Something We Read: Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson

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Last Stop On Market Street was the first book I put on Bitsy’s Amazon baby registry, and the first one I bought since I was too impatient to wait for someone to buy it for us. I was just so excited about having books for her, and this one in particular  I knew would be special. It received some of the most prestigious honors in children’s literature. It is a 2016 Caldecott Honor Book, the winner of the 2016 Newbery Medal, and a 2016 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor.

These awards speak well for the book, but what attracted me most was its content and message. After church, CJ and his grandmother take the bus to the soup kitchen where they volunteer each week. CJ sees his friends go home in their cars, and wonders why he can’t do the same. He feels a little sorry for himself, but his grandmother patiently, lovingly, and wisely shows him how fortunate they are, and how to find beauty all around them in this ordinary excursion. Who needs a car when “we got a bus that breathes fire?” CJ’s friends who get to go home after church will not get the chance to meet all the people CJ and his grandma see on the bus and at the soup kitchen. CJ doesn’t need a smartphone to hear music when the man across from him on the bus has a guitar, and plays a song for everyone. CJ closes his eyes to appreciate the music. It takes him out of the bus to an imaginary place of freedom, beauty, and magic.

After CJ and his grandmother exit the bus in the neighborhood of the soup kitchen where they volunteer, CJ looks around at the “crumbling sidewalks and broken-down doors, graffiti-tagged windows, and boarded-up stores.” He asks his grandmother why “it’s always so dirty over here.” She points out a rainbow and tells him that being “surrounded by dirt” can sometimes help you be “a better witness for what’s beautiful.” CJ then recognizes his grandmother’s gift for finding beauty, and looks around to find it himself in the street lights, stray cats, and shadows around him. When they approach the soup kitchen and see the people they serve every week, CJ tells his grandmother he is happy to be there.

There are so many messages in Last Stop on Market Street that I want to share with my daughter, and I’m glad I have this book to help me do that. I want her to be able to find joy and beauty in everyday settings, and be grateful for our many blessings. I want her to have close relationships with her grandparents, like CJ and his grandmother have. His grandmother is such a positive influence, teaching him some of the most important lessons for living a happy, meaningful, and useful life. The illustrations show diverse characters, something very important for every child to see in their books. Most of all, I love the sense of community CJ’s grandmother clearly has and is teaching him. She connects with the people all around her. She sees the bus as a valuable public space where people can interact and learn from one another. She smiles and wishes a good afternoon to all the other passengers, and has CJ do the same. The way she speaks of the people they serve at the soup kitchen shows that she does not condescend to the people she serves. She treats them not only as equals, but as wonderful people she and CJ are honored to know. I think the book conveys all of these messages without being preachy. I try to share these messages when I read it to Bitsy through my voice, expression, and pointing to the illustrations, delighting in all of the beauties CJ’s grandma points out to him. I’m so glad Bitsy has been enjoying this one. The message, as well as the condition of the book in its hardcover format, should hold up for her for years to come.

This post contains some links to items and services on Amazon. As an associate, I earn from qualified purchases. 

 

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Reviving My Cut Hydrangeas

Hydrangeas are so beautiful in arrangements, so it’s a shame they don’t last long as cut flowers. In the early stages of planning my wedding, I considered using hydrangeas. I’m so glad I didn’t.

Still, I just couldn’t resist some gorgeous blue hydrangeas at the supermarket yesterday. They were so perfect with the beautiful, very healthy sunflowers they had there. Add in some salmon-colored carnations, and the little bit of purple statice I already had at home from another otherwise wilted arrangement, and I had such a joyful mix of colors and textures.

Seeing how wilted my hydrangeas were this morning was disappointing, but this floral arrangement was bringing me too much joy to give up on it just yet. I found some advice on extending the life of cut hydrangeas from a florist’s web site, Kay’s Flower School. They were already very wilted, so it was too late for preventative measures. I followed her advice on reviving rapidly-wilting hydrangeas. Dunk the entire flower head in a bowl of room temperature water–they drink from the flower heads.

all heads in the water

Here they are mostly, but not completely, submerged. I decided to stand them up and lean the stems into the rest of the flower arrangement next to them, like so:

after propping up

Another site, Associated Cut Flower Company, recommends leaving them in the water for 20-30 minutes. I ended up leaving them in there for about 35 minutes.

The results were very minimal at first. They were still quite wilted. I wasn’t sure if I’d see much improvement, but I decided to wait and see. I’m glad I did! After about 10 or 15 minutes, they perked up dramatically.

before pictoo

Before

after photo

After

They weren’t as good as new, but much improved from the soak. I’ll spritz the heads with water and get another day or two out of them.

Be sure to place a towel underneath the vase once you’ve returned the flowers after soaking, because they will be dripping water.

arrangement on towel

 

I’m really enjoying the colors this adds to our home. These flowers are a great way to celebrate the beauties of summer as they give way to fall.

arrangement on twl2

Something We Read: Little People, BIG DREAMS

Little People, BIG DREAMS: Ella Fitzgerald by 

Isabel Sánchez Vegara, Illustrated by Bàrbara Alca

ella

Just look at that adorable cover!

Bitsy seems really drawn to this cute illustration of little Ella Fitzgerald, and often carries  this book around with her and brings it to me to read to her. At this toddler stage, sitting still for a whole book can be difficult. If a toddler is having trouble sitting still for an entire story, that’s okay. It better to skip some sentences or whole pages, or let them run around while you read, than to make them sit still until you finish the book. You want to help them develop a love of reading, not make it a chore. I do sometimes miss the days when I could read her books with longer, more complex stories than the ones in her board books, whenever I wanted. For whatever reason, Bitsy seems to stay pretty engaged with this book, though. I think she likes Ella’s friendly face and the colorful illustrations.

This one is fun for adults, too. There are little references for us to enjoy, like Ella’s mother reading Mrs. Dalloway. It gives us a lot of music to explore. At the beginning, we see a musically-precocious little Ella Fitzgerald listening to the Boswell sisters on vinyl. This group was a new discovery for me, and fortunately you can find their collections on Youtube, including what fans in the comments say are pretty rare, deep cuts.

We also learn about Ella Fitzgerald’s collaborations, band, and solo work, including illustrations of her album covers. What a great way introduce one of America’s greatest singers to children! Bitsy is so drawn to music, and this book has prompted me to play some of Ella Fitzgerald’s music for her.

 

The story is a very positive one about overcoming adversity and following your dreams. It does briefly touch on some difficult events in Ella’s life–her mother’s death, skipping school, being sent away to “a strict school as punishment,” and running away from home. It doesn’t dwell too much on these events and topics, and tells about them in a way that I believe children can handle.

Little People, Big Dreams

This series features the stories of women who have achieved great things. It follows their stories from childhood, showing little ones that we all start small, but can accomplish a lot if we dream big and follow those dreams. The books are written for young children, but are enjoyable for all ages. According to this interview, the author was inspired to write books about female heroes to fill a gap she discovered when looking for books to read to her nieces.  There just weren’t as many books about real-life, strong, courageous women as she’d found about men. The books aren’t just for girls. They are about dreamers, and intended for all children.

Vergara writes all the books in the series, but works with different illustrators. I loved all the illustrations in the book about Ella Fitzgerald. One page really stood out for me for the way Alca illustrates Vergara’s figurative language. Ella Fitzgerald’s “velvety voice wrapped around the audience like a blanket.”

blanket

I am so excited to keep sharing stories in this series about the lives of great women with Bitsy. I think the next Little People, Big Dreams we’ll read will be Rosa ParksMother Teresa, and Jane Austen. There are many from which to choose in this series, and you can probably find the stories of some of your heroes to share with your children.

This post contains some links to Amazon listings for the books discussed. As an associate, I earn from qualified purchases. 

Learning As We Go

I’m someone who’s been reading about child development since I was a child. I’ve always been interested in the subject intellectually , and knew I wanted to be a parent. I believe in preparing. When I found out I was having Bitsy, I started seriously researching the best baby products right away. My husband and I spent two weekends in Birthing From Within classes (a class and book that I highly recommend–It helped me advocate for the kind of birth I wanted, while also accepting that the birth didn’t happen according to my plan). I believe in doing all of these things, while also accepting that as parents, there’s so much that we learn by doing.

When I created my baby registries, I did not include a shopping cart cover. It just seemed so unnecessary. I’m not fussy about germs and public spaces. I thought I was too smart and cool to fall for the marketing of another new purported necessity. My child could handle sitting in the shopping cart like all the children of yesteryear. My child need not be afraid of the world.

That was before I had a wiggly toddler. 

A scary experience I had today showed me how wrong I was. I was grocery shopping with Bitsy today. She loves shopping with her Mama, looking around at all the colors, the people, the stuff on the shelves that must seem so amazing to someone for whom everything is so brand new. I was walking along, happy to find really great items in the clearance section, sales on items we needed, rebates on Ibotta, and beautiful fresh flowers to take home and arrange. I talked to Bitsy about everything we saw, and narrated what I was doing. All was well.

Then we approached the checkout line. She’s been a bit wiggly in the baby seat of the shopping cart, but I’d watched her and turned her back around when she twisted to look in the direction we were going. Just as we were getting in line, she got very fussy. I unbuckled the seat belt and tried to lift her, but somehow she had gotten her leg stuck between the bars of the cart. I tried but couldn’t get her leg out of there. She got scared and cried louder. I got scared, too. I told myself, okay if her leg would fit in here, we must be able to get it out, right? Some ladies saw our predicament and came over and tried to help. I started to freak out. What if her leg gets broken?! What if she loses her leg?! I had tried to keep calm for my daughter, but now I was crying. There were some paramedics in the store, and one of them came over to help. He had a little trouble at first, but finally we got her positioned just right, and he was able to carefully slide her leg out of there. I was so happy to have her out of the cart and hold her close. It all happened in a matter of minutes, but those minutes of fear and pain felt so long.

Bitsy fell asleep in the car, and I carried her safely on me in the ErgoBaby at the next store. When I got home from my errands today, I shopped online for a shopping cart cover. Those who know our love for The Very Hungry Caterpillar and all things Eric Carle, will not be surprised at how happy I was to find this wonderful Very Hungry Caterpillar Alphabet shopping cart cover. I was even happier when I saw that it is 20% off on Amazon today! I ordered it, and with my 2-day Amazon Prime free shipping, it will be here before we need to go shopping again! I’m so relieved.

cart cover

As we raise children, parents will find over and over again that we were wrong about some of our ideas and expectations. We have to be willing to learn. We also can’t let it hurt our egos. It doesn’t bother me that I learned I really need a product that I thought was a little silly and fussy not so long ago. We don’t know it all, and that doesn’t make us bad parents. I’m just glad that everything turned out okay today, and that there’s an easy solution to prevent it happening again. As a mama, I’m going to keep reading child development literature, keep preparing, but remain flexible enough to keep learning as I go.

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Something We Read: Little Owl’s Colors by Divya Srinivasan

A few weeks ago, I told you I included two books to read to Bitsy in my hospital bag when she was born. The first book read to her was Home For a Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown. This week I’ll tell you about the second book she read, which we read several times this week: Little Owl’s Colors by Divya Srinivasan.

Little Owl's Colors

This book was a baby shower gift from my Amazon baby registry I like that it uses nature to teach colors–a gray raccoon, blue pond, purple flowers, a red cardinal eating red berries.

Little Owl’s Colors was the first book we read by Divya Srinivasan. We have one other–Little Owl’s 1-2-3. She is both author and illustrator of the books in the Little Owl series, of which there are three more– Little Owl’s Night , Little Owl’s Day , and the upcoming Little Owl’s Snow –as well as Octopus Alone, a book about a shy octopus who learns to balance playing alone with playing with friends. I plan to complete Bitsy’s collection of Little Owl books.

I was so happy to find out that a new book (Little Owl’s Snow) is coming out in time for Christmas, because I love Divya Srinivasan’s illustration style. In addition to the books she wrote and illustrated, she has done art and animation for This American LifeNew Yorker, Weird Al, and others. She illustrated perhaps the most visually-appealing book I’ve seen recently: Neil Gaiman’s Cinnamon.

 

See her portfolio here. I’ll be on the lookout for more work from her.

Some of the links in this post are for items and/or services on Amazon. As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. 

Something We Ate: Baby’s First Tofu

 

This week, instead of making up my own recipe or finding something new and altering it to suit my purposes, I went for an old standby. I was a lacto vegetarian for years before I married my enthusiastically-carnivorous husband. I just found it easier, since I shop for our groceries, cook for us, and we eat together, to eat the same things he was eating. Plus, I’ve developed a taste for meat, so I’ll have to push myself to make the sacrifice if I decide to give it up again. In the meantime, I do like to find meatless meals we can enjoy so we’re not eating quite so much meat.

In my vegetarian days, I regularly turned to Isa Chandra Moskowitz for her great variety of delicious vegan recipes. One of my favorites was (and still is) her Orange Ginger Baked Tofu. Now that Bitsy is old enough for tofu, I was excited to make it for her. This dish has a subtle sweetness I knew she would enjoy, and I thought the texture would be one she’d chew well and enjoy feeding herself.

We’ve been very fortunate that Bitsy has shown no signs of food allergies thus far. Parents. com and Live Strong recommend tofu as a good food for babies around 8 months and older, as long as they aren’t allergic to soy. Ask your pediatrician whether your baby is ready for tofu.

I enjoy making this dish almost as much as I enjoy making it, because the marinade ingredients are so fragrant. It’s also pretty quick and easy. The tofu only needs to marinate for a few minutes. If you’re out of fresh ginger or garlic, it’s okay to use dried.

I baked the tofu in strips, then cut Bitsy’s portion into small, bite-sized squares before serving it to her. I was so happy to see her enjoy it, and eagerly pick up more and more pieces to feed herself. Even my tofu-adverse husband had to admit it was delicious, though he did say the sauce would be even better on chicken. I’ll keep making this for Bitsy, and try some other tofu recipes for her. I may try to keep up having meatless lunches for Bitsy and me, and save meat for dinner time.

 

 

Something We Read: Baby Faces Books

babyfaces books.jpg

This post contains links to Amazon listings for products discussed. As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. 

Now that Bitsy can walk and bring me books to read to her, I’m really enjoying seeing which ones capture her interest–the ones she wants to read over and over again. Babies love looking at pictures of other babies, and lately Bitsy has been bringing me her books with photos of babies quite often. These are very appropriate books for her at this stage. It can be hard for a new walker to be still and focus for a long time, but these books are short and sweet, and the babies’ faces capture her attention. I love seeing her react to the babies’ different facial expressions.

The two we’ve been reading a lot this week are Goodnight, Baby by Rourke Board Books ,and Hugs & Kisses by Roberta Grobel Intrater from the Scholastic Babyfaces seriesHugs & Kisses features real parents and babies showing affection. I like to read her this one we snuggle at nap time, night time, or when we wake up in the morning.

Goodnight, Baby is one we borrowed from the library that will be hard to return because she has gotten pretty attached to it. I may have to order a copy, which we often do when she loves a library book this much. Fortunately, there are used bilingual English/Spanish editions editions available on Amazon for under $6.

The pictures and text in Goodnight, Baby are adorable and sweet. It’s perfect for helping a baby or toddler settle down for the night. I let my voice get softer as I read each page, and this seems to be very soothing for Bitsy. My only complaint is that in two places, the book ends sentences with prepositions. I’m just picky about stuff like that, but Bitsy and I enjoy this book so much, I’ll have to let it slide. I just correct it as I read, saying “Put away your toys,” in place of “Put your toys away.” I’m nerdy. My husband calls me Diane Chambers.

Bitsy also loves seeing babies’ faces in her favorite Youtube video. It’s video of the Suzuki Songbook 1 for violin, with toys, animals, and children smiling & playing. Bitsy is very interested in music, and we enjoy this video together almost every day. She smiles back at the babies, and laughs, claps, and points when she sees the toys and animals she likes best. Give it a try with your little one here: