Sunday, October 30, 2011

MTE reviews: Wii Play Motion

Do you Wii? Four years ago, my family was pining away for a Wii, and then three years ago, our wii wiishes came to fruition. Since then, it's been used mostly by JAM, though Red and Pudge have gotten in on the action with their own "kid wii" games thanks to Sesame Street's fun games. Hubby and I haven't used it as much as we would like to, though after a recent small gathering with some pals to try out a new game, we may be playing more often than before.

Wii Play Motion features 12 games that can be played with 1-4 players, to be used with the new "plus" controllers, that somehow are more sensitive to movements. I'm not exactly sure how it all works, but I can say that I've tried all the 12 games, and the vast majority are big hits and quite fun! We had a few friends over recently to try out the games, but before everyone showed up, JAM and I took some time to try out all the games, also being so kind as to unlock some of the "advanced" levels, too. We're nothing if not accommodating.

Fun can be had bopping garden creatures on the head in Veggie Guardin', but watch out for the Miis who pop up out of the holes unexpectedly! See, fun was had by the guys!

Personally, my favorite game is Pose Mii Plus, in which you have to turn the controller in different ways to transform your Mii's position in space so you can float through odd cut-outs. Think wacky Japanese game shows, Wii-style. Here's an image of the fun game:

Yes, JAM and I have been having fun with that one! I think I need to try Spooky Search a few more times before I write it off, but so far, I haven't been able to get very far... and at the party, we all got too frustrated with the game and moved on to other ones that were a bit more exciting. The idea is cool, where you have to search the space around you to find the escaped ghosts and wrangle them back into the screen. But, none of us could master the way to capture the ghosts... but maybe a little more practice will help me out.

I'm happy to know that if we have pals over and we're looking for an fun gaming option, Wii Play Motion is good for some giggles and group fun!

**Disclosure: I was provided a copy of the game and Wii Remote Plus controllers to host a Wii Play Motion party, along with yummy goodies to serve at the party, some favors for the guests, and a copy of the game and a controller to give away to one lucky guest. All opinions expressed here are my own, based on my personal experiences with the game.

Glee over my Wii,

Friday, October 28, 2011

friday's five

How has another week slipped out of my grasp? I tell you, I'm loving every second of my involvement with Cybils, as I have over the past few years, but this year it is an extra challenge to do while working full-time. I've got this huge stack of books just waiting for me to read them all, yet there's never enough time, and then there are so many I want to talk and blog about! So, pardon the late in the evening friday's five, but technically I'm making it just under the wire to share a handful of Cybils nominated picture books that the kids and/or I've had fun with this week.

1. Buglette the Messy Sleeper by Bethanie Deeney Murguia --  I really like this adorable book about a usually neat and organized little bug who turns all fidgety and wild in her sleep when she dreams about adventure. But what can happen when her movements attract the attention of the creature most feared by Buglette and her family- the big crow! Count on Buglette to save the day, no fear. I haven't read this one yet with my kids, but I predict that they'll enjoy the cute illustrations and the character of Buglette, who has to be the cutest little bug around.

2. Rain Brings Frogs: A Little Book of Hope by Maryann Cocca-Leffler -- Ever feel like your child needs a quick little lesson in gratitude and optimism? Well, this short book might be just the thing to spark that type of conversation. Each spread features a character or characters who may not be expressing the best attitude, contrasted with Nate, the most optimistic and positive little kid around. Sure, there's a little cheesy factor going on here, but with little kids, you can come on strong with an idea to help make the point, right?

3. If Rocks Could Sing: A Discovered Alphabet by Leslie McGuirk -- Okay, alphabet books are a dime a dozen, yet this is possibly the most innovative and original of any that I've seen. McGuirk combed the Florida beaches for a DECADE and has collected sea rocks that resemble every letter in the alphabet along with uniquely shaped rocks that match the words for each letter. Seriously, seriously cool. Again, I haven't shown the kids this book yet, but I'm pretty sure I'm going to be buying a copy for us to keep because it's just so visually appealing!

4. King Jack and the Dragon by Peter Bently and Helen Oxenbury -- Oxenbury's signature illustrations bring this gentle adventure to life. Three young children's imaginations soar as they play together one day, with the images of kids engaged in true play as beautifully refreshing as can be. My five and almost-four year olds absolutely loved this book, and I think they loved the fact that pretend play is depicted in such a gorgeous manner. There's a warmth to this whole book that is quaint and just lovely.

5. A Pet for Petunia by Paul Schmid -- Oh, Petunia has an enthusiastic desire for a pet, but not just any pet out there. She's fixated on the wonderfully, amazing animal that is the skunk. They're cute and they have stripes, of which Petunia is also a huge fan. Though she begs her parents for one, they continue to tell her no, so she goes off on her own in frustration only to make a first-hand discovery... which just may alter her perspective a bit. I have to say that this felt a bit reminiscent of The Pigeon Wants a Puppy! especially in the final pages.

If you think any of these books might be fun reading for you and yours, I'm happy to have shared them with you and I encourage you to check out all the other nominated titles over at the Cybils Awards! Your trusty Round 1 Judges are working hard reading through that list with the intention of narrowing it down to the best of the best!

Forever a picture book fanatic,

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

nightstand/ wanna review some reviews?

I could give you lots and lots of excuses reasons why I haven't participated in the Nightstand carnival since JULY, but blah, blah, kids, job, blah, blah. Whatever. Ironically enough, I'm putting up a post this month, even though my bookshelf resembles Old Mother Hubbard's pitiful cupboard. Well, for my own personal reading options, that is. If you're looking for picture books, well guess what? I've got those a'plenty thanks to the Cybils, and there's no nightstand that could hold them all!
This is from last week, or about fifty books ago...

Other than the 264 picture books I'm trying to get my hands on for the Cybils, my own reading has gone down significantly since my return to full-time teaching. When I'm not in the classroom or prepping materials for the class or writing lesson plans for the class or reviewing observational notes on my students or preparing developmental reports and portfolios for my students... well, I'm usually sleeping, but I'm trying to read a bit here and there. Here's what I've got right now:

* Fathermucker by Greg Olear -- I finished this one this month, and it cracked me up time and time again. I wrote up my review the other night only to have WordPress swallow it up unsaved, so that sucked. I'll be trying to regather my thoughts to resubmit the review, but let me suffice it to say this. The SAHD main character loves his kids (even when he indulges them a bit too much, in some opinions), and he loves his profanity (which may turn off some readers, but was a huge boon in the believability department for me and the folks with whom I roll). I thought it was frickin hilarious.

* Booky Wook 2: This Time It's Personal by Russell Brand -- Speaking of profanity. Whoo-boy, Russell Brand (otherwise known 'round these parts as my celebrity boyfriend after my trip to LA earlier this year and a smooch that was bestowed upon by the freakishly tall, surprisingly sexy actor) is just as funny in print as he was in person. Oddly enough, I am finding a large number of words in this memoir to be completely out of my vocabulary range, so it might not hurt to have a dictionary on-hand. This guy has had quite a life so far, and he honestly describes his quest for fame here, never denying that it's an amazing gig if you can get it, even when he finds himself less than emotionally satisfied.

* Love and Shame and Love by Peter Orner -- I don't have this book on my shelf yet, but hopefully it will be coming in soon. I requested it a while back and it doesn't release until November, so I hope the publisher hasn't forgotten about me. Honestly, I don't remember much from the pitch, but I do remember being immediately drawn to it, and if you look at the descriptions and review quotes on the Amazon listing, it sounds like many big folks are wowed by this novel. I do hope that it finds its way to my doorstep and bookshelf!

* What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver -- A good friend loaned me this book of short stories, which is perfect for the attention span I can give to reading most of the time lately. I'm not sure how I feel about his style after a few stories... kinda grim and dark and not too "love"ly, but I'm pretty sure that's the point.

So, that's what I'm kinda-sorta-when-I-can-read reading these days. How about you? We love to take a peek at your own bookshelves or nightstand piles over at 5 Minutes for Books in What's On Your Nightstand? so come on over and link up or hit us up in the comments!

If you're so inclined, you can check out my reviews, but since I haven't posted one of these round-ups since July, there are about twenty-five reviews and essays on there, including a couple memoirs, a few fabulous novels, some beautiful picture books, and even a bit of nonfiction. Check out my reviews here, listed from most recent to older posts.

Wishing I was reading more,

Friday, October 21, 2011

friday's five

Picture books are piled everywhere in my house right now, I tell you. Thanks to the  Cybils Awards, I'm swimming in books. The kids and I are enjoying pulling books from the piles each night to read together, and they're excited to be able to "help" me decide which are the best of the pack. That's the beauty of the whole Cybils thing for me-- I can judge based on what I like in picture books, and I can bring the perspective of my own little ones, as well as the kids' in my preschool class, too. Fabulous!

1.  The Sniffles for Bear by Bonny Becker and illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton -- Bear and Mouse are back, and this time around poor Bear is terribly sick. Who's going to help him, but Mouse, of course. But, Bear and Mouse have a kind of friendship that is sometimes fraught with drama, as Bear is a bit prone to being... dramatic. As I have children that have a few things in common with Bear, they happen to love all of these books.

2.  The Princess and the Pig by Jonathan Emmett and illustrated by Poly Bernatene -- Pigmella and Priscilla, switched at a young age and living lives that they were not meant for. This is a funny fairy tale-like story, that even pokes fun at the fairy tale genre in a way that children familiar with those classic stories will definitely find amusing. Best part? The ending takes the cake. Well, for one of the two, that is. Can you guess which one gets to live happily ever after?

3.  The Boy Who Cried Ninja by Alex Latimer -- We first read this one over the summer when we checked it out from the library based upon the cover that made me laugh. I have to admit that my first impression wasn't that positive... it seemed an odd tale. But, after having read it a few more times with the kids, I can't help but acknowledge how much they love this story. The illustrations are adorable, that part I've always thought, and the story is starting to grow on me. Check it out for yourself, and I'd love to hear others' impressions.

4. Hogwash by Karma Wilson and illustrated by Jim McMullan -- When a farmer wants to give his pigs a bath, the pigs have other ideas. Mainly NOT taking a bath. The back and forth between the pigs and the farmer are reminiscent of the Doreen Cronin books with the beloved Duck character, and the humor is cute and appealing to young children. The ending is a happy surprise, and kids should get a good chuckle.

5. Fall Mixed Up by Bob Raczka and illustrated by Chad Cameron -- Ready for some silliness? Every page of this story has a few things that are definitely mixed up, and this is a fun book to read now, as we ease into the heart of Fall. This book is great for reading one on one, making it easier to pause the story at times to talk about the things that are wackily mixed up. I haven't read this with my own kids just yet, but I predict that there will be lots of laughs and shouts of "No!!" when we do, and it will be fun for them to figure out all the silly mix ups.

Hope you find some enjoyment out of these books, and if you're so inclined check out all the other nominated titles over at the Cybils Awards! Round 1 Judges across all the categories are reading away like crazy these days, and we're loving every minute of it!

Always ready for a good picture book,

Monday, October 17, 2011


I always feared climbing onto the balance beam in gym class. It took so much concentration just to get up there in the first place, let alone the process of moving from one end to the other. Fear would shake my legs, and I couldn't help but look down, suddenly seeing the few feet to the ground as a deep pit that was going to pull me down, breaking every bone in my body.

Life kinda seems like that balance beam right about now. It's been a huge challenge just climbing up onto the balance beam, and now that I'm up there, it's not even close to easy trying to move across. Whenever I look down, I'm crippled by fear, and those fears become magnified, bringing my emotions to the extreme. Busy feels like a level of nonstop going-going-going like none I've ever experienced before, and the tunnel seems so long that there's no light shining ahead.

But. Even with my complete and utter lack of any physical coordination, I never fell off that balance beam. Well, not at least too hard. Okay, I did fall off it, more than once, but I never got seriously hurt, just a bit embarrassed, really. I made it through the hell that was junior high and high school gym classes, and somehow I got past that stage of life and onto bigger and better things.

I predict that I'm going to fall once or twice throughout this new stage. Probably more than that, even. Odds are I won't pass through without a few bumps and bruises, but hopefully that will be the extent of the injuries. Just like then, it feels like this part of life won't ever pass, but someday, the kids will be grown, and maybe, just maybe, work will someday not feel like work.

I'm up there, wobbly legs and all, trying to make my way across without a glance down.

Striving for balance,

Friday, October 14, 2011

friday's five

Hey, what's this? A blog post of one of my favorite old features? Wowee zowee, I'm trying to make time for friday's five since it is once again the lovely time of year known as the Cybils Awards season!

I'm thrilled to be able to say that I'm in my third year of affiliation with the Cybils, and once again, I'm working with an amazing team in the Fiction Picture Book category. This little button here proudly proclaims my extreme happiness at the prospect of spending the next two months reading a couple hundred picture books to decide which ones should be sent along to the final judges. Woo-hoo!

Here are five nominated books that I've enjoyed this week:

1. Leap Back Home to Me by Lauren Thompson and illustrated by Matthew Cordell -- You know what I love the most about this book? It's a cute little book, sure, and it's one of those mama and child sweet little stories. But you know what really makes it stand out for me? The message that the child can go out, away from his mama, to have some wonderful experiences on his own, and that he can still feel welcomed home afterward! It's like the beginnings of a Free-Range childhood for this little froggy.

2. Pig Kahuna by Jennifer Sattler -- Interestingly enough, here's a few more free-range kids out having an adventure. Well, sort of. They're both a little nervous, until Dave enters their life. Dave, you see, is a special something that has floated onto the shore that the brothers Fergus and Dink are not quite certain about. When they discover what Dave is really good for, their whole world expands and new adventures abound. And honestly, the illustrations are stinking adorable.

3. Job Site by Nathan Clement -- When the Boss gives a direction, the trucks and workers get the job done. If you've got a construction lover in your midst, this one will surely appeal for its brightly colored vehicles and construction flair. The illustration style is different, and it's not my favorite, to tell the truth, but I think that the computer-rendered pictures will still be attractive to kids who are already gung-ho about the topic.

4. Dot by Patricia Intriago -- Oh, I really like this clever little book. I do have to admit that I wish it didn't come out at the same time as Press Here. If we don't do a comparison, then this one really shines, for its creativity, and regardless of a comparison or not, I think this one is going to be giggled at plenty by children for a while. I personally love the fact that the text is short enough that my just-learning-to-read kindergartener can decode many of the words independently, and still have a fun reading experience that is entertaining. Really, this is a cute one.

5. Follow Me by Tricia Tusa -- Beautiful. Imaginative. Soft. Lovely. These all accurately describe this gentle story that takes place simply in one child's head, incorporating colors and mood into a darling gem of a bedtime story. I think the biggest appeal this book will have is during a read aloud time between a parent and one or two children, snuggled up together for a quiet book time. Really, it's just beautiful, imaginative, soft and lovely.

Check these out for yourselves, if you're of the picture book loving type like me. And, if you've got a kids' book from this year that you loved, guess what? The Cybils Awards nominations are still open through tomorrow! Get in on the nominations before the end of Saturday, 10/15!

Surrounded by picture books,

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

now, that's just inappropriate

Lately, I've had more than a few moments in which I got lost in my own head for a couple minutes as I imagined what would happen if I suddenly, without warning simply acted completely inappropriately for the moment. If my life were a sitcom, the inappropriate action would appear to be what was really happening, until the blurry fade out that kicks back to me, shaking my head and coming out of my reverie.

You ever sit in a meeting at work and imagine shouting out the actual things going on in your head, all Tourette style? Really speak your mind, even if it is absolutely going to cost you your job, or even if it has nothing at all to do with the topic at hand? Ever think about voicing your honest opinion to someone in a position of power, without blinking an eye? Anyone?

Nah, me neither.

Imaginatively yours,

Saturday, October 08, 2011

a festival for the rest of us (book lovers)

It's been two weeks since my favorite Saturday of the year- the National Book Festival. Oh, what a day it was. When we checked the forecast on Friday evening, it showed significant rain all day, so hubby and I decided it would be best to not bring the whole crew down for the day. JAM, however, said he was dedicated enough to stand around in the rain with me, and I found myself loving him even more than ever. He and I might even get seats for some talks if the rain kept some less dedicated book lovers than us at home.

Then, Saturday morning's forecast was quite different, and while the clouds weren't expected to clear away completely, they were most likely not going to open up on the Washington bibliophilic crowds. Suddenly, we were back on for a full family trip to the book festival. And, did I say this already? What a day it was.

While I was still checking in as "Press" and getting to wear the totally nifty pass, I declined the opportunity to conduct any interviews this year. Not because I didn't want to chat with some of the incredible authors who were going to be present, but because I knew I wouldn't be able to give the attention necessary to the whole process. Ah well, maybe next time.

And on that note, when I checked in at the Media Tent, I was happy to see my contact for the last few years there, and I happily donned my Press Pass. Then, another representative from the PR group told me that Jennifer Egan was standing "right over there" and was able to do an interview right now. You know, Jennifer Egan, the winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Holy crap, the guy was going to walk over and grab her right at that moment, and I had to stop him from doing that because... I've never read any of Egan's books, and I couldn't possibly interview her without being the slightest bit familiar with her work. Yeah, not my highest moment.

Then we were off to spend our day experiencing the festival. I did not approach the festival in the way I've done it in the past, in that we did not have a minute-by-minute schedule charted out. There were a few folks I really wanted to see talk, but I really just wanted to walk around and see what we could see.

Our first stop was going to be the Children's Tent, because I had a curiosity about Julianne Moore's talk. See, I'm generally not a fan of celebrities being given children's book deals, but the character of her picture books, Freckleface Strawberry, had me interested... you know, if you've ever seen a pic of the girl with the online moniker Red, you'd understand why. So we headed over to the tent, and I saw Julianne Moore herself standing off to the side of the tent a bit behind the stage, and I made a in-the-moment decision right then and there to shamelessly use my daughter to meet a movie star.

Yup, I asked Red to come over and stand nearby, and I pointed out JM, saying that she was going to talk about her books about a little girl with red hair and lots of freckles, just like her. My plan only took a few minutes to work, because Red's hair must have set off a Redhead Radar in the beautiful JM, for she immediately took notice of my darling daughter, and the official NBF camera crew was right behind her. The pictures from this year's festival are not yet up on the site, but thankfully, my own camera crew (aka lovely hubby) was at the ready.

 I'm happy to report that not only is Julianne Moore an incredible actress, she's naturally beautiful, and she's quite gracious and lovely. Her talk about her books, which also included some clearly informed opinions about reading and children's literature. My surprise at her ability to be there as an actual author and not as an accomplished actress prompted my musings over at 5 Minutes for Books in an essay, On Reading: Revisiting My Take on Celebrity Authors.

After our brush with fame, we met up with hubby and JAM again, who had left so that JAM could get in line to meet an author he loves, Gordon Korman. While Red, Pudge and I enjoyed a book together, JAM got his own speechless moment with a famous writer.

After a lunch eaten on the steps of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, we split up again so that the older guys could go one way and we could go another, more preschool-y way. Red, Pudge and I ended up in the PBS Kids tent, where we happily found our good pal Steve of SteveSongs on stage! We settled down on the ground right in front of the stage, and I swear to you that Steve looked at us and had a moment of recognition. Let me have that, okay?

Soon enough, Steve was introducing someone who made us smile- Harry Bliss! The kids and I have been enjoying Bailey since I reviewed it last month, and suddenly there was the author/illustrator right in front of us. Rather than read or talk about his new book, he opted to play a cool game in which he invited a child up on the stage to make a doodle on a piece of big chart paper, which he then turned into a one-of-a-kind, wacky and awesome illustration. Guess who raised her hand enthusiastically, got called on, hopped up on stage, confidently said her name into the microphone and drew a jaunty squiggle on the paper? Yup, this was totally Red's day! (In related news, guess who somewhat reluctantly raised his hand, did not get called on, and cried when Red was the last one called? Fun times.)


Isn't that really terrific? Now we have an original Harry Bliss illustration, which he joked could be sold on ebay for probably twenty bucks. We're going to skip the cash payout and frame it for Red's bedroom instead.

After Harry Bliss's time was up, Steve came back on stage to introduce, via song of course, the next author appearing on stage. Lo and behold, it was Red's new BFF, Julianne Moore! She read her first book, Freckleface Strawberry to the crowd, and I was even more excited to witness that she is of the camp of authors who actually do know how to read a story aloud to a group of kids!

Soon, it was time for the one part of the day that was nonnegotiable for me, an author talk in the Children's Tent by a picture book author and illustrator who has delighted me for years and years. I anticipated that the crowd would be huge, and since Red and Pudge have very little tolerance for standing in a crowd to listen to some grown-up talk, even if that grown-up is one of the most prolific and wonderful and amazing authors who they love to read. So, hubby took the younger ones and JAM came with me to try to scope out a few seats for what was to be the highlight of my day.

Tomie dePaola.

What can I say? The crowds were enormous, and a seat was not in our destiny. But, I would stand for a long, long time to hear TdP speak, and he didn't fail to delight. I will shamelessly admit that my eyes welled up with tears as he took the stage, somewhat gingerly holding both handrails up the few steps. But then when he stood before the mike, his booming voice was just what I hoped for, and he soon had the entire crowd laughing as he taught us the PROPER way to blow three kisses, Italian style. I think Strega Nona would have been proud of us!

His talk was just so much fun, and I hope I remember to post the link to the videocast once the Library of Congress gets them uploaded to their site. I recorded part of it, but the view is terrible and my hand is a bit shaky from a mixture of excitement and exhaustion. Just before he finished his talk, I made JAM come over with me to where he would exit the pavilion to get into his awaiting golf cart, not so that I could ambush him, but I hoped to get a closer picture than I had of him on stage.

Not too shabby, huh?

Well, at this point, it was close to 4 pm, and since we had been there for about five hours, which involved skipping nap for two hot and tired kids, we hopped back on the Metro and came home, happy to have rubbed elbows with some authors and illustrators who make us happy. I was thrilled to have once again spent a day among my people, the folks who will show up rain, shine, heat, humidity, whatever, simply to be in the presence of authors and book people.

Ready for September 2012,

For more musings on how I want my legacy to my children to be all about a love of reading, please read my related Patch column- Literary Indoctrination.