowhere. Appropriate. Bonus factoid: His son James McMurtry is a country singer who lives here in Austin.
  2. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain is an intelligent, incredulous, satirical look at soldiers returning from war to a hero’s welcome, with stadium appearances and cheerleaders. It feels very realistic, like you are in the heads of the men who have come home from war only to have to deal with jerkwad behavior in the U.S. If you loved Catch 22 or The Things They Carried, this book will appeal to you.
  3. Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy. These are set in remote parts of Texas, New Mexico, and Mexico. I love McCarthy but sometimes I hate having my heart ripped out, so read at your own risk.  There is a Cormac McCarthy Society with its own journal if you are a serious scholar. I find this sort of amazing, but then again I’ve been interested in attending squirrel biology conferences.
  4. The Midnight Assassin examines the first serial killer, who murdered women in Austin in the 19th century. This true crime book is a history of Austin as much as a gruesome and chilling mystery.  There is speculation that the murderer, who was never caught, continued his spree in London and was known as Jack the Ripper. Skip Hollandsworth is a Texas Monthly writer who is known for his long-form journalism.
  5. Rick Riordan’s Tres Navarre books are based in Texas– starting with Big Red Tequila.  It’s like Carl Hiaasen and Larry McMurtry got together and wrote some crazy Texas detective novels, which yes does appeal to me. A lot of goodreads readers complain about liberal use of the F word, but I am assuming that they are Percy Jackson fans taken by surprise.

Some more Texas authors and books that might be of interest:

 

Disclosure of Material Connection: This post contains “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

My kids are 5 and 2 right now. My daughter is just about to start Kindergarten, and she’s not reading on her own yet but she memorizes books and “reads” them to her brother. I can’t remember which one of us started it, but my husband and I both play them audiobooks in the car for their commute to and from day care. I would never have thought that a 2 year old would really comprehend much from an audiobook, but he does! It’s surprising how much they both retain, and what their preferences are. I’m sure there are educational benefits for children, but mostly this is just a good way to stay sane in the car.

For the record, my kids are pretty sensitive about scary things. Like, the 5 year old won’t even watch Frozen or Moana.  The most adventuresome books, like Harry Potter, I have to assure them that nothing bad happens to the protagonist.  Some of these books have movies that were fun to watch (e.g. Fantastic Mr Fox), others have movie versions that are way too scary (e.g. The BFG, Harry Potter, Matilda).  Here is a list of audiobooks that they have enjoyed over the past year or so.

  1. All of Roald Dahl’s children’s books, including Going Solo, his memoir of his World War II exploits. My favorite was Fantastic Mr Fox, read by Chris O’Dowd. They listened to these in B’s car and every day came home and told me about what was going on. Full list: James and the Giant Peach, Boy, Danny the Champion of the World, George’s Marvelous Medicine, The Twits, the Minpins, The Magic Finger, James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, Going Solo, and The BFG.
  2. The The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, read by Anne Hathaway. Wow, that was a lot different than the movie!
  3. Pippi Longstocking, one of my childhood favorites, stood the test of time. This is a short one! Only 2.5 hours long.
  4.  Little House on the Prairie series. They are listening to this in B’s car, which is good because I listened to the sample and the narrator grated on my nerves. They are also watching some episodes on TV, which is fun. Hopefully they appreciate the bounty of the grocery store more now.
  5. A Wrinkle in Time. Another of my childhood favorites. I’m sure the kids did not grasp the themes in this book but they did like the characters. Like music, sometimes the best thing is finding something I want to listen to that the kids think is for them. So, this is the They Might be Giants of audiobooks.
  6. The Percy Jackson and the Olympians trilogy was surprisingly well-received, I think we read it when Jaybird was 4. Again it was something I enjoyed listening to and the kids mostly just tolerated it, though Jaybird did follow some of the story.
  7. The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy. This is kind of a timeless story, I was surprised at how recently it was written. It’s about 4 girls and their dad staying at a summer cottage, and their adventures with new friends (a boy is one of their new friends, so this would appeal to boys and girls, not that I think there are limits on that).
  8.  The Boxcar Children. The kids loved this, I put up with it because it was short (2 hours). Too cutesy for me.
  9.  The Neverending Story. One they listened to in B’s car and I think they even watched the movie.
  10.  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
  11.  And the pain and the pleasure of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Book 1, read by Jim Dale. I am a huge Harry Potter fan and I love JK Rowling but Jim Dale’s voice is like nails on a chalkboard to me. The Stephen Fry reading is SO MUCH BETTER. I don’t know what rumors to believe about their beef with each other, but I want it all to end so I can have Stephen Fry’s dulcet tones rather than Jim Dale’s whining. /rant I am listening to the Jim Dale version with the kids and getting through ok but mentally cringing every time he whines. We definitely will not proceed with the series at this point because it gets dark pretty quickly, but I look forward to indoctrinating them completely into all things Harry Potter.

And a few failures, for the record.

  1. Ramona the Pest annoyed my husband, he said Ramona is too dumb to be believable. The kids liked it though.
  2. The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde, one of my favorite authors! I loved it but the humor was a little advanced for this age. Worth trying again in a few years.
  3. Cujo, not a hit for some reason. KIDDING, kidding.

Here is what’s on our to-read list.

  1. The Tale of Despereaux.
  2. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: The Chronicles of Narnia. One of my childhood favorites. I’m a little concerned because the sound quality on the audible sample is not so good.
  3. My Father’s Dragon was recommended as a good early chapter book by my local bookstore, and it looks pretty great.

What books do you recommend for young kids? Or for early elementary kids?

 

 

 

Disclosure of Material Connection: This post contains “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Running + Reading

I’m trying to start running again. I’m 42 years old and I just started running last year.  I ran a mile for the first time last summer, and then I ran a 5K in September. I took a bit of a break (OK inauguration depression crept in), but I’m back on the road!  Last year I was listening to a lot of fast music while I ran, then I figured out that I prefer listening to podcasts or audiobooks while I run.

Most recently I finished What I Talk about When I Talk about Running, by Haruki Murakami. He is one of my favorite authors, and he seems a bit secretive so I was curious to read about his exercise regime. He has been running for 25 years, he started at age 30 and he runs a marathon every year. Some great revelations in this book included that Murakami listens to the Red Hot Chili Peppers (!) and Gorillaz when he runs, and that he loves Hawaii. He discusses his struggle with aging, his challenges in triathlons, and how running is part of his writing process. While reading Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert, I was struck by the myth that creative people must be self-destructive to access their creativity.  Murakami addresses this myth in his book, saying that if a writer wants to have a long career it is important to stay healthy, and that although self-destructive behavior may allow some brilliant work it will not last for long.

Murakami is such a brilliant writer, this is nothing like his fiction work but it is so cool to get a glimpse of his personality.  I don’t think this book would interest non-runners much, but it might interest serious Murakami fans because it is a memoir, however specialized. It is a very short book, more a collection of journal entries. The audiobook is only 4.5 hours long.

    

Right now I’m reading The Martian, and it is so good. I saw the movie in the theater and loved it, and the audio is just as good as the movie. Suspenseful, hilarious, and exciting with lots of great adventure and good characters. As a biologist, I’m pretty happy to see a botanist get so much love. Yay science!

 

 

Disclosure of Material Connection: This post contains “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Audiobook Recommendations

trevor noah.jpgGulp-cover-350.jpg

I have been listening to a lot of audiobooks lately, mostly in an attempt to avoid being immersed in the news all day. These are two recent favorites, available on audible.com

Born a Crime is a memoir by Trevor Noah, read by Trevor Noah, about his childhood in South Africa during and following apartheid. Firstly, you should read the audiobook just to hear Noah speak Xhosa, which is one of those amazing African clicking languages. He also does great accents.  Secondly, the book is just full of stories that are both so foreign yet familiar. The racial politics of post-apartheid South Africa are dicey, and Noah being of mixed racial origins gets the best and worst of it. His mother is really the main character of the book, and she does seem like a true character. Interestingly, Noah does not venture into his rise to fame even to discuss much beyond a few references to working in comedy clubs. This is truly about his childhood.

Gulp by Mary Roach, read by Emily Woo Zeller– another monosyllabic title from this taboo-breaking author. I like her consistency. Honestly the parts of Packing for Mars (wait I guess not all of her books have one-syllable titles!) that I remember best are about pooping in space. This book encompasses a multitude of digestive interests, but let me just get down to the real nitty gritty: there is a whole chapter on Elvis’s megacolon.. Emily Woo Zeller won an award for her reading of this book.

Other recommendations: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders is the best audiobook I’ve read this year; the cast of characters is incredible, and it was just 1,000x more fun than reading it. Chris O’Dowd reading Fantastic Mr. Fox is a lot of fun also.

I think a lot about advice that I wish I had received as a young person, or things that I would tell my younger self if I could go back in time.

This book made me realize that I should be keeping track of those things to compile for my kids and my niece and nephew (I harbor some doubt that they are secretly wishing for more advice from their aunt).  Hey  I’m going to add a new tag for it so I can compile them right here on this blog. I have a lot of love for self-help books that are actually helpful, this seems like a good one.

Spring

Spring is here! I have been doing some spring cleaning. Today I stayed home to meet the air conditioning guys who were just doing a maintenance check on the system (always a good idea before things get hot and you can’t get someone for days).  Reminder: Get the leaves off of your outdoor unit.  Here is another spring cleaning reminder…..

 

Untitled

I was reading about natural gas and indoor air quality, and it turns out that if you are cooking with natural gas you can really be risking your health with excessive CO and NO2.  The answer? The vent hood. My vent hood has been acting a little weird so I decided to take a look at it.  And it turns out it has filters! Hey, how about that. Mine were really disgustingly dirty because I really hadn’t been paying attention.  Yuck! Reminder: use your vent hood often to improve your indoor air quality, and check your filters.

To end on a happy note, spring also means bluebonnets!  We found a patch in town (on Steck near Shoal Creek) and got to frolic in it on a beautiful cool spring day.

Bluebonnets, Spring 2014