Thursday, March 27, 2008

Am I Big or Little?

Am I Big or Little? by Margaret Park and Tracy Dockray (illus.) is a fun library check out. It is a simple book about the conflict between being big and little at the same time--perfect for toddlers and young preschoolers who also have little siblings at home. How often do we tell our little ones to "act like a big girl" or "you're too little for..."? Park does a nice job of juxtaposing these ideas ("little enough to sit on Mommy's lap but big enough to put my arms around her"), and gives both the mother and child a voice. The illustrations leave a little bit to be desired, particularly the consistency of perspective in the mother's face. It just doesn't work for me on some pages. In addition, the illustrations picture a young girl, so this may limit its audience. However, the illustrations overall are cute and work well with the text. This book is often requested by my two year old (who happens to have young brothers at home!).

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Round is a Pancake

Round is a Pancake by Joan Sullivan Baranski and Yu-Mei Han (illus.) is a rollicking concept book about round things. The colorful, boisterous illustrations make this book come alive. The text is a simple, rhyming one listing various objects that are round (cherries, buttons, pancakes, ... even cartwheels). Han's illustrations go the extra mile for a simple concept book, though, and in addition to including the items mentioned in the text, adds many more objects to which children can point that are also round (such as the decorations on dresses, picture frames in the background, balloons, etc.). My toddlers requests this book often; see if your local library has a copy!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Stepping Heavenward

Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss is a marvelous book. The general story covers a young girl's maturation physically and spiritually. But, so much more can be said--and should be said--about this gem! The heroine in the book, Katy, begins a journal at age 16; the rest of the book is that fictional journal which is supposedly heavily based on Prentiss's own journals. Katy yearns to know Christ better and to know how to show her love for him in ordinary, daily life. I think many women will see themselves mirrored in Katy's experiences and struggles with the confusion of adolescence, the heartache of a lost love, the delight of a true love fully shared with another, the adaptation to married life, the delights and stresses of children in the home, the relationships with in-laws, the loss of loved ones both young and old, and the tedium of the ordinary.

This is a book to be read and reread; read during one stage of life and picked up again in another. Read with pen in hand to underline the many lines of wisdom in this Christian classic. Katy's firm conviction by the end of the book is a godly one: the Lord sends us joys and trials to bring us closer to him. We must view the hardships, the annoyances, the delights all as sent by him to teach us more of his ways and to bring us into full submission to his will. More love to thee!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Four Titles by Johannah Bluedorn Stanford

(Disclaimer: JBS is a longtime friend and I was asked to review her books.)

Bluedorn, Johannah. My Mommy, My Teacher. Muscatine: Trivium Pursuit, 2002.
-- The Lord Builds the House: The 127th Psalm. Muscatine: Trivium Pursuit, 2004.
-- The Story of Mr. Pippen. Muscatine: Trivium Pursuit, 2004.
-- Bless the Lord: The 103rd Psalm. Muscatine: Trivium Pursuit, 2005.

Johannah Bluedorn writes and illustrates based on her experience. My Mommy, My Teacher is a fictionalized account of an idyllic young family engaged in many traditional activities throughout the day. Literature is obviously a high priority; at least six books are mentioned being read through the day, in addition to the Bible. Animals are named in MM, MT, reflecting the role they play in Bluedorn family life as well.

The Story of Mr. Pippen is an affectionate memoir of raising a raccoon from infancy to his return to nature, complete with photographs at the end. Hints of red and green appear on every page spread, pointing to Mr. Pippin’s love for cherries. There are plenty of amusing details: Mr. Pippin peeping around the quilt on the title page, Mr. Pippin gorged with cherries and sneaking jelly beans, meeting the future Mrs. Pippin who is holding a bouquet of cherry blossoms. I like how Johannah captures the unique postures of a raccoon, so that he looks almost real.

The Lord Builds the House and Bless the Lord illustrate how these verses may apply in life, both in nature and in the home. The reader will be rewarded by paying attention to the details (is that Mr. Pippin and his family?).

In all four books, Johannah’s illustrations are undoubtedly lovely. Her eye for detail is highlighted in frames and borders that compass the text or subject on nearly every page. Her settings have a consistently old-fashioned feel, paying homage to the work of Tasha Tudor.
Her affections are obvious as she includes recognizable family members, pets, weaves flowers and vines in many scenes, and scatters neatly-ordered bookshelves throughout the pages.

Johannah’s artistic skill matures with each book, though I must briefly comment on a few weaknesses. From a literary standpoint, MM, MT and TSoMP lack conflict and tension, so that beyond quiet narratives, the stories have limited depth. I am also uncertain about the intended audience of MM, MT, because I expect that most young ladies who are reading Men of Iron would say “Mother” or “Mama” instead of “Mommy.” In BtL, some of the twilight/wooded pictures are too richly detailed at the cost of clarity in the illustration.

Overall, however, the influence of Tasha Tudor is evident, the artwork charming. The primary question should always be, would children enjoy these books? My toddler son enjoyed looking at the pictures, and I am always glad to read Scripture to him. I look forward to seeing more of Johannah’s work.

Sampling VariTEA

I'm working on broadening my horizons.

Yesterday I went to The Fresh Market and indulged in purchasing samples. I’ve been cleaning out my tea drawer, discarding teas that are past their prime and using up favorites to make room for new varieties. Having agonized over where to begin reviewing, I finally chose Revolution: A variety of tea flavors (2) which contains five charming, individually boxed teas in a classy matchbox-style wrapper. I confess I was seduced by the presentation! This is charming enough to be included in a gift basket, though at $2.69 ($0.54/cup) it is nearer the luxury value. The flavors in this package are Dragon Eye Oolong, Bombay Chai, White Tangerine, Southern Mint Herbal and Honeybush Caramel. Last night my husband and I enjoyed the Southern Mint and Honeybush Caramel.

My husband is very fond of Plantation Mint and Mint Medley, so he tried the Southern Mint. We agreed it has a fine (read that “quality” not “acceptable”) smell and looks quite green in the cup! It tastes good with a purer peppermint taste than Mint Medley, which is blended with other ingredients. He liked it—very good.

My Honeybush Caramel (sugar, no milk this time) is delicious. Mmm, smooth and sweet. Not too complicated, but the flavor pleasantly lingers in my mouth with no bitter aftertaste. A good complement to dessert for those who are sensitive to caffeine.

Both flavors are definitely recommended. Further commentary will follow.

Cheap Green Tea

I am a tea snob. There, I've confessed it to whoever didn't already know. I prefer loose tea from pricey places like Teavana. I scorn most Republic of Tea offerings (no offense, Megan). I'm more than willing to drink cheap black tea (i.e. Bigelow, Twinings, etc.) when I'm in a hurry, there is no other choice, or simply desperate for some quick caffeine; this is because tea is absolutely crucial to my current existence, even in cheap form.

That confession out in the open, I must now confess to an even deeper secret: despite trying some of the best, most authentic green tea out there, I do not like it.... I do not like green tea loose, I do not like green tea with a moose. I do not like green tea in a glass, I think green tea tastes like grass. I do not like it, Sam I Am.

However, I do like Celestial Seasonings Green Tea with Antioxidants! This is an inexpensive green tea that is readily available at grocery stores. I believe it's now called Green Tea with Antioxidant Boost. Why do I like this particular green tea? Because it doesn't taste like green tea! It's got a slightly citrus-y flavor that is very refreshing, particularly on warmer days when a steaming cup of black tea seems a touch overkill. It's a great vitamin C booster as well. Try it! (I also like Moroccan Mint from Teavana because it doesn't taste like green tea either....)

Monday, March 3, 2008

Homemade Chai Concentrate Recipe

This is the beverage that has helped cultivate and maintain happiness in our marriage. My husband likes it better than Tazo or Oregon Chai, and it is much cheaper to make. I have learned to buy the dry spices in bulk, measure and bag them in an assembly line for convenience, using either muslin reusable teabags or disposable bags that can be sealed with a hot iron. Tea and spice blends with the recipe attached also makes a wonderful gift. Everything you need should be available at a health food store or online.

Homemade Chai Concentrate Recipe
(makes 1 quart concentrate, enough for 2-3 quarts chai)
1 qt. cold water
1 family size black teabag (or 4 individual black teabags)
2 cinnamon sticks (or 1 tsp. chopped cinn. sticks)
2 tsp. cardamom pods
1 inch piece fresh ginger (or 1 tsp. tea-cut dried ginger)
1 tsp. whole cloves
1 tsp. vanilla (optional)
1/3-1/2 c. sugar

Put water, teabag, cinnamon sticks and ginger in saucepan. Combine cardamom and cloves in teaball, put in pan. Bring to boil, reduce heat, simmer 5 minutes. Remove teabag, cinnamon, ginger and spices. Stir in vanilla (optional) and sugar.
Put spices and tea in teaball (I use large press 'n brew teabags; a drawstring muslin bag also work well) and place them in a quart canning jar. Fill jar with boiling water and let stand (I leave it half an hour or so). Remove tea and spices. Add sugar and stir until dissolved.
To store for future use, pour mixture into container and refrigerate. To serve immediately, mix chai with milk in proportion of 1/3-2/3 or 1/2-1/2 . Adjust to taste. Delicious warm or cold.

The Little Scarecrow Boy

The Little Scarecrow Boy by Margaret Wise Brown and David Diaz

Some authors seem to have a knack for getting down on a child's level. Margaret Wise Brown is clearly one of them. Her Goodnight Moon has been one of the most well-loved children's books of all time. The Little Scarecrow Boy is a very different sort of story and suited to a slightly older child than Goodnight Moon, but it is a wonderful story that both appeals to children and is a great read aloud. The text contains some slight repetition which adds to that appeal ("And every day of the world his little scarecrow boy wanted to come too. And every day of the world old man scarecrow said,..."). The story is a classic one: a little boy wants to help his father but must wait until he grows up; he's not "fierce enough to scare a crow." David Diaz's pictures are a perfect compliment to this charming story. He manages to capture the feel of a ripe cornfield in the morning light with his color choice, and he also gives the scarecrows wonderfully "fierce faces" without being frightening. If you want a chance to show off your dramatic skills and make some fierce faces, this is the book to read aloud to a child or group of children! Check your local library for a copy.