The Ultimate Children’s Health Reference Book

Since the advent of Google, I have determined that I have a brain tumor, melanoma, viral pneumonia, seasonal affective disorder, and fifth’s disease.  Don’t even get me started on what ailments I have projected onto my kids.  Admit it, we are all guilty of self-diagnosing.  We think that we’re doctors never mind the years of schooling and practical experience under the tutelage of a mentor that we lack.  With the exception of the fifth’s disease I have been, shockingly, wrong with my doctoring (the jury is still out on the SAD).

Step away from the keyboard and pick up, The A to Z of Children’s Health: A parent’s guide from birth to 10 years.  It is without a doubt the best resource a parent can have at their fingertips. It’s a comprehensive guide written by Dr. Jeremy Friedman and Dr. Natasha Saunders of the world-renowned Hospital For Sick Children.

More than 235 childhood conditions and illnesses are arranged alphabetically and described clearly and concisely with full colour illustrations. The advice offered is practical and current, nothing superfluous or condescending.

In the past two months I have used The A to Z of Children’s Health more than any other parenting resource.  That’s either a rousing endorsement of its usefulness or a dismal reflection on the health and well-being of my family.

How to treat an ingrown toenail?  Is this a cough that I should be worried about?  What is the difference between primary enuresis (bed-wetting) and secondary enuresis?

All of these questions are answered.

Do you remember when you were new to this parenting thing, and you were more invested in your baby’s poo than you’d ever imagined was possible?  Well, they answer all of those questions too and pictures of the various types of diaper rashes accompany at-home treatments and explanations.

It’s rare that I come across a reference book I feel is worth spending money on but The A to Z of Children’s Health is the exception.  So much do I like it, I plan on adding it to my go-to list of gifts for first time parents.

We’ll Always Have Paris: A Mother/Daughter Memoir by Jennifer Coburn

untitledLast week, when the publisher of this book offered 4Mothers a review copy, I did not think things would move quite so quickly.  I said, “yes”; it arrived by FedEx the next morning; I sat down intending only to have a quick look at it, and by that evening I had devoured most of the book.  I could not put it down.  And I could not wait to tell you about it.

Jennifer Coburn’s memoir is about her travels through Europe with her daughter, Katie, and “We’ll always have Paris” is her mantra as she plans for their first trip.  It’s a wistful kind of thought, as is, indeed, her prompt to take the plunge and travel alone with her daughter.  Coburn’s father died when she was still in college, and she begins to fear her own mortality.  She begins to fear that she must hurry up and make special memories for Katie.  Just in case.  If, she thinks, anything were ever to happen to me, my daughter would have the memory of this amazing trip and would be able to say, “We’ll always have Paris.”

As the years pass (and she continues to fail to die the dreaded early death!), so begins a tradition of taking a summer month to travel to a country in Europe.  Her husband is unable to travel with them because of work, so these are strictly mother-daughter trips.  Coburn is a wonderful guide, not only through the cities she recalls, but also through her daughter’s perception of the cities.   We see Paris through the eyes of a nervous mother, who clutches tightly her maps and itineraries, and an excited girl who just wants to immerse herself in the experience.  I especially loved the scene in the famous Paris bookstore Shakespeare and Company, which offers a bed for the night to book-loving travellers.  Because Coburn is a writer, they are offered the “deluxe” accommodation, and eight-year-old Katie pleads with her mother to take the offer of this experience.  While Katie falls immediately to sleep, unfazed by the standards of hygiene, her mother frets and tosses and turns.  Mother and daughter are excellent foils, and it delighted me to read the evident pride Coburn takes in her daughter.  What made the book especially riveting, though, is how Coburn interweaves the tales of their travels with memories of her late father.  She deftly ties in themes from their experiences to memories from her childhood, and I marveled at how skilfully she wove together the joyful and the difficult strands of her past.

I shut the book and began dreaming about where I’d love to take my kids.

And that, as it happens, is the subject of our posts this week.  Along with our guest Roseanne Carrara, we are doing some blue sky thinking about where we would go on our dream vacations with our kids.  Money and time are no object.  There are no constraints.   Where would you take yours?

What We’re Reading: Kids Edition

From Beth-Anne:

images-1Jan Thomas

My middle son is turning out to be quite the bibliophile and I couldn’t be happier!  When he discovers a new author whose books he enjoys he wants to read everything they have written.  Phoebe Gilman’s and Melanie Watt’s books have been re-read so many times that I have lost count.  Jan Thomas is the new fav


ourite. Her books have been making their way home in the library bag and after reading a few, I can see why he likes them so much.  They’re fun!  If you are looking for an extension activity, Rhyming Dust Bunnies is a great choice for this activity that I did with my son or check out her website that is chock-full of things to do!

Zeke Meeks series by D.L. Green

My oldest son is what I what I would call a reluctant reader.  He can read, and is more capable than he believes but not many early chapter books interest him.  The typical ones have fallen flat with Captain Underpants making the biggest ker-plop (I can’t say that I am overly disappointed).  His school librarian introduced him to the Zeke Meeks series and we have a winner.  While the humor is lost on me (but I am not a seven year old boy) it makes him laugh out loud and encourages him to keep with it.  The double-spaced text and the sprinkling of illustrations help to combat the intimidation of ten lengthy chapters.   At the end of the book D.L. Green offers discussion questions and a glossary of the bigger words found throughout the book; words like: auditorium, cashmere, repulsive.  Only kids of today can read a book, be directed to a website link and explore the characters of the book in an entirely different realm and while it’s not traditional, many of the literary extension activities on-line prove to be quite good.

27_CC2_Cover_bMedResCurious Critters Volume Two by David Fitzsimmons

Wow!  There is no other word that I can think of to describe the vivid photography used to illustrate this playful resource book for children.  Fitzsimmons’s book is fun and factual and would be a welcome addition to any child’s library.  Curious Critters Volume 1 and 2 audiobooks, in addition to a children’s song, are available for purchase and download here.  Click over, trust me, it’s fun!


From Carol

little houseSo I haven’t exactly discovered this set of beloved books that has been enjoyed for generations, but I’m reading the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder and joining the throngs of fans.  It’s just one slice of life at that time (noting the relationships to “Indians”, for example), but that slice is carefully and lovingly unveiled, and the prose both restrained and evocative.  Farmer Boy is the third book in the series, featuring a nine-year old Almanzo, but otherwise the books focus on the female protagonist Laura, and it’s wonderful how a good story well written is what holds a rapt audience and not the gender of the protagonist.  It’s been lovely to share with my boys, and I’m glad we still have several novels to go.

Literacy Extension Activity: How To Eat Fried Worms (kindergarten-grade 3)


Mrs. Claus brought books to each of my boys on Christmas Eve Eve.  My middle and youngest received Christmas stories that they happily listened to over and over.  My oldest is a bit of a reluctant reader and it’s a challenge to engage him in stories.

Mrs. Claus surprised him a favourite story of his mom’s when she was in grade school.  How To Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell was left on his breakfast plate, alongside his new pyjamas, with this inscription:

This was your mommy’s favourite book when she was in the third grade.  I’m sure you will love it too!  Ask your mommy to read it to you.  DSC_0774

The three of us (middle son included) would cuddle up each night and read a few chapters.  The story was an instant hit with the boys, and really what’s not to love?  Gross squiggly wigglies, dirt bikes, bathroom humor and a gang of best friends.

After we finished the book, we did some extension activities.

Feel sorry for my boys – you can take the teacher out of the classroom . . .

DSC_0778Choose a month of the year and complete the blank calendar.

  • Before we did this we reviewed the months of the year and the days of the week.  Here is a catchy tune to help your child learn the months and the days.


Print the number of the days in the calendar squares.

  • We discussed how some months have 30 days and others 31 days and that February only has 28 days.  It’s tricky to learn how many days each month has but this poem/action has proven to be quite helpful.


Are there an odd or even number of days in the month of that you chose?  How do you know?

  • What does “even” mean?  My middle son is Mr. Fairness and he was quick to explain that “even” means “fair”.  That if there is an even number, nothing is left over (and no one gets an extra).  The oldest said that you can always split the extra but then you’d be using fractions.  The boys worked together to identify that even numbers end is 0,2,4,6,8 and odd numbers end in 1,3,5,7,9.  Mr. Fairness also pointed out that this is pattern.

If Billy has to eat one worm every day for 15 days how many worms does he have to eat in total?  Is 15 an odd or even number?

  • The boys laid out their gummy worms on the calendar – one for each day.  This provided them with a visual of just how many 15 worms Billy had to eat.  I also asked the boys when they hear “in total” or “all together” what mathematical operation should they use?



If Billy has to double the number of days, but still eat one worm per day, how many days does he have to eat worms?  How many worms will have to eat in total?  Is that an odd or an even number?

  • It amazed me how they worked together to solve this problem.  The oldest wanted to show off his double-digit adding skills and taught his brother how to re-group.  They showed the several ways to solve this problem with words, pictures and using the gummy worms!


The boys also drew a picture of their favourite character from the novel.  Mr. Fairness chose the worm and his big brother was quick to follow suit!


We couldn’t leave those gummy worms on the calendar, so we made some worms in mud!*


And the next time we want to rent a movie, How To Eat Fried Worms it will be!

*Sorry, no photos from our kitchen creation.  This one is via pinterest.

How to Be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis and Laurel Snyder on Books for Boys

heroineWas there ever a book so meant for me to read?  It’s been a long time since I’ve finished a book and wanted to get right to the computer to write about it, but this book gave me that wonderful sense of urgency.  I must spread the word.  Others must know how wonderful this book is. 

I heard Samantha Ellis read from and discuss her book on The Guardian books podcast.  I ordered the book right away, but had to wait for its publication date in Canada.  It arrived this week.  I devoured it in a day.

Ellis begins the book on the Yorkshire moors, with her best friend Emma, and they are arguing about who they’d rather be, Jane Eyre or Cathy Earnshaw.  (Emma and I agree; Jane Eyre, of course.)  Ellis is adamant that Cathy Earnshaw is the heroine for her.  Emma has made her think, though, that she should revisit the question.

…. when we reached Top Withins, the skies cleared.  The clouds vanished and the sun shone, as if this was the backdrop for some moment of revelation.  Which it was.  I was wrong.

My whole life, I’d been trying to be Cathy, when I should have been trying to be Jane.

As we leaned against the warm stone, basking–actually basking–in the sun, drinking flasks of tea, I wondered why I’d written Jane off.  She is independent, and brave, and clever, and she really does stay true to herself.  And while Cathy ends up a wandering ghost, Jane ends up happily married.  The brilliant sunshine was very Jane weather, I thought; pleasant, clear and rational.  It would have rained for Cathy, there would have been thunder and lightning.  And (said a small, but firm Jane voice) we would have shivered and eaten soggy sandwiches hunched under the hoods of our waterproofs. …

I decided that when I got back to London, I would dig out my copies of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre and read them again, with more scrutiny and less sentiment.  I would find out how I really felt about Cathy and Jane.  But maybe that wouldn’t be the end of it.  After all, if I’d been wrong about Cathy, had I been wrong about my other heroines too?

And so begins 18 months of re-reading and writing about all of her favourite books and heroines.   Ellis begins with fairy tales and works her way through children’s books, racy reads, “the classics” and classics of first and second wave feminism; from The Little Mermaid, to Anne of Green Gables, from Lizzy Bennet to Flora Poste, from Lucy Honeychurch to Esther Greenwood.  She revisits, among many others, Louisa May Alcott, Barbara Pym, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath and Angela Carter.  Having read and relied on these books and their heroines to shape her growing self, who, she asks, is the heroine she needs today.

The title is a nod to Louis May Alcott’s “She is too fond of books and it has turned her brain,” and this idea of reading spoiling not just one’s eyes and brain, but marriage prospects too, comes up often in the book.  As an Iraqi Jew, whose parents fled to England as refugees, the marriage plot features heavily in Ellis’s own life.  Her parents want her to settle down with a nice Iraqi Jewish boy, but Ellis chafes against the marriage plot both in life and in literature.  She wants adventure, independence, a model for a writing life.  Ellis herself is a playwright, and a huge appeal of her book is that she traces the fates of women writing in fiction.

There is a perfect balance of autobiographical material and discussion of the books on hand.  Ellis is not just well read, she has a genuine desire to right by books and their authors.  She is a generous reader, but totally unafraid of calling herself out or her beloved writers out for failing their own heroines.  I loved her arguments with her younger self and with the authors who let their women writers sacrifice writing to marriage and children.

I loved every minute of reading this book.  It went too quickly.  I gobbled, as I often do, but this book sent me back for seconds, it sent me to my own bookshelves to pull down my own copies of Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Cold Comfort Farm, The Bloody Chamber, To the Lighthouse, I Capture the Castle, and and and.  It also sent me looking for books I haven’t yet read: Lolly Willowes and South Riding.  It did, in other words, what all great books about books should do: it gave me the pleasure of revisiting old favourites and the joy of anticipating new reads.

Ellis also got me thinking about the role books play in shaping our selves.  Her quest is very specific: she wants to find in print a heroine to serve as a role model, a guide and an inspiration.  I’m not on that particular quest, myself, but I am aware that my three boys are in the midst of their first discoveries of their great favourites.  They are now reading the books that will become, for them, the landmarks in a literary coming of age.

What, I thought, are my three boys’ literary guides and role models and inspirations?  Who is shaping them?

Laurel Snyder, the author of the wonderful Bigger than a Bread Box, and also a mother of boys, wrote recently about the tendency to assume that boys will only read books about or designed to appeal to boys.  It’s a short and wonderfully direct essay on the gendering of children’s literature.

When we go to the bookstore my boys gravitate to Bone, Amulet, Wimpy Kid, and Percy Jackson, and that’s fine. We read those books too. But if I never even suggested that they might want to reach beyond that initial attraction, I’d be cheating them out of a broader understanding of literature and the world. More than that, I’d be giving them an expectation that life should meet their needs. That life should accommodate their preferences.

Which, to be honest, isn’t a message I think little boys need at all. Given that most of them plan to grow into men.

I’d like to join her in saying that we should not be short-changing our boys by assuming that they cannot read beyond Amulet and Percy Jackson.  My sons loved these too, but, frankly, to stop there and say, “Good enough, the kid’s reading” is in no way good enough.  It’s not only underestimating them, it’s cheating them out of some great reads.

Later this week, we will be posting our What We’re Reading with Our Kids, and I’m thrilled to be able to tell you that a lot of the books on my list have female protagonists and girls on the cover.  I don’t mean to sound like I am taking any credit for this, I’m just thrilled to be able to say that it is true.  In the last year, my eldest son has loved, almost exclusively, books written about girls: The Breadwinner, about life for a girl under the Taliban; When My Name was Keoko, about a Korean girl living through the Japanese occupation, and, of course, The Hunger Games and the Divergent trilogies, which he has read twice each.

Now, my boys are certainly not looking for heroines in the pointed and critical way that Ellis is, but these books do shape them, nonetheless.  It gives me great joy and peace of mind to know that they are being shaped by heroes and heroines alike.

(My review of How to Be a Heroine appeared first here.)

The Pitfalls of Living With a Love Polyglot

il_570xN.526702741_rgt8Despite winning the French fluency award in the eighth grade, growing up with a bilingual father and being married to someone who speaks three languages, I am what one would call a monolinguist.

I am no fun at parties. I raise my glass with a meek “Cheers!”

I don’t even know the dirty words, the cuss words, in any other language.

Nope.  I am decidedly a unilinguist.  And even that’s questionable considering the number of times in a day when I find myself at a loss for words, desperately searching for the perfect adjective and settling for a sub-par alternative.

However it seems when it comes to love and speaking the 5 Love Languages, I am a regular polyglot (I had to look that up)!

Either that or I am painfully insecure.

Words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of services and physical touch: I speak these eloquently, without accent or hesitation, no stumbling or incorrect conjugations.

I have friends that can start a sentence in Italian and complete it in a flourish of French.  While I don’t know le from les, I know that my three boys and husband each have their own love language that is as different from each other as their thumbprints.

I transition from one love language to another with the ease and fluency of a professional translator.  This innate ability is not startling to me; it’s matter-of-fact.  It’s as natural as speaking Russian – if I were in fact, Russian.

My kids and husband benefit from my understanding the 5 Love Languages.  But there is a challenge in living with a love polyglot like myself: knowing on any given day what is being spoken when you walk through the front door.

“I was thinking of you today when I walked by the patisserie.” He says handing me my favourite, a bag of still warm pain au chocolate.

“It’s Thursday!  Thursday’s garbage day!  Do I have to do everything around here!?”

Poor guy.


The artwork is available at YourOwnWords on etsy.

What We’re Reading

From Beth-Anne

imgresDreams From My Father by Barack Obama

Technically I didn’t read this book.  Rather, I listened to it while walking the twenty minutes home after dropping my boys at school.  I am intrigued by other people’s lives: ordinary people and those swathed in the limelight.  I enjoy listening to memoirs/autobiographies, especially when read by the author and Obama’s smooth baritone served to lull my nerves after the fracas that is the morning routine.  It’s not a political tome, nor is it pushing any agendas.  It’s simply a reflection, a recount of his formative years with the insight that one only has decades later.    The 5+ hours were a welcome distraction and nearing the end, I found myself taking the long way home.

imgres-1Bride of New France by Suzanne Desrochers

Laure’s story begins in Paris in the 1650’s.   Paris of yesteryear was a gritty and dirty place.  The streets teemed with poverty and sanatoriums overpopulated with the physically sick, mentally ill and destitute.  A careful selection of young girls from these institutions were shipped to New France with the intention of marrying them off to the male settlers and populate the area thereby securing the land for France from the native people.  Reading this novel transported me back to 7th grade history and the King’s Daughter by Suzanne Martel, however Desrocher’s account of life as a filles du roi is more suited for adult eyes.

imagesTurtle Valley by Gail Anderson-Dargatz

I can’t start a book by Gail Anderson-Dargatz if there is anything pressing I must attend to because once I read the first few pages I am committed.  In this case, I followed Kat on her agonizing journey of self-discovery while she put out fires, both literally and figuratively, while re-awakening a fire deep within.  Kat returns home to care for her dying father and support her mentally ailing mother while coming to terms with the end of her marriage to her stroke-ravaged husband.  To complicate things, the neighbour is her recently divorced former lover with whom she shares a sorrowful secret.  While the drama runs high, the characters are real and lack any of the histrionics you’d expect from a soap opera.

From Carol

paradise lotParadise Lot by Eric Toensmeier is an account of two young men who buy a small, barren urban lot in Massachusetts and set about creating a “permaculture paradise” featuring more than two hundred edible plants, many of which you and I have never heard of.  I plowed (ha!) through this book, which was made more interesting by revealing parallel exploration and growth in the protagonists’ lives (they meet lovers and settle down).   So much of the literature on permaculture and growing food assumes one has and needs swaths and swaths of land; this book shows how much is possible anywhere and encourages its readers to do what they can, where they are.

urban farms

A bit counter-intuitive maybe, given the subject matter, but Urban Farms by Sarah Rich is like a coffee table showpiece for this particular kind of farm.  A good-looking book that profiles 16 forward-looking farms thriving in city environments,  there’s more of a reporting quality to this book than a heartfelt one, but the featured farms are so innovative that they can almost speak for themselves.  Fascinating overview of what is possible, especially for the reader new to urban agriculture.

From Nathalie

imagesQS9I6XEVWell, I have officially gone down the rabbit hole.  After my wonderfully fun book club, I’m perfume-obsessed.  I’ve spent the last four nights with Tania Sanchez and Luca Turin’s Perfumes: The A-Z Guide.  It is more than 600 pages long; it reviews 1800 fragrances; I have ordered more than a few samples from Lucky ScentThe A-Z Guide is a hoot.  There is no pretense of objectivity.  This is entirely a subjective, first person and opinionated account of the authors’ encounters with all perfumes, great and small.  The fact that some of my favourites appear on their five star list was no small source of pleasure.  They, too, love Dzing!, The Breath of God, and Cuir de Russie.

After reading The Perfect Scent, I went back to re-read The Emperor of Scent, Chandler Burr’s book about Luca Turin.  Not only is Turin an eloquent perfume aficionado, he’s a maverick scientist who, out of his love for perfume, comes up with an entirely new theory of how smell works.  He is subsequently vilified and demonized by perfumers and scientists alike, and Burr tells what could easily be a conspiracy theory fairy tale so compellingly and so carefully that it’s hard not to fall in love with both of them.  Absolutely fascinating.  Even the second time around.emp

While I’m at it, I might as well tell you about Patrick Suskind’s Perfume, a novel that I liked more for its detail about how perfume is made than for its plot.  An orphaned child has an uncannily sensitive sense of smell.  He learns the perfume business, makes his employers rich and famous with his genius, then embarks on his own life’s work: to make perfume that smells like innocence.  He does not do it innocently.  If, like me, you are tired of the CSI/murder mystery/Cold Case plot that pits a psychopath against anonymous virginal females, consider yourself warned.  Worth reading for the perfume stuff, though!


What We’re Reading: November 2013


hyperbole_and_a_half_book_1Hyperbole and a Half

Allie Brosh

Run, don’t walk, to your nearest bookstore and buy this book.  Based on her blog of the same name, Hyperbole and a Half is best described as an illustrated memoir.  Some episodes are from her childhood, some are from adulthood.  Some of the chapters began as blog posts, others are new material for the book.  I read a review of the book in The Globe and Mail, and sat down to read her blog.  I read it from beginning to end in one day, from her celebration of hitting 100 subscribers, to her current multi-million hits a month.  I was riveted.  I have no doubt that reading the blog enriched my reading of the book, but the book is definitely a stand-alone knock-out.  Do not be fooled by the apparently naïve style of illustration.  Brosh has an uncanny ability to remember what it was like to be a child, and her visual style brings into relief her present self remembering her past self as a child, but also how her actions as a child inform her present behaviour.  (She has ADD and struggles with depression.)   As a parent, I found that I was fully absorbed by her memories of and explanations for her wild behaviour when she was younger.  This post about her dinosaur costume is brilliant.  At turns heart-breaking and hilarious (my husband had to check that I was not choking I was laughing so hard as I read the blog; I actually hurt myself trying not to laugh out loud while reading the book in bed and wake said husband), Brosh is at her best with her acute observations about the progress of depression through stages of apathy, lack of emotion and suicidal thoughts.  Here is a wonderful sample of a chapter of the book.

17345395Longbourn by Jo Baker

With the exception of Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones, I’ve been largely disappointed by attempts to rewrite/continue/reframe Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  I’m looking at you, Death Comes to Pemberley.  (I swore that I would go to my grave with the shameful secret that I sat through the entirety of Austenland.  It was so toe-curlingly dreadful, I actually felt soiled after that experience.)  I digress.  Longbourn is nothing like that.  Told from the perspective of the servants in the Bennet’s household, it is a story well-told and enjoyable.  I always, always wonder, when reading about the gentry, “How are they paying for this?  Who is doing the laundry?’  Longbourn addresses the second question in great detail, right down how the petticoats got stained, how the laundry soap is made and how the maid’s skin cracked and bled from chilblains.  This is fairly light fare: a below stairs romance that plays out with exactly the same times and settings as Austen’s original.  There were several points at which I felt my suspension of disbelief strained a bit too far, but overall, a good read.

The Faraway Nearby By Rebecca Solnit 17bookFaraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit

Solnit is my new Must Read Everything author.  I fell head over heels in love when I read Faraway Nearby, a book of connected essays about everything from cancer, to apricots to arctic explorers.  If that boggles your mind, wait until you see how Solnit weaves these things together, time and time again, with a different emphasis on each of her touchstone images in each chapter.   This is creative non-fiction at its best: it employs the tools of creative writing to maximum effect.  Beginning with an essay on caring for her ailing mother, Solnit voyages out as far as Iceland and then back home again in a series of nested essays that link up in wonderous ways.  It’s a book to savour, to take in slow bites rather than my customary gobbles, but, I could not help myself.  I gobbled.  Two of her other books now await me on the bedside table.


The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay

I enjoy historical fiction, if for nothing else a good story will pique my interest to further delve into the past.  A few months back my book club chose The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay who is well known for her novel, The Birth House that I thoroughly enjoyed.  Set in gritty, impoverished Lower Manhattan in 1871, The Virgin Cure imgresgrabs the reader from the first sentence: “I am Moth, a girl from the lowest part of Chrystie Street, born to a slum-house mystic and the man who broke her heart.”  Her childhood is spent barely surviving amid disease, starvation and crime.  On the cusp of her 12th birthday her mother sells Moth as a servant to an upper-class woman and disappears from her life.  Contrary to what one would think, life does not become easier for Moth and a series of betrayals leads her to a brothel where the Madam secures the maidenheads of young girls for the city’s tycoons.   It is at this brothel where Moth meets Dr. Sadie, a female physician, who changes her life.

The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg

Well-established, New York author Jami Attenberg explores many complex relationships in her third novel, The Middlesteins.  Richard has walked-out on this thirty year marriage unable to take life with Edie.  Edie, morbidly overweight and scheduled for her second surgery, refuses to acknowledge her addiction.  The comfort food provides her is long-standing and the passages of Edie relishing her food, which Attenberg writes with such fervour, is akin to a passionate love affair.  Robin, her adult daughter, is grappling with her embarrassment of her mother, her mother’s middforkerri-198x300weight and her parents’ failed marriage.  Benny, the lone son, is desperate to smooth things over while his relationships with his parents, his children and his wife all teeter on the brink of disastrous.  Edie’s addiction to food has torn the Middlesteins apart but with her family in jeopardy is she willing to take control of her life?  Attenberg shows readers how food addiction can be just as debilitating, destructive and complex as addition to drugs or alcohol.

I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

Unless you have been living under a rock, you know of Malala Yousafzai, the 15-year-old girl who was shot in the face by the Taliban on her way to school.  Malala, along with her father, is a champion of girls’ rights to education and is the youngest person to be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.  Malala grew up in the Swat Valley, an area with a contentious history, but life became a prison under the rule of the Taliban.  Freedoms and pleasures that the people of Swat enjoyed for many years were taken away.  Innocents were killed and their bodies displayed in the street as a warning to others.  The valley, once revered for it’s ecological beauty and ancient religious artifacts have to the profound dismay of many, including archeologists, been stripped of any sign of its diverse religious history and is a polluted shell of itself.  Malala’s first hand account of how imagesoppressed people are, in particular women, under this terrorist regime, is both gripping and appalling.  I remember after 9/11 reading this quote by Fred Rogers:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

Malala is one of those people.  She is a beacon of hope and an example to others how one person can change the world.


quietI read, I really do read, and I skim and glean even more.  But I don’t have much to write about this month, the books I picked up I don’t feel like posting about.  I did, however, forget to write about Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.  It questions the dominant paradigm of extroversion in North America, the one which openly views introversion as a lesser way of being.  This is one of those books that doesn’t exactly change the way I see the world, but adds a screen of understanding that helps to make more sense of it.  And it doesn’t just do this for introverts, but for the extroverts who love introverts.  My extroverted husband picked up Quiet and said, “I feel like you come with a manual that I haven’t read.”  The book is filled with fascinating stories of individual introverts and their power, as well as the positive impacts of collected introversion.  It’s just as riveting on the ground where we stand, to facilitate an understanding of the quieter spouses, children, parents, friends, and selves among us.

New Kids’ Non-Fiction Books: Our Fall Haul

Here are some of the best non-fiction books we’ve been sent this season:

CoolCreations35Pieces-cover-des3-loresCool Creations in 35 Pieces

Sean Kenney

I cannot begin to describe the level of excitement in my five-year-old when he saw this book.  “Great!,” he said.  “I can’t wait for R to come home so he can build these for me!”  Ummmm.  The idea was supposed to be that he tackle some building on his own, which, I am happy to say, he soon did.  Sean Kenney has created 30 pages’ worth of robots and buildings and goofy faces and all manner of other things out of only 35 pieces of Lego.  When you have Lego bins that rival the size of the sofa, that is a welcome thing.  No more rummaging through thousands of pieces.  Once you have rummaged and found the 35 pieces he uses, you have hours of building at your finger tips.  Kenney’s book, published by Henry Holt, is inspiring for its versatility with a limited set of pieces, and will, hopefully, lead your little Lego-lovers to explore and create on their own once they’ve seen the variety that’s possible.  If you photograph their creations, you can add to his on-line gallery!

SIK Big Book of Who FootballBig Book of Who: Football

Published by Sports Illustrated Kids, a division of Time for Kids, this is a photo-saturated, fact-filled read for the football fan in your family.  There are five chunky chapters on Champions, Personalities, Record Breakers, Super Scorers and Yardage Kings, and the text is superimposed on photographs, appealing to visual learners.   My eldest son (12) scooped it up when I opened the mail, said “Cool!” and disappeared with it.  I know no higher sign of approval.  Football isn’t really even his thing.  This is one of those “flip through” rather than “sink into” books, but sometimes, that’s exactly how you want to pass the time.

TFK_BBoW_HC_hiBig Book of Why

Also published by Time for Kids, and also photo-saturated, this book takes an inquiry-based approach to teaching.  Chapters are topic-based, and include Space, Technology, Arts & Media, and Transportation.  Each chapter is a series of questions: “Why are tomatoes really fruit?, Why are there so many kinds of apples?  Why do some pumpkins get so big?”  There is a focus on American data, though there are chapters on World History and World Culture.

top-5-of-everythingTop 5 of Everything: Tallest, Tastiest, Fastest

This is the last of our offerings from Time for Kids.  It’s a smaller format, and a there is a lot less text in this one.  Strange but true facts are written in bold text on lush photographs.  This is a book that will appeal to the Guinness Book of World Records lover, and the facts are presented not only verbally, but with graphs, maps, charts and images.

untitledWeird but True 4: 300 Outrageous Facts

Published by National Geographic, this book will appeal to younger readers in the early grades.  There is no clear organization to the material, so this is truly one of those books that you just dip into for fun.  Topics range from language to addresses to nature.  A group of owls is called a parliament of owls, Canada’s postal code for the North Pole is HOH OHO, some people hire goats to mow their lawns.  A fun collection of facts that becomes quickly addictive.  New Caledonian crows make right-handed and left-handed tools.  Barbie’s full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts.  I’ll stop now.

Happy reading!

Rainy Day Activity: Teaching Rhyming Words & Looking For Patterns In Storybooks


Literacy, books, learning – there a big deal around here.  I love reading in the way that my husband loves to cook.  I love reading in the way that my boys love to whine.  I love reading so much that a perfect day for me would be spent lost in the stacks of the library.  I love that musty library smell.

Our last library haul brought home a bounty of books.  Each boy was weighted down by their selections and I didn’t come up short either.

I like to see what books the boys choose when left to their own devices.  It tells me a lot about what their current interest and what’s grabbing their attention.

And because I am a book geek, I like to use one book per haul and make a lesson of it.

Oh, groan!  Can’t take the teacher out of the mother . . . my poor kids.

My middle boy loves dogs so it’s no surprise that when he spotted Bark Park by Karen Gray Ruelle it had to come home in our library tote.  We read the book a few times together, and then he spent some time with it alone.


A few days later, I typed out the words to Bark Park in large, kid-friendly font (Comic Sans, size 26) and printed it out.


We sat down together and read through the script without the pictures.  This can be difficult for children who are learning to read as often early readers rely on pictures for cues.

Using the printed story, I asked my son to find the rhyming words.



Since, for the most part, there are three pair of rhyming words per stanza, I asked my son to choose three different coloured hi-liters and because he is my son, he’s game to do any activity that requires office supplies.  Staplers are a favourite!


I like to use a blank, white paper to keep the stanzas covered that we have not yet worked on.  This focuses his eye (and attention) on the task at hand.

Together we read through the story and he colour-coded the rhyming pairs.  I.e.  Bark and park would be coloured purple.


It seems like a lot of work for at-home literacy activity and it is, but by spending this time, a foundation has been laid and a curiosity sparked.  Books that we have read after Bark Park spurred discussions about books that don’t rhyme and what are the reasons why they may not?  Non-fiction books, cookbooks, and instructional books don’t use rhyme, why?  Why do some fiction books use it and others don’t?  Can you imagine an entire chapter book told in rhyme?  Why is it not always possible to tell a story that way?

He also made connections between his favourite authors and their use (or lack of use) of rhyming.

After he had identified all of the pairs, we looked for patterns and with little prompting he was able to identify several.

  1. Rhyming words have the same ending letters . . . or do they?  Words ending with –ing do not necessarily rhyme.
  2. The last word of each sentence rhymed with the last word of the next sentence.  How can you tell if it’s the last word of the sentence?  The punctuation, of course!
  3. The first and third words usually rhymed.
  4. Sometimes made-up words are fun and can rhyme with “real” words.

Looking for patterns is a skill that extends beyond literacy and can prove helpful when learning mathematics.


Next week we return our books to the library and I wonder what will be next?

In parting, I leave with some words from the doctor of rhyme (no, not Dr. Dre):

dr. seuss read quote-1