Friday, November 21, 2014

friday's five- Cybils nominees, part 6

We're some weeks in to the Cybils season, and I'm almost halfway through checking out the nominated titles in the fiction picture book category. With today's library haul, I'm at the wonderfully cool looking number- 111! Yeah, yeah, I know I'm not even on duty until January when the finalists are announced by the round one judges, but I gotta say that regardless of my involvement with the Cybils in the future, I think it's an awesome way to 'play along' by using the library to get as many nominees as possible. You could do it, too! Check out the 231 fiction picture books in the running!

This week, I've opted to pull together a handful of books that shine the light on various cultures from around the world. With the fabulous campaign We Need Diverse Books, the conversation has gotten louder about the need for books that act as mirrors AND windows, for all children. On top of everything else, just look to yesterday's National Book Award announcements, and that douchebag Lemony Snicket/Daniel Handler's unbelievably racist comments, and there is no argument that there is a problem in the world of children's literature that can begin to be addressed by more books with more diversity.

To the books:

1. Chandra's Magic Light: A Story in Nepal by Theresa Heine and Judity Gueyfier -- With images at the market, in the village, and in the home, this beautifully rendered book gives a look at the experiences of many families in Nepal. Living without electricity in the home is a commonality there, as well, a concept that I know my children will find surprising and hard to believe. The use of kerosene lamps called tukis is fairly standard, but the development of solar tukis is central to this story's plot. The sisters Chandra and Deena work to raise money to purchase a solar tuki so that their baby brother's health will improve. There's a wealth of informational stuff here, and it's woven into an engaging story with characters who are different than my own kids, but with whom they can identify for their love for their family and their spirits.

2. Dalia's Wondrous Hair / El cabello maravilloso de Dalia by Laura Lacámara -- A touch of magical realism in a picture book, this one delights with a lush Cuban setting and a young girl with an amazing head of hair that she adorns with a wide variety of natural elements as she tries to get her mother to guess the type of tree she's imitating. After leaves, flowers, and even mud, Dalia's mother really tries to get her to wash her hair, but she begs for one more night. And it's a good thing she does, because a truly wondrous surprise awaits everyone. The text is included in both English and Spanish, and even in the English side, there are a few Spanish words thrown in that are easily translated within context by non-Spanish speakers. Totally fun and a lovely introduction to the natural world of the island of Cuba.

3. Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin by Chieri Uegaki and illustrated by Qin Leng -- When Hana announces that she's entered to play her violin at the talent show, her brothers are quick to tease her and point out her lack of experience. She brushes aside their harsh words, and continues to practice, even though she knows she truly is a beginner with only three lessons under her belt. But when she lovingly remembers her summer visit with her grandfather in Japan, her memories all revolve around Ojiichan's masterful violin playing. The story becomes her memories, and images of his Japanese home fill the illustrations while the text introduces terms specific to Japanese culture within the flow of the story. The story is filled with imagery as she recalls her visit, making it beautiful to read aloud. In the end, Hana's performance at the talent show is a memorable one, and she is resolved to continue her practice just like her Ojiichan.

4. Gazpacho for Nacho by Tracey Kyle and illustrated by Carolina Farías -- Nacho will eat one thing and one thing only, and that's gazpacho, a Spanish soup. When his mom tries to get him to eat anything else, chicken, cheese, or even ice cream (!), he turns up his nose and asks for more gazpacho. Mom has a clever way of getting him to understand all the foods that he does actually like by bringing him to the market to purchase a delicious array of vegetables which they use together to whip up some... you guessed it, gazpacho! With his new knowledge of the ingredients of his favorite food, Nacho becomes a bit more willing to give something new a try. The text in this book is primarily in English with Spanish words intermixed and defined in the back of the book.

5. Deep in the Sahara by Kelly Cunnane and illustrated by Hoda Hadadi -- Set in Mauritania, a Muslim country in West Africa, a young girl named Lalla who watches the women in her life wearing malafas, religious veils that are customary for adult females. The malafa intrigues Lalla, as she watches it flutter around her mother who is deep in prayer, and feels its mysteriousness and beauty on the women walking through the market. But when she tells her older sister, her mother, and her grandmother of her observations, they are quick to point out to her that the intention of the malafa is not to be beautiful, mysterious, or even just as a simple tradition. When her mother drapes one upon her and takes her to the rooftop for evening prayers, Lalla finally understands its purpose lies in their faith. A brief note from the author, along with a glossary for a handful of terms from the Arabic dialect of Hassaniya are included at the back of the book and provide informative context for the story and its setting.

Diversity in children's literature is much needed, and these books have provided windows for my children into world cultures that differ from their own experiences. And that is a powerful and necessary thing.

Friday, November 14, 2014

friday's five- Cybils nominees, part 5

Looking at the calendar, it would be readily apparent that it's actually been two weeks since I last shared some picture book love in this space, but I'm playing the birthday card (ha!) for last week. Picture books took the back burner to prepping for a weekend away with my husband, and then once my birthday came around last Friday, the fun began and lasted for three days. I am a lucky, lucky woman. Anyway, back to the books. This fall has been a good time for picture book reading as I continue to amass Cybils Awards nominated titles. Interestingly enough, Red has been a fabulous person to chat with about the books. I've been impressed with her growing skill at picking out the books that go just a little bit beyond the others. She recently read one of the nominees (that just so happens to be one of my own faves) and turned to me, "Well, that was just fantastic." I couldn't have agreed more!

This week's handful of books share a certain silliness, some with higher levels than others, but they all make for some giggly read alouds.

1. Froodle by Antoinette Portis -- The neighborhood animals each have a distinctive sound all his own, from the dogs and cats to the variety of birds sitting up high on the telephone lines. Day in and day out, the woofs, meows, chips, caws, peeps, and coos can be heard until the day the little brown bird decides to mix things up a bit. Instead of a peep, she lets out a gigantic "froodle sproodle!" and this sets into motion a wild chain of funny sound events, much to the crow's displeasure. Cardinal and Dove try to help keep the peace (with some silly word play going on that may amuse the adults more than young children), but the small bird is determined to try out a bunch of silly sounds. Expect lots of giggles as a result, for the nonsense rhymes are reminiscent of Trixie's meltdown in Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, and adults who enjoy playing that up with like this one just as much.

2. Circle, Square, Moose by Kelly Bingham and illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky -- A shape book taken over by an enthusiastic and insistent moose, this book plays into the "meta" idea that the characters in the book realize that they are actually in a book, an idea that can be done quite well in a picture book intended for a young audience needing only minimal explanation. The narrator here gets a bit frustrated with the moose who is messing with the books' shapes and flow, which brings in a different type of humorous tone to what would have been a pretty straight-forward, and not too exciting, book about the basic shapes. Moose's persistence, as he enters on each page, even going so far as to cross out and replace text, is comical as well, and even as he turns everything upside down, the story comes to a comfortable ending.

3. Buddy and the Bunnies in: Don't Play with Your Food! by Bob Shea -- Watch out for the menacing orange monster on the cover of this book, because right from the beginning, his fierceness is on display. When he encounters a trio of rabbits playing a game, he loudly declares, "I'm going to eat all you bunnies!" Too bad for the monster that he happens to be encountering some terrifically smart and creative bunnies, who are capable of leading him through many days of not snacking on them with a series of clever, and completely harmless, tricks. Instead of being afraid, the bunnies (whose numbers mysteriously-- and without fanfare-- continue to increase), teach the monster a thing or two about being a friend. My elementary school aged kids cracked up over this book quite a few times when we last checked it out over the summer, and my younger friends giggle over the silliness with enthusiasm, too.

4. 100 Things That Make Me Happy by Amy Schwartz -- While not overtly silly like the other books in this week's list, this picture book still elicited more than one chuckle from my preschool pals when we read it recently. The title is as straightforward an introduction as possible- the narrative of this picture book consists of a list of delightful things to make someone happy, arranged in a loose rhyming scheme and presented with individual illustrations featuring a diverse cast of young characters. Some of the items are ones you'd expect- toys, double scoops (of ice cream, of course!), and birthday wishes. Others are delightfully unexpected, but totally relatable for my young friends- goldfish, raisin bread, and garbagemen. (Seriously, my friends love walking around our neighborhood on trash day, because the workers wave and call out greetings every time!) I really love that the list mixes treats with experiences, personal things and joys shared with others. What a nice book to read as Thanksgiving approaches and we ponder the things for which we should be grateful in our lives!

5. A Perfectly Messed-Up Story by Patrick McDonnell -- Another meta one in the mix here, as the character little Louie is absolutely aware that he is in a book, especially when a reader starts messing with his wonderful story and backdrop with fallen glops of jelly and peanut butter, dirty fingerprints, and rings from messy cups. Louie has trouble going on with the story after he admonishes the sloppy reader and his messy habits, though the narrator tries to get him back on track. After one particularly egregious misuse of the book, Louie has had it and he has an epic meltdown that young children will no doubt take great delight in, even if they don't fully understand his existential crisis. I'm sure I won't be the only adult cracking up at the melodrama and appreciating the humility that Louie experiences in the end, too.

Okay, I may have missed a week, but I hope that this week's roundup of happy, funny, and highly entertaining picture books more than makes up for it.

Happy reading,

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

contemplating the changing of a number

One month after my twentieth birthday, during the winter of my junior year in college, I was presented with a diamond ring. With only two decades of experience as a human being, there I was answering a question that would determine the path of the rest of my life. Whether we were old enough to make this significant decision or not was a question on the mind of most of the people in our lives, I'm sure. Some were more obvious about their doubt than others, but that's a different story altogether. Regardless of what others thought, we were confident in our love and ourselves. I may have been only twenty, but I felt grown-up.

At twenty-two, I stood in front of our family and friends and sealed the deal. A little more than two years later, I lay on a bed while a midwife told me that I could, indeed, push a human being out of my body. Before I even turned twenty-five, my identity was more in line with the stereotypical "30-something" mom.

And that's where it's stayed for a decade and a half. Turning thirty wasn't that big of a deal because I already felt like I was in my thirties, and not in a bad way. 'In my thirties' became synonymous with the place and time in my life-- a mom/wife raising young children, a supposed grown-up with a mortgage and neverending grocery lists, laundry piles, and sleep deficits. That has been my identity for quite a while now, and as a result, it's one with which I've become quite comfortable.

But with my latest birthday, I realized that I would soon no longer be able to claim that identity. Sure, I'm parenting a teenager, but I also have an almost-seven year old who's only in first grade, so I don't really feel like I'm out of those "early" years of parenthood just yet. I mean, look at it this way, 2/3 of my kids haven't even hit those wonderful Science Fair years yet. (What a depressing freaking realization...)

In less than a year, though, I'll no longer be among the 30-something crowd. Going up a decade is a tricky thing, joining a new club in a way. Sure, some of your old pals might already be there, but you're still a newbie. And when an age bracket has been so tied up in your identity for a while, trying on a new one comes with some uncertainty. I'm not afraid of aging, per se. I see the results in the mirror each time I pass and sneak sidelong glances, and while I miss some of my long-gone youthfulness, I do think I'm still doing alright. I'm not planning on spending any of my monumental, new-decade birthdays in a funk or in tears, but I am making myself actively think about this final 30-something year while I still can.

I'll also be trying to figure out what it will mean to be 40-something. I'm not even sure what things will be different... though, I do know that it will be the decade during which I will become the parent of a (hopefully) newly-independent adult, while navigating adolescence from the parental perspective once again, but with two kids going through it simultaneously rather than just one. As a 40-something, I'll finally be able to stop paying a babysitter if Hubby and I want to head out to the movies or do holiday shopping. Like a just-turned teenager, this time in my life just may bring some new-found freedoms, it seems.

I've been a big fan of my thirties, and I'm looking forward to one more year with this particular identity, but the more that I think about it, becoming a 40-something gal doesn't sound too terrible, either.

Trying to age gracefully,

Friday, October 31, 2014

friday's five- Cybils nominees, part 4

Happy Friday! While most of us are likely knee-deep in the final preparation time for costumes, face paints, and excessive candy consumption right about now, I'm completely ignoring today's holiday of jack o' lanterns and trick-or-treating in this week's round-up of picture books. I'm steadily collecting Cybils nominees, though at a much slower pace than in previous years when I was a round one panelist. I've gotten over 60 of the fiction picture book nominees so far, still not too shabby, if I do say so myself. I believe the count is final at this point, coming in at 231 total nominees, and I'm still hoping to get my hands on as many of those as possible, if for no other reason than to share the ones I enjoy with you all through these posts for many weeks to come.

The books that I'm sharing this week really have no connecting themes, other than the fact that I've enjoyed reading them to the kids in my life. A couple really familiar names here, along with a few new-to-me authors and illustrators. We get an 'extra' hour this weekend-- will you throw in some extra reading, too?

1. Fix This Mess! by Tedd Arnold -- Tedd Arnold is a much loved author by the six year old in our family, who could read Fly Guy books all day long. This one caught his eye, and he has happily read it to himself, to me, and to our toddler friends many, many times in the last two weeks. Yes, the expected silliness is there, and the text is simple and repetitive enough for newly independent readers to find great success in reading this on their own, and there's a bonus subtle message in the end about personal responsibility that I know my children need to hear. (And it's nice that they could hear from someone other than just me!) Arnold's big-eyed illustrative style is immediately recognizable, and he captures quite an array of emotions on the dog's and the robot's faces, which signal to the adults who may be reading this aloud just how to kick up the 'performance' a notch or two.

2. Chengdu Could Not, Would Not Fall Asleep by Barney Saltzberg -- This has been another new favorite around these parts lately, with both my youngest son and one of my two-year-old pals pulling it off the shelf repeatedly. The face of Chengdu the panda is too cute for words, especially when he wears the look of resignation that is familiar to anyone who has had a bout of insomnia. No matter which way he tries to settle his body up in the bamboo trees, the poor little guy simply can't fall asleep. When he finally finds a spot and a position that is comfortable, even very young readers will have to giggle at the result.

3. I'm My Own Dog by David Ezra Stein -- Independence is the spirit of this book, as an owner-less dog delights in the freedoms afforded him when he's able to take care of himself. Whose slippers does he fetch? That's right, they're his own, and he gets to decide when and where he wants to sit. His declarations are sincere, and he's endearing in his fierce independence. But there is one thing that he discovers is easier to accomplish with someone else in his life, and he happens to meet someone in the park who just might fit the bill. Will he submit to being owned by a human? Well, maybe... but he might not see it in the way you'd expect. Stein has returned to the silly spirit that we first saw in Interrupting Chicken, making this one a giggly read aloud.

4. Flora and the Penguin by Molly Idle -- Flora is back, and she's ready to take her dancing to the ice. After donning her skates, she is joined by a penguin pal and they skate in perfect synchronization until the penguin falls back under the ice and becomes preoccupied with fish chasing. Flora and the penguin each do their own thing, perhaps with some hurt feelings involved for different reasons, but they soon discover a way to work together so that they each feel better. Flaps of various sizes reveal more illustrations to propel this wordless picture book, and add to the whimsy factor, as well.

5. Have You Seen My Dragon? by Steve Light -- A young boy heading out of his NYC apartment building one day asks the doorman if he has seen his dragon. So begins a romp through the city in an attempt to find an adventurous dragon. Readers will surely be able to spot the dragon in various city locations among the busy, intriguing ink drawings, while the young boy always seems to be just so close to finding him. What really catches the eye is the sparse use of color among the mostly black and white illustrations. With a splash of just one hue on each two-page spread, attention is called to particular items, also enhancing the tally of items that is kept with each page turn, from one to twenty. This one's a beauty.

When you're swimming in candy bars later this weekend, maybe you'll find some time to read with your snack. Pick up any of these at your local library for another special treat!

Happy reading (and Happy Halloween!),

Friday, October 24, 2014

friday's five- Cybils nominees, part 3

Yes, friday's five has been completely taken over by Cybils Awards nominees, and soon the final list of nominated titles will be available after the publisher/author submission period closes tomorrow. For the last couple weeks, and for as long as I can maintain it through the release of the finalists on January 1st, I'm sharing my brief opinions on books nominated in the picture book category. There are some nominated books that I've already featured in previous posts since last year, and I continue to be amazed at the number of picture books that have been released in the last year that I had not seen at all! Another reason to love the Cybils for me- the chance to search out new-to-me books and often finding new loves. On this third round of picture book nominees, I've picked out a handful of books that my own children have enjoyed reading. I haven't read these with my toddler and preschooler pals, but instead, my six and eight year old offspring have been reading these on their own or with me, and they've quite enjoyed them for different reasons-- humor, historical aspects, and fun illustrations.

1. A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina's Dream by Kristy Dempsey and illustrated by Floyd Cooper -- My 3rd grade daughter fell in love with this book, and not for the reason most would probably guess. While she did participate in some preschool dance classes years ago, she's not particularly interested in ballet or dance, but she has been interested in history for a while now, specifically the times in history when specific groups fought for rights. When she first learned as a younger child that women used to not be able to vote, or that people with dark skin weren't allowed to do the same things as people with light skin, she was horrified. This book tells about the first African-American prima ballerina to perform at the Metropolitan Opera, Janet Collins, and the story focuses on a fictional young black girl in Harlem in the 1950s who was inspired by Collins to pursue her own ballet dreams. There is such earnest hope in this story, and the young girl at the center of the story is an inspiration herself. This book needs to be in classrooms for elementary school children to read in conjunction with nonfiction selections about the Civil Rights Movement.

2. Emily's Blue Period by Cathleen Daly and illustrated by Lisa Brown -- Okay, I'll admit that I didn't read this one with my kids, and I'm not sure that they've pulled it off the shelf, either. When a book focuses on a specific, highly emotional experience, I find myself sometimes hesitating from reading it with my kids if it's not an experience that they've had personally. I'm not sure that's the right thing to do, but that's been the case with this one. Emily, an aspiring young artist, has learned about Pablo Picasso, and she has declared herself to be in a blue period, which is fitting since she's currently dealing with her parents' divorce and her father's relocation to an apartment across town. The book addresses her emotions in a quiet and lovely manner, and there is some acceptance and emotional relief by the end of the story, too. For children who can relate to Emily's situation, this book would likely provide some acknowledgement and comfort.

3. Happy Birthday Madame Chapeau by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by David Roberts -- There's more to this silly, rhyming romp than first meets the eye. Yes, the silly factor is high with the wild fashions of the many hats offered to the hatmaker Madame Chapeau upon the loss of her own special headpiece. After reading the artist's note on the copyright page, however, I became even more intrigued looking at the fun illustrations. For the illustrations, the title character was based upon a real woman, fashion editor Isabella Blow, and many of the hats featured in the pictures are based on specific hats worn by famous individuals throughout history. (Before reading the note, the only one that I recognized was Charlie Chaplin!) For older kids, this offers an opportunity to look up the real individuals on the Google and compare photos to the illustrations, after reading and giggling along to the fun book first, of course.

4. At the Same Moment Around the World by Clotilde Perrin -- Understanding the idea of time zones can be tricky for kids. My kids have long said, "When it's day here, the people are sleeping in China!" I'm not sure where they first heard that idea, or when they finally began to understand what it meant, but this book would certainly help cement the understanding that the time of day where one person is differs from another person in a different place in the world. Starting at six a.m. in Senegal, and going all the way through to five a.m. on a ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, very short stories are told about individuals' experiences all around the world. Many of the people featured are children, going about the typical parts of their own days. At the end of the book, readers can pull out a multi-page map that pinpoints all of the 24 locations described in the story, with the faces of the characters lining the top and bottom of the pages. I adore this book for its educational value and the respect that it shows to different people from various countries around the world.

5. Fraidyzoo by Thyra Heder -- While this story isn't necessarily only for older children, there is a subtlety to its humor that I think my 1st and 3rd graders better understood than my four year old friend. In the middle of a story of a funny family trying to figure out what their younger daughter is afraid of at the zoo, lies an alphabet book of sorts, as the parents and older daughter mimic different animals in extremely creative ways in an effort to guess which one might be scaring her. As the day goes by, they guess their way through the alphabet to no avail. However, the young girl decides that she would, in fact, like to go to the zoo, so they make plans to do so the very next day. When they arrive, it turns out there is something scary at the zoo, but not exactly what they were expecting. We all seriously laughed big time when we read this one the first time, and it's been requested multiple times since those first guffaws!

Another week, another handful of books to look up at the library.

Happy reading,

Friday, October 17, 2014

friday's five- Cybils nominees, part 2

Oh, how I owe my public library immeasurable gratitude for their willingness to pull book after book (after book, after book, after book) from the shelves and placing them on the holds shelf for me to pick up at my leisure. As the Cybils Awards nomination period for the public has come to an end this week, there are almost 150 fiction picture books on the list. As we await the end of the publisher's nominating period, that number will continue to rise, and my library's staff will continue to curse my name. Thankfully, we have a wonderful self-checkout system that allows me to haul my own pile over and not burden any of the librarians with my massive stacks of books to be checked out!

This week we've been enjoying books from our big haul last week, and these five have been hits with my toddler and preschooler crew.

1. Baby Bear by Kadir Nelson -- Just look at that cover! The deep blue and the bright yellow caught my eye immediately, as well as those of my young friends. We pulled this oversized picture book off the shelf, and it was quickly declared one that would come home from the library with us. The story line is a familiar one, that of a lost animal, this time Baby Bear, trying to find his way home and asking creatures for help along the way. The animals from whom he seeks advice are kindly and gentle, even a salmon who offers his help in exchange for a promise from Baby Bear to not eat him! This is a book meant to be read quietly, in hushed tones, and slowly in order to appreciate the beauty of Nelson's illustrations of a lush and beautiful forest.

2. Brimsby's Hats by Andrew Prahin -- Oh, this one is just heartwarming and lovely. A hatmaker named Brimsby lived a quiet and content life, making hats and spending time with his friend who brewed the most delicious tea. Their days were spent working their crafts and engaging in delightful conversation. Many years went by this way, but Brimsby's friend declared one day that he was going to fulfill his dream of becoming a sea captain and travel the world. In his absence, Brimsby misses him and his companionship. When he goes out to seek new friends, he finds an opportunity to be kindly and helpful, gaining a bunch of new pals in the process. I'm quite fond of this book for its warm spirit.

3. Flashlight by Lizi Boyd -- Since I was a big fan of Boyd's previous wordless book Inside Outside, I was confident I'd enjoy her newest one, too. Yup, definitely so! A child exits his tent at night to reveal pieces of his outdoor environment in the beam of his flashlight. With only the objects within that beam illuminated and the rest of the page rendered in dark background with grayish sketches, the result is quite attractive and representative of the outdoors at night. As in her previous book, small cutouts in different spots on the page allow for peek-throughs to the pages before and after, adding layers to the illustrations. Nature loving parents and children will adore the things the child finds with the assistance of the flashlight, (as well as the things that find him!) and there are ample opportunities for children to talk about what they see in the engaging illustrations. And the fact that a Luna Moth makes a repeated appearance just thrills me to no end!

4. Bad Bye, Good Bye by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Jonathan Bean -- The cover of this book gives a little clue about the path of the plot, even in its color scheme, with the dark clouds and rain falling on the car all the way to the left, but gradually becoming brighter and more excited looking as the car gets to the right side. I can speak from experience when I say that having to move to a new home as a child is a complete bummer. This opens with two sad and angry children trying to stop their parents and the movers from packing up their house, but of course, their efforts are in vain. The truck gets loaded, and they must leave, saying a "Bad bye" to their neighbor friend. Oh, the gloom. But, as adults have come to learn, sometimes new experiences and new homes can lead to new happiness, and the long trip and eventual settling in at the new house do hold promise. Each page features only two words and a rhyme scheme that keeps the pages connected even without full sentences.

5. Edgar's Second Word by Audrey Vernick and illustrated by Priscilla Burris -- Stories about new siblings are common, and for good reason-- that experience is a game-changer, and children work through their emotions quite well with the assistance of good literature. This one takes a slightly different direction in that the older sister isn't having trouble accepting the arrival of her younger sibling, but, in fact, quite loves her little brother and looks forward to his getting older and beginning to speak. When he does, his first word isn't exactly what she expected... and his insistence in using it again and again quickly becomes bothersome. The title promises a second word... will it be better than the first? This is a fun and loving depiction of siblings and a very understanding mother.

There you have it. Another week, another five nominated picture books that will hopefully provide fun reading times with you and your little ones.

Happy reading,

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

ob-la-di, ob-la-da

Life most definitely has been going on. It's a bit odd to feel steady right now. This past spring was filled with many ups and downs for me, and because I wasn't open to sharing my travails, I purposefully traded in blogging for personal journal writing, which was probably good for all mankind. But now it appears that either I've been allowed to get the hell off that roller coaster ride, or at the very least, the operator has moved the car onto some more even-keeled tracks. Who knows? Maybe a steep drop is just around the bend, and in my unknowing, I'm becoming a little too confident. But isn't that the case all the time, for everyone? We never know what's to come, so why not just acknowledge when times are a little easier and enjoy it while you can?

I guess that's what I'm doing-- enjoying a return to routine, one in which all three children seem to be settled into their various forms of school and activities, and I've got a fairly standard Monday through Friday regular plan. We're mixing it up with some family trips to the gym when we can, so the kids can swim out some evening energy and Hubby and I can trade off for some exercise time. Even JAM is getting in on the action, learning how to work out on different machines. These evenings end up being a bit more chaotic than usual, but at least it's a productive chaos, rather than the usual kids-running-amok-and-driving-us-crazy kind of chaos you can witness at 7:00 pm at our house.

But for now, our family as a whole is doing just fine. I say this with caution and slight trepidation, as if I'm tempting the Fates who will find cause to throw a school-related glitch or an uptick in the teenage angst factor our way. I can only cross my fingers and hope that the path ahead of us contains only minor bumps and cracks in the pavement.

I'm not sure if this relates to anything I've been feeling lately, but a little over a week ago, I got a familiar itch. A figurative itch, mind you, nothing necessitating a medical exam. From previous experiences, I know that this comes every few years, and when it comes on strong, there's only one thing to do. And so, I loaded up my ebook copy of The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, and began reading this oh-so-affecting novel for the fifth time in the last decade. (For some reason, the ebook is not available for purchase right now... hopefully that will change soon and again be available from Zola Books.)  Why did I once again, out of the blue, feel drawn to this book, my favorite of all novels, the source of my only (for now) tattoo? Maybe because I needed to be reminded of the tenuousness of all aspects of love and life, or perhaps so that I could find a release for my emotions of the last few months? Whatever the reason, I heeded the call and jumped right in.

I was crying before I even got through Niffenegger's opening words in honor of the book's 10th anniversary. I often chuckle when I think of how connected I feel to a book based on a science-fictiony premise, not typical reading fare for me. But, the sci-fi time travel aspect is just a way to give a different perspective on the human experience, and that is truly what is at the heart of this novel-- what it means to live and love, to sacrifice and to demand, to be human.
The device of time travel allowed me to tell the story of a good marriage in a way that made ordinary things worthy of special attention. In the face of obstacles, normal life is a triumph. Time travel can be read as a metaphor for memory; we are all time travelers in our minds, if not in our bodies. Like Henry, we jump back to moments of humiliation, loss, joy; we find ourselves flung seemingly at random to ordinary days, small unnoticed pleasures. Our present is created and shadowed by our past. We live in the present, blissfully innocent of our future.  -Audrey Niffenegger, Author's Note 
I began reading voraciously at the beginning of the novel, but as I reached the second half, my pace slowed significantly. Honestly, I'm not especially earnest to reach the end. I know what's there, and the final path toward those last pages are filled with sorrowful reading that always-- even now, on the fifth read-- leave me sobbing. The consolation that I find as I lay in a puddle of my tears lies in the circular understanding of time as proposed in the novel. There is no beginning, and no end, and so when I reach the final page, it doesn't signal the end of any one of the characters, as their selves at all ages are still out there, going about their business, experiencing both the highs and lows. All times at once. 

Facing my own personal highs and lows, especially those lows, can be challenging, and though I'm not of the belief of this circular nature of time in real life, I do like to think that all of one's collective experiences are interconnected in a way that makes it hard to distinguish cause and effect, just like in the novel. And even when Henry and Clare knew bits and pieces of what was to come in their lives, they never had all the details, so there was always an element of surprise in play.

As my days unfold this autumn back into a recognizable routine, it's easy to get comfortable. I like being comfortable, and I'm going to bask in the comfort of the moment, because these small, ordinary comforts of warm family dinners, washing dishes to the sounds of NPR, reading stories on the kids' floor, and snuggling under a blanket with a book-- even one that makes me sob uncontrollably-- are the moments that deserve treasuring, regardless of the unknown that is to come.

Feeling particularly wordy,