Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Introducing Backyard Bird Watching to Kids

There is something incredibly calming with watching birds. I could stare out our kitchen window at the bird feeders for the longest time. It is a form of meditation for me. My mom always had bird feeders all around my childhood home, and our house was a haven for birds. It made our home peaceful, and it is something I want my girls to remember about our home.

The beautiful thing about birdwatching is how it fosters a love and respect for nature. My little one loves watching the birds so much that she has moved the pots and pans so that she can sit on the shelf of our butcher block table to see out our back kitchen window. She has the best seat in the house to watch the birds.

I thought I would share some of our favorite books that foster a love of birdwatching. These six books span a wide range from a scientific guide book to an Aboriginal tale of how birds got their colors.

1. Beth's Birds - A Little Beth Book (Little Beth Books) by Deanna K. Klingel and illustrated by Steve Daniels. This book is a perfect introduction for a young child who is eager to learn about the birds often found in almost any backyard. My little J, who isn't quite two yet, loves looking at the birds in this book. I think it is because we have seen every bird in this book in our own backyard. There is even a suggestion towards the end of the book to roll pine cones in birdseed to attract birds, which is something my girls made me do today, prompting me to write this post. I also find it endearing how the story is told from the perspective of a little girl. This speaks to my kids, and they love how the girl describes the birds' personalities.

2. No Two Alike by Keith Baker. I almost hesitated including this book because it is a winter themed book and there is snow. However, my daughters adore this beautiful poem about how no two birds are exactly the same. The text is simple and the illustrations are gorgeous. This is not a bird book to learn about birds, but instead it is a book to fall in love with these two adorable red birds. We have no less than eight pairs of Cardinals that hang out around our house, and I think my youngest daughter makes the connection with the red birds in this book and the cardinals outside our window. 

3. Backyard Birds (A Harpercollins Nature Study Book)by Jonathan Pine and illustrated by Julie Zickefose. This book was a library find that my youngest daughter completely fell in love with thumbing through the pages and looking at the pictures. The illustrations are picturesque little watercolor paintings.The book describes the migrating patterns, nesting, feeding and  birds' courting habits for common birds found in North America. The books reads more like a conversation than a scientific text, which will make it easy to understand for child. My youngest just looked at the illustrations, whereas my oldest read through several chapters of the book.

4. The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America (Stokes Field Guides) by Donald and Lillian Stokes. This book is always sitting near our back window. It is filled with post-its, marking birds we have seen at our feeders. It is scientific and will researched. The edition I purchased came with a compact disc with recordings of bird calls. It contains gorgeous photos of birds as both juveniles and adults (which helps in this early spring-time) and detailed descriptions of the birds, their personalities, migration patters, and where they can be found in North America. We love thumbing through this book trying to decide exactly which type of blue bird or woodpecker has come to visit our backyard. Because these are actual photos, it makes it much easier to determine exactly what type of bird is chowing down on the birdseed.

5. Look Up!: Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard written and illustrated by Annette LeBlanc Cate. This book was a 2014 Robert F. Sibert Honor Book, and it totally deserved this award. Written with conversational text and a comic book feel, this book is perfect for the 7-12 year old age range. There is nothing precocious about this book. You do not feel compelled to purchase expensive binoculars or take exotic trips, this book focuses on how to understand the extraordinary about the seemingly ordinary birds right outside. We borrowed this one from the library, but we are adding it to our "to-purchase" list.

6. How the Birds Got Their Colours story by Mary Albert, Bardi tribe, Western Australia. Aboriginal children living in Broome, Western Australia painted the illustrations for this book. We simply adore this Aboriginal tale about how birds got their colors. I love the introduction: "Mary Albert said, 'Would you like to hear a story from long ago? My mother used to tell me lots of stories, but this story I loved the best, because I loved the birds.'" My youngest makes me read this book to her again and again. I could only find it available in Australia, and I was lucky enough to have a dear friend bring it back from Australia as a gift for my kids. Because it is illustrated by Aboriginal children, it makes a great introduction for my oldest about the history of Australia and the cultures found in Austraila. We love this book so much I have included a YouTube video of the book being read. Enjoy!

Do you have any additional suggestions for my list? I would love to hear from you!

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This site is an Amazon affiliate, if you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Books, Babies, and Bows (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support! 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Preparing for Poem-in-Your-Pocket Day! -Guest Blog Post

By Natalie Munroe

When I was a child, one of my favorite books to read with my mom at bedtime was the Random House Book of Poetry. We ended each of our reading sessions with the last poem in the anthology, “Keep a Poem in Your Pocket” by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers. Part of it goes:

Keep a poem in your pocket
And a picture in your head
And you’ll never feel lonely
At night when you’re in bed.
The little poem will sing to you
The little picture bring to you
A dozen dreams to dance to you
At night when you’re in bed....
I always loved the idea of words and images—in essence: thoughts, memories—keeping me company when I felt alone.

That’s what stories are and have always been to me: a way to belong to something, to connect my experiences with someone else’s, a way to form relationships. If you think about it, we have more in common than we don’t. How do we know? Because of our stories.

But sometimes, sharing them—or sharing ourselves—is scary, and we keep silent, feeling misunderstood, alone.

Nestled in our calendar between National Zucchini Bread Day and World Penguin Day is a fantastic observance you may never have heard of: Poem-in-Your-Pocket Day. This April 24th, people across the country will keep a poem in their pockets—literally—and that poem just might be the key to opening us up so we’ll never feel lonely again.

I didn’t always appreciate poetry. In fact, I used to hate it. I think one of my favorite lines from Beauty and the Beast’s “Mob Song” sums up why (and also pretty much explains human nature): “We don’t like what we don’t understand, in fact, it scares us, and this monster is mysterious at least.” For me, poetry wasn’t quite a monster, but there were times in class—especially when I was asked to analyze it—when I might’ve given anything to slay it.
In 9th grade, I copied Emily Dickinson’s “Success is counted sweetest” onto the cover of one of my textbooks—not because the poem meant anything to me, but because it was short. Each day awaiting the start of class, my friend, Melinda, and I would read it. Soon, we’d memorized it and amused ourselves with speed recitations. Though I knew all the words, I didn’t understand their meaning.

One night later that same year, I was talking to my mom before bed. In the preceding years, she’d been earning her degree in elementary education. As a woman entering the field in her late thirties, her age worked against her and she wasn’t having much luck finding a position. That night, she talked sadly about the young teachers she’d met who already had positions and didn’t realize their good fortune. She didn’t begrudge them their jobs; she just felt the frustration and pain of being passed over herself and longed for a chance of her own.
I wanted to comfort her, but at 15, I didn’t have any sage words to offer.
But then—from somewhere deep inside—I heard my voice filling the silence that stretched between us:
Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne’er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.

Not one of all the purple Host
Who took the flag today
Could tell the definition
So clear of victory

As he defeated—dying--
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Burst agonized, and clear!

The air crackled around me as, like magic, the poem was no longer a bunch of words strung together in some easy-to-recite rhythm and rhyme. Now it was more. I understood her frustration, felt the timelessness of it. My words—Dickinson’s words—helped my mom feel understood, less alone in that moment. I’d always loved reading and writing, but poetry seemed so abstruse that I held it at arm’s length. But this poem on this night made me finally realize why people love it: it wasn’t just about those “poetic things” we studied in class; it was about understanding the human condition and trying to make sense of the world around us.

I won’t pretend I had a complete turnaround after that (after all, I majored in English Literature as an undergrad and some assignments worked hard to kill the magic) but those magic poetry connections kept popping up and couldn’t be ignored.

They happened when I taught high school English at a school that sponsored an annual Jazz & Poetry Festival. On that day, classes gathered in the library where both students and staffers shared their favorite poems with a listening crowd. That day the world shifted for a few precious hours as the kids who were usually bookish became the stars of the show, and poetry in school was considered cool.

They happened when my life changed drastically without warning and I struggled to make sense of what happened and how to move past it. During that time, I listened to an album whose lyrics spoke to me, made me feel completely understood, and gave me strength to fight another day.

They happened last year when I celebrated Poem-in-Your-Pocket Day (PIYPD) with my daughter.

The premise of PIYPD, celebrated as part of April’s National Poetry Month festivities, is that everyone carries a poem in his or her pocket and shares it with other people throughout the day. Why? For enjoyment, mostly, as people come together over a poem.

Last year as April began, I started reading silly poems to my 5 year old. I explained poetry month, and I told her about PIYPD. I’d watched a video posted on about a group of people who handed out poems that day, and I asked her if she wanted to do it, too. She was enthused to begin immediately, so we undertook our preparations in anticipation of the big day.

I printed out twenty poems and rolled them into tiny scrolls and my daughter sealed each one with a sticker before putting them in a basket for carrying. When PIYPD arrived, we took our basket with us on our daily errands which, that day, included a visit to the grocery store. As we shopped, my daughter gave out the scrolls to random shoppers—all women because, well, she was five and didn’t like approaching men—with an enthusiastic (though sometimes unintelligible), “Today is Poem-in-Your-Pocket Day, so here’s a poem for your pocket.” Understandably, some of them looked at me in confusion and required additional clarification.

Most of the recipients were gracious, some even seemed touched, and I was thankful for their kind reactions which helped make the experience more special for my daughter. One woman’s reaction, though, stood out to me: “Thank you so much,” she beamed. “This made my day!” Maybe she was just being polite, sure, but maybe that simple poem scroll, proffered from the hand of a child seeking nothing, had offered that woman a chance to feel recognized and connected, and like a part of something in that moment. I don’t care if I sound melodramatic, because I believe there was some magic at work that day, and I was thrilled to be sharing it with my daughter who got to experience, firsthand, how poetry can connect us.

We’re eagerly awaiting our opportunity to celebrate again this year. For all the pain and fear that surrounds us in the world, there’s even more hope and camaraderie, if only we can bridge the gaps. My older daughter (6 this year) and I have prepared our versions of bridges: the poem scrolls.  As before, we printed them out and rolled them up; this time we abandoned stickers (not sticky enough) in favor of mini-rubber bands to keep them rolled, and they await distribution on Thursday, April 24th.  There are 44 in all because this year, at her suggestion, she’s going to bring one for everyone in her class and then we’ll run some errands after school to give out the rest. I’m even toying with the idea of making her a hanging “pocket” necklace out of construction paper or leftover fabric in which she can keep the scrolls. (We’ll see if there’s time. But, as Burns noted in one of my favorite lines of poetry, “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men/ gang aft agley”…Ha!)

There are fabulous resources for PIYPD at on the website here, including printable poems and other ideas for celebrating the event. We used those printables last year because they were so convenient, but this year we’re branching out and selecting some of our favorites from poetry books we have at home. There are so many options!

Whether you choose to keep your favorite poem in your pocket and share it only with friends, or hand out poems to family, co-workers, neighbors, or even strangers, I hope you’ll be part of the magic this year on April 24th; you never know who you may touch.

Happy Poem-in-Your-Pocket Day!

While Natalie and I only went to college together our Freshman year, we bonded over games of cards and lots of laughs that formed a friendship that has only grown stronger with time. I hope you have enjoyed her post as much as I have!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Happy National Poetry Month!

I feel compelled to begin this post by stating that I am a scientist by day. I believe in rules and research. The idea of writing a novel, with no restrictions on how many words, how many characters, the direction of the story is daunting to me. However, for as long as I can remember, I have loved reading poetry. There are so many reasons why poetry works well for the scientific brain. One of my favorite metaphors of poetry with life is found in A Wrinkle in Time. It perfectly explains how not only poetry relates to life, but also why a scientific brain would fall in love with poetry.

Poetry provides a platform to express emotions and tell stories with a brutal honesty. Poems provide the writer the freedom to say what otherwise might get left unsaid, or lost within the text of a novel. And poetry provides a clear structure and set of rules; which is something my analytical mind needs.

During the school year, I find myself choosing poetry books to read with my oldest daughter frequently. Sometimes, the last thing she needs is another chapter book to read after a long day at school.

We read poetry because:

  1. Poems are filled with raw emotion. And sometimes, children are filled with raw emotions. Any given span of fifteen minutes with a child may vacillate from laughter to tears to love. Sometimes, my daughter needs to jump from topic to topic and acknowledge the range of emotions she has experienced throughout the day.
  2. Poems are short and silly. After hours at school reading, writing, and having to make connections to everything they learn in school, sometimes my daughter just needs to read something silly. Something that doesn't have to be anything more than what it is- a silly poem. Laughter is a great way to settle to sleep at the end of the night.
  3. Poems reinforce those critical concepts necessary to learn to read and write. Poems teach structure, rhythm, and rhyming. Sometimes, when we read poems with rhyming patterns, we will stop before the next rhyming word to see if we can guess what it will be. 
  4. Poems help establish a critical study skill: memorization. As a scientist, I cannot stress that there are certain things you just need to memorize. Poetry is great for practicing that skill.
  5. Finally, poetry requires the writer to be succinct. There is something to be said for brevity. It is a powerful skill to learn that sometimes fewer words can express a much more powerful message. I love how an hakiu is so short, yet dense with content. 
Do you make poetry part of your nightly reading with your children?

Tomorrow, I am excited to share a guest post by one of my best friends in preparation for Poem in Your Pocket Day. Natalie and I became friends almost 15 years ago over playing cards and laughter. It is ironic that even though Natalie and I only went to school for one year together, we have remained friends even since. She is a brilliant writer, and she has a great suggestion on how to celebrate poem in your pocket day. Make sure to check back in tomorrow for that post.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Stick n' Stones and the Garden of Phea by Angela Burkhead - Book Blast

I am very excited to be participating in the latest book blast hosted by the Mother Daughter Book Reviews. Check out this awesome book and enter for a $25 Amazon gift card. 

 About the Book

Sticks n Stones and the Garden of Phea by Angela BurkheadTitle: Sticks n' Stones and the Garden of Phea | Author: Angela Burkhead | Publication Date: February 6, 2014 | Publisher: Maple Hill Publishing | Pages: 152 | Recommended Ages: 9+ Summary: Rather than spending one more day amongst the humiliating remarks to the amusement of her fellow peers, Emily Fickeltin runs away. Or, rather, walks away. Emily is misunderstood and disliked but what seems to be every other child her age and on top of it all, she is overweight. Perfectly pleasantly plump, her mother calls her, but Emily feels far from perfect. Her attempt to escape her pain leads her to discover a hidden place with new hope for friends and acceptance. Stumbling into Phea's garden, an eccentric woman skilled in the arts of gardening and imagination, Emily finds she is not alone in her troubles. Phea and her friend rabbit have a past of their own they wish to run from and together the three battle their innermost demons as their world crumbles around them. Will they ever discover peace and acceptance? These lost and disheartened souls must find who they are before they are all lost forever.




About the Author: Angela Burkhead

Angela Burkhead Angela Burkhead is a full time writer and a full time mom. Of the two jobs, she cannot decide which is more difficult and time consuming, but both bring the joys of fulfillment and accomplishment. She and her son currently reside in Richmond, Ky, just north of Kentucky's arts and crafts capital, Berea, Ky, where she was born and raised. Her newest book, Sticks n' Stones and the Garden of Phea, an upper middle grade/young adult fantasy novel, was published February of 2014.

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* $25 Book Blast Giveaway *

Amazon 25 gift card  Prize: One winner will receive a $25 Amazon Gift Card or PayPal cash (winner’s choice) Contest ends: May 13, 11:59 pm, 2014 Open: Internationally How to enter: Please enter using the Rafflecopter widget below. Terms and Conditions: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW. A winner will be randomly drawn through the Rafflecopter widget and will be contacted by email within 48 hours after the giveaway ends. The winner will then have 72 hours to respond. If the winner does not respond within 72 hours, a new draw will take place for a new winner. Odds of winning will vary depending on the number of eligible entries received. This contest is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with Facebook. This giveaway is sponsored by the author, David Chuka and is hosted and managed by Renee from Mother Daughter Book Reviews. If you have any additional questions – feel free to send and email to Renee(at)MotherDaughterBookReviews(dot)com. a Rafflecopter giveaway MDBR Book Promotion Services

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Mattie Spyglass and the Curse of Ashurnasirpal by Shoba Sreenivasan- A Review

Mattie Spyglass and the Curse of Ashurnasirpal
By Shoba Sreenivasan

I think the sentence that most appropriately summarizes this book comes on page 405 at the end of Chapter 17, "The Great Battle would now begin." The second book in the Mattie Spyglass series is truly an epic battle of good versus evil. If you are new to the Mattie Spyglass series, I recommend checking out my review of the first book, Mattie Spyglass and the 8 Magic Stones.

Book 2 in this series begins as Mattie has a nightmare about her mother being kidnapped, and as her mother disappears she warns, "Look for the flying frog to find me." Mattie wakes up and finds herself, Mr. Biddle, and her friends Geeta and Eddie beginning the journey on the third stone on the Path of the Virtuous. The Third Stone represents anger, and though they began on a stone with chanting Buddhas warning them of their journey, the adventurers soon are catapulted into an epic path to find Mattie's mother and father, who had been captured by the villain, Uri Gneezy. However, this path is a particularly difficult one to navigate because Mr. Herman Biddle, the old wizard who has traveled with the children to protect them from Uri Gneezy, has to leave the children to seek back-up assistance. While he is gone, the children are catapulted into the path the Third Stone has chosen.

The journey takes the reader across the span of time, as the world as we know it catapults into Chaos. All that once was is now being rewritten, events are changing, and the children find themselves responsible for and responding to these traumatic movements of time. It is in this second book that we firmly discover that the Spyglass that Mattie holds in her hand has ulterior motives.
"For now. Mattie thought ruefully that there seemed to be way more rat fink in the Spyglass than good guy. Or good girl, seeing as how the Spyglass to be a she. Mattie remembered she had forgotten all about having a "talk" with the Spyglass about doing what she was told to do and made a mental note to do so as soon as possible."  
Even after the Spyglass tries to rid herself of Mattie, Mattie and the Spyglass find themselves intrinsically stuck together. It seems as though all is lost, as Mattie desperately travels across time and into the depths of the underworld in search of her parents. But, having set time into Chaos, Mattie is expected to save much more than just her parents, all that is good is counting on her and her friends to save the world from all that is evil.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this second book. Much like the first book, the story is heavily wrapped in religion and history. I am amazed at how well researched the book is. Ironically, there is a heavy emphasis on Russian history, which I knew very little about. However, given the recent news events, I found myself digging into Russian history books to cross reference things I heard in the news and read in the book. In particular, towards the end of the book, I found the thoughts of the character Stal to be incredibly haunting.
"Stal thought with certainty, If you tell them what to think, they will, for people were sheep, and he had read their hearts, filled with anger and envy. ... Soon they would believe that good was evil and evil good." 
This second book is much darker and complex than the first, similar to how the Harry Potter books get progressively darker. This series is definitely for an advanced reader for both the high reading level and the concepts. This is the type of book that when read a second time provides new understanding. I am looking forward to reading this book again and delving more into some of the historical and religious references.

Ms. Sreenivasan's book is intelligently written, drawing from many of the world religions and various historical events over the course of written history. This book would make a compelling companion fiction read to go with a world history or world religion class. I recommend this book for the 12 and older reader who has already had some background knowledge on world history.

* I was given this book free-of-charge by the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion. All opinions expressed are my own.

 FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, if you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Books, Babies, and Bows (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Is Nothing Something? by Thich Nhat Hanh

Years ago, while trying to waste time in an airport, I stumbled upon the book Living Buddha, Living Christ 10th Anniversary Edition by Thich Nhat Hanh. I instantly fell in love with the message of reaching spirituality through compassion and love. This message is universal, irregardless of religion, and I think a greater understanding of how we are all alike, instead of focusing on how we are different, would benefit most everyone.

When I read that Thich Nhat Hanh was publishing a new children's book:Is Nothing Something?: Kids' Questions and Zen Answers About Life, Death, Family, Friendship, and Everything in Between, I quickly pre-ordered it. The book arrived late last week, and we are smitten with its message of peace.

Basic Summary
Is Nothing Something? is a book filled with kids' questions and the sage answers from Thich Nhat Hanh about life, death, family, friendship, and so many other topics. Each page has a simple question, many of which my daughter asks on a regular basis, and a short answer. The answers are based on Buddhist principles and beliefs; however they are spoken without judgement and from a place of love. While the answers are geared towards a child, they are presented in a way that neither talks down to the child or makes light of their concerns. Some of the answers are very deep and philosophical; however most answers are simple principles of how to be kind, loving, and full of compassion. There are simple illustrations on each page containing animals, many of which are in yoga poses.

Our take on the book
When my daughter and I read the book for the first time, we took time to read each question and discuss what we thought the answer should be prior to reading the answer presented by Thich Nhat Hanh. It was serene to have a thoughtful conversation with my seven year old daughter about topics we rarely broach. I was impressed by her answers, and she reflected and responded to each of the answers presented in the book.

My daughter's favorite page had to do with a question regarding the death of a grandfather. The answer is amazingly peaceful, and I was touched when she made a connection to the death of my own grandfather because this relationship in particular is connected to the plants the we grow as a continuation of the things he taught me. 
Is Nothing Something? Written by Thich Nhat Hanh and illustrated by Jessica McClure

My favorite question and answer was centered on what to do when you feel sad. The answer recommended to smile even though your are crying because the sunshine through the rain can make a rainbow. How beautiful is that sentiment?
Is Nothing Something? Written by Thich Nhat Hanh and illustrated by Jessica McClure
Overall, this book is simple, peaceful, and contemplative. It is the perfect addition to any collection of books that discuss religion or principles on being a good human.

After reading this book, we discussed things we do in our house to be more mindful of our actions. My daughter made the following list of things that help her to remain calm:
1. We do yoga poses before bed. This is a practice we started after reviewing the book Good Night, Animal World by Giselle Shardlow.
2. Counting from one to five repeatedly until calming down.
3. Taking several slow, deep breaths.
4. Shaking and staring at the calming jar we made using an idea from a pin on Pinterest.
5. Staring at the birds at the bird feeder.

What practices do you have in your household to practice mindfulness?

FTC Required Disclosure:
This site is an Amazon affiliate, if you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Books, Babies, and Bows (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support!

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