Pigs and Legos and Pizza, Oh My!

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I just had to report the conversation I had with my kids today on the way to school.  This gives a glimpse into what they think about my coursework.

Elijah (11 years): Mama, what do you do all day?

(You see, I work from home and go to school from home, and he knows that, but I think he has some sense that sitting at the computer all day is fun, so he wonders when I actually work…)

Me: Well, I do homework and work work and stuff around the house.  Like today I’m going to finish a paper I have due tomorrow.

Ari (6 years): What is your paper about?

Me: Well, you know how there are all different kinds of people?  Some people are black, some people are white, some people are Mexican, people speak different languages, people are all different, and my paper is about how libraries can make sure to serve all the people who come to them.

(I was all proud of myself for summing up cultural competency in libraries so a 6 year old could understand, until…)

Ari: That’s boring.

Me: What would be interesting?

Ari: How do pigs snort?

Me: What other things would you like to learn about?

Ari: Write about Legos.

Me: Well it has to be a question or something to write about, like what should we write about Legos?

Ari: Why Legos are so awesome!

Me: What else?

Ari: And why pizza is so awesome!

Me: Well, it has to be about libraries.

Elijah: Write about why libraries should have Lego books in them. 

(Elijah’s class has been writing “persuasive” writing assignments)

Elijah: Is this like a persuasive writing assignment?

(we’re just pulling up to school)

Me: No, it’s something different, I’ll explain it to you…

(As he steps out of the car and closes the door)

Elijah: Please don’t. 

(I laughed all the way home!)

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The Karate Kid

The Karate Kid(PG Movie).  Directed by Harald Zwart. Sony Pictures, 2010. 140 minutes. $19.94

Plot: Twelve year old Dre Parker lives in Detroit, and then one day he and his mom get on a plane, and all of a sudden he is living in Bejing.  Dre’s mom has a new job in China, and he finds himself in an unfamiliar land, knowing neither the language nor the customs.  His first foray to the playground results in his finding a new friend, Mei, and being beaten up by her friend, Cheng.  Cheng does not think that Mei and Dre should be friends, and Cheng’s continued bullying of Dre make Dre’s life difficult and unhappy.  Dre decides that he needed to learn martial arts to be able to defend himself from Cheng and Cheng’s gang.  Eventually, the maintenance man, Mr. Han, becomes Dre’s Kung Fu master and they train together intensely for a tournament in which Dre has been entered.  This movie is a remake of a movie of the same name from 1984.

Review: Entertaining and exciting, this movie has a lot of great martial arts scenes as well as beautiful views of Beijing and the surrounding Chinese countryside.  Jaden Smith as Dre is cute and witty, vulnerable and brave.  Jackie Chan as Mr. Han is understated and serious, caring and strong.  Dre’s friendship with Mei, played by actress Wenwen Han, is sweet and the two support each other.  The kiss between Dre and Mei seems out of place, given their young age, and I suspect it could be the least popular part of the movie for the many young tween boys who would likely enjoy everything else about this film.  A great film for boys and girls and the whole family, the Karate Kid has positive messages including: never give up, find your inner strength, work hard and respect yourself and others.

Genre(s): Realistic Fiction, Family

Viewing/Interest Level: 9-12 years

Available in: DVD; Blu-ray

Subjects: friendship, kung-fu, dreams, inner strength, bullying

Selected Award: 2010 Kids’ Choice Awards Favorite Movie


The Spy Next Door

The Spy Next Door (PG Movie).  Directed by Brian Levant. Lionsgate, 2010. 94 minutes. $14.98

Plot: In this family comedy Jackie Chan plays Bob Ho, a Chinese spy helping the CIA with a case.  Ho is dating woman next door, a single mother of three, who doesn’t know that he is a spy.  To the kids, he seems like a boring guy, and they vow to keep him away from their mother.  But, Bob is determined for the kids to kids to like him, so he can marry their mother and the five of them can settle down as a family.  He takes on the role of babysitter to the three kids when their mother has to go tend to her injured father.  Bob is planning to retire from being a spy, but things take a turn when it seems there is a mole in the CIA, and Bob get called in, one day into his retirement, to help out.  He is in the position of managing the kids and his search for a Russian spy.  With some great fight scenes that feature Chan’s talent as a a highly skilled martial artist, this film combines elements of comedy with action and adventure to entertain the whole family.

Review: Sometimes silly, sometimes goofy, this action comedy is light on plot, but, contains enough silliness and great martial arts scenes to make it enjoyable.  Jackie Chan plays a seemingly stiff and awkward “normal” guy who is really a top-secret spy.  The fight scenes are almost comical, like a cartoon, no blood is spilled and with Chan jumping around demonstrating his agility and finesse, the bad guys don’t stand a chance.  The stereotypical Russian spies as bad guys are disappointing, but not surprising given that the plot of this movie is fairly basic and predictable.  Even with that, though, I enjoyed watching Chan as both potential step father being challenged by his girlfriend’s three kids on the one hand and being a highly competent and sought after spy on the other.

Genre(s): Action, Comedy, Adventure, Family

Viewing/Interest Level: 8-12 years

Available in: DVD; Blu-ray

Subjects: spies, honesty, love, family


Guinness World Records 2010: The Book of The Decade, by Guinness World Records

Guinness World Records 2010: The Book of The Decade. By Guinness World Records.  Guinness World Records Limited, 2009.  280 pages. $28.95

Content: The most.  The largest.  The best.  The smallest.  The newest. The fastest.  The youngest.  The heaviest.  The strangest.  The longest.  The first.  The oldest.  The loudest.  The Guinness Book of World Records brings you world records from the year as well as from the first decade of the 2000’s.  From scientific discoveries and unique human bodies to sports records and cutting edge technology, this book covers a lot of ground.  This book is packed full of information, pages have very little blank space between the extensive text and many full-color photographs.  Just a quick flip through the book is exciting and entertaining, but it is also something that a reader could read from cover to cover.  Reluctant readers are likely to be inspired by this book, with appeal to both boys and girls.

Review: This book is fascinating, exciting, interesting, silly, and even educational.  There is some great science information as well as tons of facts about a huge diversity of things.  A great book for tweens to read together with a parent or a friend, there is something for everyone in this volume.  While there is a fairly extensive Table of Contents organized in page order, which is by category, there is no index, which detracts from the reader’s ability to pinpoint a particular world record.  The Guinness Book of World Records was the originator of this type of superlative information book in 1950’s.  This 2010 edition is a colorful, compelling, and exciting book, worthy of the Guinness name.

Genre(s): Non-Fiction

Reading/Interest Level: 8-14 years

Available in: Hardcover

ISBN: 978-1904994503

Similar Books: Time for Kids That’s Awesome!, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Enter if You Dare, Time for Kids Super Science Book, Guinness World Records 2011

Subjects: food, plants, animals, insects, electricity, world records, sports, the earth, celebrities, pets, music, movies, television, energy, buildings, transportation, vehicles, collections, stunts, human body, technology


AMA Boy’s Guide to Becoming a Teen: Getting Used to Life in Your Changing Body, by Amy B. Middleman, MD and Kate Gruenwald Pfeifer, LCSW

AMA Boy’s Guide to Becoming a Teen: Getting Used to Life in Your Changing Body. By Amy B. Middleman, MD and Kate Gruenwald Pfeifer, LCSW.  Illustrated by Brie Spangler.  Jossey-Bass, 2006.  128 pages. $12.95

Content:  This book provides boys with an overview of the physical, emotional, social, and relational aspects of entering into the teen years.  Puberty and it accompanying body changes are explored in depth, from acne and growing taller to nutrition and the reproductive system.  There are also chapters exploring feelings, describing situations boys might find themselves in and helping them to articulate their feelings.  Changes and challenges in relationships are explored including with parents and elementary school friends.  The book provides ideas about how to address bullying, peer pressure and conflicts with peers.  This book also discusses sexuality, including crushes, dating, and sexual activity.  Boys having crushes on other boys is briefly mentioned with advice to talk to a trusted adult if the feelings are confusing.  There is mention of STD’s, sexual harassment, and sexual assault, as well as ideas for “healthy ways to be close,” ie non-sexual.  The book is illustrated with a multi-cultural cast of teenagers (all stereotypically attractive, none overweight) as well as anatomy diagrams.

Review: Overall this book provides a lot of important information in a matter-of-fact and approachable way.  It goes into detail about puberty and the other topics are addressed with less depth, but it is amazingly comprehensive, and touches on many important topics.  As mentioned above, it even speaks to boys having crushes on other boys, though it falls a bit short in stating that a boy might have those feelings, and fairly soon after telling them to talk to a trusted adult, if they feel confused.  I’m not sure that would be validating for a young boy with those feelings.  I also question how realistic some of it is, though I think it’s well intentioned, as I’m not sure teenagers who really want to have sex are going to, instead, try playing “together with a new puppy,” (p. 106), which is one of the book’s suggestions.  On the other hand, it certainly is a good message to send that there are other options, and that boys shouldn’t feel pressured into doing anything that does not feel comfortable to them.  The text is readable for all tweens, but the subject matter, particularly the discussions around sex, make it likely more appropriate for older tweens and young teens.  This would be a great one for parents to screen before giving to their child, to make sure the material is appropriate for that child’s maturity level, as they are so varied in the tween (and teen) years.

Genre(s): Non-Fiction

Reading/Interest Level: 12 -14 years

Available in: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook

ISBN: 978-0787983438

Similar Books: The “What’s Happening to My Body?” Book for Boys, The Boy’s Body Book: Everything You Need to Know for Growing Up YOU, On Your Mark, Get Set, Grow! A “What’s Happening to My Body?” Book for Younger Boys

Subjects: puberty, boys’ bodies, human bodies, growing up, hygiene, health, nutrition, sexuality, feelings, sex


The Twits, by Roald Dahl

The Twits.  By Roald Dahl. Illustrated by Quentin Blake.  Puffin, 1982. 87 pages. $6.99

Plot: The Twits are awful people.  My Twit has a disgusting spiky beard that he never washes; it is full of bits of food and other debris.  Mrs. Twit is ugly, but she wasn’t always that way.  Her face got uglier and uglier until eventually the ugliness of her face matched the ugliness of her thoughts.  The Twits do not seem to like anyone, even each other.  They spend most of their time thinking up or carrying out cruel tricks on each other.  Mrs. Twit feeds Mr. Twit worms in place of spaghetti.  Mr. Twit adds small bits of wood to Mrs. Twit’s walking stick every day to convince her she has a terrible case of the shrinks.  The tricks go back and forth and back and forth, until the day the birds and monkeys get involved.  Will the mugglewump monkeys have to spend the rest of their lives upside down, like Mr. Twit would like them to?  Will the birds continue to be made in the Twits Wednesday night bird pie?  Will the Twits ever get what they deserve?

Review: Roald Dahl never fails to make his stories unique and weirdly twisted.  With The Twits, he did not disappoint.  His gentle, melodic, and matter-of-fact writing belies the darkness of the Twits’ story, but this works to keep readers engaged and not too uncomfortable.  Readers will be justifiably and satisfyingly outraged at the preposterous, mean, and warped behavior of two of Dahl’s worst characters.  When the monkeys finally decide enough is enough, readers will root for them and hope they succeed in exacting revenge on these despicable people.

Genre(s): Humor

Reading/Interest Level: 8-12 years

Available in: Hardcover, Paperback, Audiobook

ISBN: 978-0439269704

Subjects: tricks, misanthropy


The Dreamer, by Pam Muñoz Ryan

The Dreamer.  By Pam Muñoz Ryan. Illustrated by Peter Sis.  Scholastic Press, 2010. 372 pages. $17.99

Plot: A fictionalized biography of celebrated poet Pablo Neruda’s childhood, The Dreamer is magical and beautiful with pointillist pen and ink drawings that combine with the t4ext to create a poetic and graceful novel.  Pablo Neruda was born Neftalí Reyes in Temuco, Chile.  Neftalí is a dreamer.  He has an active and creative imagination and often has his head in the clouds.  He finds beauty in everyday things and appreciates the magnificence of the natural world around him.  But Neftalí’s father doesn’t approve of Neftalí’s dreaming.  His father is strict and overbearing, demanding and cruel, and Neftalí does his best to stay out of his father’s way.  His father wants him to excel in school and eventually become a doctor, but school is not Neftalí’s favorite place.  Neftalí is soft spoken, gentle, and slight in stature.  He is sensitive and becomes involved in fighting for social justice for the indigenous Mapuche people.  With his heart in writing poetry and his father’s disapproval for what he considers idleness, what is Neftalí to do?  How does he become Pablo Neruda?

Review: The Dreamer is fictional story about a poet, which itself contains poetry similar to the poet’s and the illustrations depict the poet’s imagination as well as create a visual poetry themselves.  This book is unique.  The illustrations tell part of the story.  The prose, written in third person but basically from Neftalí’s perspective, flows smoothly and draws the reader in.  There is something about the act of reading the book that makes the reader part day dreamer as well.  The book includes a note from the author about her inspiration for the story as well as few selected poems by Pablo Neruda.

Genre(s): Magical Realism, Fictionalized Biography, Poetry

Reading/Interest Level: 9-14 years

Available in: Hardcover, Paperback, Audiobook

ISBN: 978-0439269704

Subjects: Chile, poets, poetry, growing up, social justice, hopes, dreams, family, activism

Selected Awards: 2011 Pura Belpré Author Award, 2010 ALA Notable Children’s Book for Older Readers, 2010 Kirkus Best Children’s Books