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,

Friday, October 10, 2014

friday's five- Cybils nominees, part 1

Happy Fall! It's started to get chilly here already, and after a couple fires in the firepit, it's undeniably no longer summer. We even had a crockpot of mulled cider going last weekend for a party. Autumn has long been my favorite season, what with the holidays, the food related to the holidays, the decorative gourds, and the crisp air, along with the fact that even as I get closer and closer to 40, I still adore my birthday like a little kid. Fall just rocks, plain and simple.

And then a few years ago, I learned about the Cybils Awards, and I got one more reason to love fall. Nominations are open now through 10/15, and the Fiction Picture Book category is filling up nicely. I've started getting some nominees from the library, and even though I'm not a Round One panelist, I like to get my hands on as many of the nominees as I can, because it's a great way to learn about many of the books that have been published in the last year that slipped by me, and also so I can share with you titles that I've enjoyed sharing with the little ones in my life. This week brings our first official group of nominees, though some nominees have already appeared in recent postings.

1. Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton -- The three bigger guys on the cover are working together to try to catch a beautiful red bird, but their plans keep going awry. If only they would listen to the smallest one with them who appears to have a different approach. But, they keep shushing him, so it takes a while for him to get an opportunity to prove himself. And boy, does he ever show those other guys how to get close to the little bird. This story relies mostly on the illustrative flow, and it's a good thing that the illustrations are quite amusing. Haughton has become known for his semi-monochromatic illustrations, and this one has a mostly blue hue, making that red bird really pop off the page. This one is tons of fun, and the adult reading it to younger children can put a lot of spirit and drama into the reading to up the humor factor.

2. Telephone by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jen Corace -- Now, it would really help for kids to understand the game of "telephone" to immediately understand what's going on with this funny book. But, I'm thinking that the young ones reading this story (or hearing it read) have probably not been exposed to it... kids don't play this anymore, right? Well, even without the background knowledge, it's easy to pick up the idea after a mama pigeon asks another bird to pass along a message to her son Peter. Older children may be able to articulate how one message relates to the previous one and how they relate to the bird passing it along. Mac Barnett's sense of humor always shines in his books, and this one is no exception. The twist at the end brings it all together with a giggle.

3. Sparky! by Jenny Offill and illustrated by Chris Appelhans -- Oh my goodness, how I love this book. First off, it should totally be endorsed by Kristen Bell, so it can get tons of social media attention. Secondly, this is full of just the right kind of subtle humor that I love, love, love to play up in a read-aloud. A young girl who gets a sloth for a pet is so earnest and excited to declare him the best pet ever, but he doesn't seem to impress anyone else. It's a good thing that the girl doesn't need others' approval to appreciate the joy of having a pet sloth. Get this book immediately. It's just the freaking best.

4. Doug Unplugs on the Farm by Dan Yaccarino -- You gotta love the message behind the Doug Unplugged character- learning information by being "plugged in" (which for him means, quite literally, plugging his body into a computer) has its value in gathering facts, but if you want to make connections with those facts, you have to actually have experiences to learn from. Doug is every constructivist educator's desired student. Dan Yaccarino's images are as fun and colorful as ever here.

5. Mister Bud Wears the Cone by Carter Goodrich -- Mister Bud and Zorro are back again, and this time, poor Mister Bud has to wear that cone of shame so he doesn't bite at himself where he got a shot. Nothing can go easily for him with that terrible thing around his neck, not eating, not playing, nothing. That mischievous Zorro just might be enjoying this a little too much, even going so far as hoping Mister Bud will take the fall for his own mishaps. Adorable dogs and some good laughs here.

Get to the library and grab any of these book for a good laugh. But seriously, make sure that you get Sparky!, I'm not kidding. I read it aloud and laughed the entire time. As did my husband. And there were no children in sight, because I was just reading it aloud to him. Yup.

Happy reading,

Friday, October 03, 2014

friday's five

It seems as if the last few weeks of sharing picture books, I've been selecting simpler books best suited for an audience on the younger side of the picture book spectrum. This should come as no surprise when I remind myself that I'm reading more books with one- and two-year-olds these days than with five-year-olds, but I still stock our library shelves (and our own overflowing bookshelves) with many of the longer-form picture books more appropriate for extended read-alouds for the pre-kindergarten and up crowd.

Just yesterday, I refreshed our library supply and I'm happy to share a handful of picture books that are heavier on text, with more complex story lines. The illustrations, of course, always play a key role in any picture book's presentation of a story, regardless of its target audience's age, so you can still expect engaging images that support the plot and contribute to the entertainment factor, too.
Oh! I can't help but mention the Cybils Awards again, because as of two days ago, the nominations are open! Head over to nominate your favorite kidlit books from the past year-- remember, picture books to Young Adult fare. If you're wondering anything about the Cybils, it's likely addressed on the FAQ page, so quench your curiosity over there, and then get to nominating!

1. I Wish I Had a Pet by Maggie Rudy -- As soon as I opened this book, I was reminded of the gorgeously detailed scenes of another book, The House that Mouse Built, featuring small felt anthropomorphic mice that I adore. Lo and behold, they are by the same author, who is hugely talented at creating these scenes. (From the title page: "The illustrations for this book are digital photographs of scenes composed of found objects in combination with handmade elements." From me: They are amazing.) In this book, the little mouse on the cover dearly wishes she had a pet of her own, and with each page turn, new examples of appropriate and not appropriate pets for a creature as small as a mouse are given, in delightfully silly ways. There is a subtle maturity to this book that I love, and I wish I had a class of four year olds to whom to read it!

2. A Library Book for Bear by Bonny Becker and illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton -- I have liked some of the Bear and Mouse books by Becker more than others, but this might actually be my favorite yet. Bear is in his usual stuffy and slightly grumpy mood when Mouse suggests a trip to the library. He already has seven wonderful books on his shelf, so he doesn't understand why he would need to look for more. As we've learned from his previous stories, taking Bear out of his comfort zone or away from his regular routine usually doesn't work out... right away, that is. Though he has some trouble at the library initially, even Bear can be softened up by the joys of the library and a story time delivered by a caring librarian.

3. Please Bring Balloons by Lindsay Ward -- Here's another case of a book delighting me, and the author's name looking familiar. Ward actually wrote and illustrated another picture book that I LOVE, When Blue Met Egg. The illustrations in this book start out as fairly standard, but quite cute, pencil and watercolor pictures. As an adventure begins for a young girl and a carousel polar bear, the images become more beautiful and heartfelt, especially her rendering of the night sky. The imaginative and magical nature of the story is great fun, and again, I would love to share this with a class of pre-k or kindergarten kids.

4. A Piece of Cake by LeUyen Pham -- Looking at this cover, I felt transported a bit in time. I think the combination of Pham's illustration style in this book, which looks quite different than what we usually see from her, and the font in which her name is written totally makes me think of the Little Golden Books that sat on my bedroom shelf. What I love best, though, is that Pham constructs the tale in a traditional manner in the beginning, only to throw some unexpected twists in as the story reaches its conclusion. I can't wait to share this book with my first and third grade kids, because I think it will bring about an interesting conversation about what we expected and how the story actually took quite a different path to its ending, though still a happy one. Quite clever and unique!

5. Give and Take by Chris Raschka -- I've saved what is likely the most complex of the bunch for last, and what a book it is. Wow. I'm quite impressed with the way in which Raschka tackles the ideas of "giving" and "taking," which can have different layers of meaning. A farmer giving away his apples sounds great, right, but giving too much can be a problem, either leaving the giver with nothing for himself, or providing more of something to the receiver than he expected (like opinions!). Another very clever book, and one that I think older elementary school students could have a blast discussing. You gotta check this one out to see what I mean!

Okey dokey, there you have it. Another week, another round of books. And don't forget to go get nominating!

Happy reading,

Friday, September 26, 2014

friday's five

Even if I can't seem to crawl out of the lack-of-blogging-hole I've been in for a while, I'm going to push myself as best I can to get a friday's five post up every week for the rest of this calendar year. The Cybils nominating season begins next week, so I'm hoping to immerse myself in picture books published in the last year even more than ever. My preschool pals will once again be my assistants in helping me see which books are a hit with that demographic, and my own (growing!) six and eight year old kids will represent for the elementary set. I feel like I've developed a good sense of what usually works, picture book wise, with children, but they've surprised me in the past by loving one that I was bleh about, or not really getting into one that I thought was a surefire winner. We shall see!

We're not yet at nominations time, so the books on this week's list are simply selections from our last library haul. I'm pretty sure this is the last of this bunch, so that means this weekend should see us rotating these out in favor of new ones. Yay!

1. Two Little Birds by Mary Newell DePalma -- Two little birds doing what little birds do. With simplistic text, this story of young birds from the time of hatching through their pull to migrate is accessible even to young toddlers. My love for nature-themed children's literature is well established, but often the more complex picture books are too long to sustain a two-year-old's attention, and board books usually don't have very much of an actual story line. This one falls right in between, in that it can be read in about five minutes, but tells of the progression of a young bird's life. I have a two year old pal who has been adoring this book and even a one year old buddy who will sit on my lap for the length of this book, and we've read it many times in the last couple of weeks.

2. Whoosh and Chug! by Sebastien Braun -- Since Digger and Tom! has already been a big hit with my young pals, I had a feeling this one would please them just as much. The very cartoonish feel to Braun's illustrations make them look just right for the toddler set, and the stories include positive characters and a conflict that holds a good level of suspense for these young audiences. With the title names being so much fun to say, (onomatopoeia is awesome!) the book also encourages participation from the little ones hearing the story as the trains move down the track. I have a feeling one particular pal of mine will be sad to see this one get returned.

3. Baby Bedtime by Mem Fox and illustrated by Emma Quay -- Mem Fox has a way of capturing the beauty of parenthood and childhood with sweetness and love. While prepping a child for bed, this elephant parent gently does a variety of the little things moms and dads do to their precious babies-- nibble their toes, rock them in their arms-- all as they make their way to the bedroom for the final goodnight. What I think I love best, and I didn't even realize until I began to write this up, is that there is no implied or stated gender for either the parent or child characters. Too often, moms end up reading the "Mommy" books, while dads are left with a smaller selection of "Daddy" books, but this one is a one-size-fits-all choice, and it's a delightful one at that.

4. The Monkey Goes Bananas by C.P. Bloom and illustrated by Peter Raymundo -- I wasn't immediately taken by the illustrative style of the cover on this book, but as soon as I read this the first time with my kids, I immediately fell in love with the entire package. This has been a request for three days in a row from one of my toddler friends, and my 8 year old daughter read it several times today, too, cracking up each time. Perhaps you could describe this as an introduction to the concept of a comic strip for younger kids, and older ones like my daughter can read it in that vein and not feel like they were reading a book for a much younger kid. Poor monkey just wants the bananas he can see on the opposite island, but the shark in the water separating the two islands isn't about to make it easy for him to get that delicious fruit. Some big laughs in this one!

5. My Humongous Hamster by Lorna Freytag -- A little boy loves his tiny pet hamster, but seeing as all he does is eat and eat, the boy begins to imagine what it would be like if his hamster grew to a gargantuan size. Photo illustrations put the hilariously oversized hamster into real world images- using a Ferris wheel as his own personal running wheel, gobbling up huge trees, and giving almost a dozen children a ride on his furry back. Children will surely giggle at the idea, and if you are a hamster-owning family, you can't NOT read this book together. Just imagine the fun you could have creating your own version with photos of your fuzzy critter!

Hope one- or more!- of these look like books you'll want to read with the little kids in your life.

Happy reading, as always,

Friday, September 19, 2014

friday's five

It's time to jump back into the world of picture books, because we're quickly approaching that time of year again... get ready to NOMINAAAAAAATE!

Yup, we're talking about the Cybils Awards, and the nomination period begins on October 1st, so it's time to start thinking. What book do you want to make sure the judges see? The categories are broad across children's and YA literature, but you've got to know that there's one that's always dearest to my heart, right? I'm grateful to have been chosen to be a part of the Fiction Picture book judging team. This time around, I'll be working during Round Two with four other judges to select a winner from the short list of finalists provided by the Round One team. This means that I won't be storing hundreds of books in my dining room as in previous years, but I'll still try to at least take a look at as many of them as possible, even if I don't need to keep a pile of 200 books under my side table!

In the spirit of picture book love and pre-Cybils excitement, I'm happy to share five books that I've recently enjoyed sharing with my own children and my babysitting kids. As always, a big shout out to our public library, which provides the lion's share of our exposure to new books!

1. Found by Salina Yoon -- Pudge read this one to me the other night, and before we even got to the story, we were both enamored with the inside cover! I briefly explained the concept of a flyer with the snipped tabs at the bottom, and then we had fun with the plethora of puns and silly flyers on the pages. Then we spotted our favorite-- a shout-out to Jon Klassen's I Want My Hat Back. Brilliant! The story itself is tender, and my six-year-old was happy to discover that he made several correct predictions as we read it, making me proud that he was able to think in the kind ways that the characters do, as well. I'm highly recommending this one for the whole range of pic book readers- from the young toddlers to the early elementary kids, this is a hit.

2. Why Are You Doing That? by Elisa Amado and illustrated by Manuel Monroy -- This small-sized picture book caught my eye on the library shelf because of its size, and then the title immediately reminded me of the toddlers with whom I spend my days. As I read through it on my own, I was happy to see that the universal theme of curious, constant-question-asking children was presented in more-diverse-than-usual manner for picture books. Little Chepito lives in a rural community that appears to grow the majority of their own food, and as he roams around his neighborhood, he interacts with several other members doing their part in contributing to the shared food supply. A handful of Spanish words are used, which are easy to figure out in context even if you have no previous experience with the language. I'm going to have to look for this duo's first book now!

3. Books Always Everywhere by Jane Blatt and illustrated by Sarah Massini -- Looking for a larger-sized picture book to share with your youngest babies and toddlers? How about celebrating the joy of books at the same time? This one will do the trick. With only a few words on each page, this book is filled with engaging illustrations and tons of smiling babies loving on books. I haven't read this one with young friends, but I have a feeling it's going to be a hit with a few of them.

4. Where's Mommy? by Beverly Donofrio and illustrated by Barbara McClintock -- Though my eight-year-old daughter has pretty much stopped reading picture books on her own anymore, I picked this one from the library because I think that she'd especially appreciate the parallel story lines going on between the young girl and the little mouse. As they both look for their mothers, their friendship is described in the text, and the ending brought a smile to my face. It's sweet and entertaining, and McClintock's illustrations are always gently beautiful.

5. Tyrannosaurus Wrecks! by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and illustrated by Zachariah Ohora -- This one was a delight to the two- and four-year-old crowd I had today! Though I'm not sure they understood the word play going on with the title, which is a repeated chorus throughout the book, they did get the messages about appropriate behavior and how to be a good friend. The messages aren't shoved down kids' throats, but the book does make for a great discussion starter about how to behave, especially in a classroom setting. If I was still teaching preschool, this one would most definitely be on my bookshelf.

As we near the start of the nomination period for the Cybils Awards, I'll be continuing to feature new(ish) picture books that have been a hit with the kids I know. All in prep for the hard work ahead for those Round One judges as they have to sort through 200+ picture books to find the brightest shining gems! Start thinking now of the books that wowed you this past year, and come back next week for another round from me.

Happy reading,

Monday, September 15, 2014

it might be simply pink vs. blue here, but it means so much more elsewhere

The night I found out I was pregnant for the first time was an emotional one, filled with tears, fear, excitement, and even more fear. I had recently turned 24, and my husband and I had been married for a year and a half, living in a not-so-spacious third floor "one bedroom + den" apartment. Still an undergraduate student with six months to go until graduation, my husband was doing an exhausting daily grind of classes, student teaching, and working in the evenings, while I worked full-time on the same campus. A baby? Now? Well, apparently so. After the initial shock, we were most definitely excited, even amid our surprise, but I had a whole lot of questions swirling around in my head. How could we make this work? Would we have to move? How would we afford this new stage in life? Where would we find child care? Were we ready for this yet?

But not even once did I ask the question, "What will I do if this baby is a girl?"

Sure, I wondered about the gender, but that curiosity stemmed from my imaginings of what life would be like way in the future. Would this baby grow to be a bride someday, or give birth to my future grandchildren many, many years from now? Would this baby be an awkward teen boy in coming years, towering over me as he speaks from under the beginnings of a mustache? The differences I imagined had less to do with childhood experiences, but more about the adult the baby would someday become. The growing stacks of pre-washed and delicately folded baby clothes had more yellow and green hues than any other colors, so it wasn't about stocking up on the seemingly required pink or blue. Even at that early stage in my career, I had worked with enough groups of young children to know that kids of both genders love to be silly, get dirty, explore, play, and be wild. "Boys will be boys," had just about the same meaning to me as the lesser-said, "Girls will be girls." I'm more of an "All kids can be really freaking wacky" kind of person.

Even as I intended to provide a universal experience for my not-yet-born child, thinking of all the constructive, open-ended, non-gender based toys I would stock up on, planning to place the baby dolls right next to the trucks on the shelf, I still longed to know my baby's gender before birth. I went in for that mid-pregnancy ultrasound fully expecting to know by the time we walked out of the building. As with my two subsequent pregnancies, my main motivation was so that I could start calling the unborn child a name. Yes, I talked to the baby in utero. I was that person. And I wanted to call the baby his or her intended name. While I had wickedly vivid dreams each time that revolved around gender announcements, I really wanted the visual proof that an ultrasound would provide.

Alas, it was not meant to be at that time. As we've come to know so well, our firstborn's stubbornness was there from the very beginning. Baby would not move those legs to let anyone get a look, so we left with no clearer answer than before. Other than my sadness of not yet being able to decide upon a name, my thoughts of the future and what this baby would bring to our family were no different than before. Boy or girl, our life would simply begin anew as we fell into the roles of first-time parents.


I've spent the last two weeks wholly immersed in the nonfiction wonder from investigative journalist Jenny Nordberg, The Underground Girls of Kabul, to be published tomorrow, September 16, 2014. With each story of the consequences of being born female in Afghanistan, my heart broke again and again. I thought of how much I took for granted- for both myself as the parent and for each of my unborn children- as I wondered about their gender during pregnancy. My curiosity and my desire to be able to assign them a name seem so ridiculous compared to the weight carried by women in so many parts of the world, as they wait to see if they have produced the right kind of child, the kind who will bring the family pride and not shame, the kind who will boost her status to the highest level wife of her husband, the kind who will have freedoms known only to his kind. A boy, of course.

A few-hours-old JAM and his still-stunned parents

Though not planned, the suspicion of a slight complication warranted me a second ultrasound during my first pregnancy. About two months after that first time under the wand, soon-to-be-named JAM decided to make his gender apparent, and we walked out of the medical complex with the understanding that we would soon be the parents to a baby boy. We celebrated, but not because of the power he would soon assume in our family, but because we were excited to know just a little more about the child who would be the first person to ever call us Mommy and Daddy.

This post was inspired by The Underground Girls of Kabul by journalist Jenny Nordberg, who discovers a secret Afghani practice where girls are dressed and raised as boys. Join From Left to Write on September 16th as we discuss The Underground Girls of Kabul. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is fascinating and heart-wrenching, and it needs to be read. The testimonies provided by each incredibly brave woman in these pages deserves to be heard. You can also follow Jenny Nordberg via her websiteTwitter, and Facebook.

Reiterating that you must read this book,