Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter Book Review of In the Garden by Caralyn Buehner, Illustrated by Brandon Dorman

In past years, our family has retold the Easter story with gospel art pictures, with varying degrees of success.
The past few months, I have been wanting my children to know the gospel; not just know it, but to feel it. Yet every time I have sat down to teach my children, my pre-teen enters his defensive "don't preach at me" mode, someone else has the sillies, and anyone else is playing "can't touch me" with his neighbor.
Approaching Easter, I found In the Garden. One of the first things I noticed about it was that it was illustrated by Brandon Dorman, the same man who illustrated the beloved covers of the boys' Fablehaven and Candy Shop War books. Would an connection to some favorite novels spark some interest?
I decided it was worth a try, and ordered a copy through Deseret Book (we live hours away from the nearest church-themed bookstore). It took about a week to arrive at our address in the Eastern United States via the cheapest shipping method available. Since I ordered several weeks before Easter, that was fine. And, it was in perfect condition (unlike the board book I ordered at the same time, but that's another review).
I introduced this Easter book in advance, hoping they would get excited. I told them about the illustrator, and the fact that I actually bought a book for retelling the Easter story. They seemed mildly interested.
A week before Easter, I read this book to my children, ages 8-12. They listened fairly quietly (which is a huge success in itself). When I got to the author's wording of what Jesus took on himself during his prayer in Gethsemane, there was an audible, "Whoa," from one of my oldest boys. Reading this book to my children was the most spiritual experience we have had as a family since . . . I don't know when. Maybe ever?
I read this for a second time on Easter Sunday, and while the effect wasn't quite as pronounced (there was some whispering and extraneous movements) my often defensive child enjoyed showing off his knowledge of what happened, by adding to what the book has on the crucifixion.
I plan to keep this book special and look forward to it as an Easter tradition to continue over the next few years.

In the Garden is different from many other tellings of the Easter story, because the emphasis is on what happened in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was written for an LDS audience.
Broken into page-spreads (two facing pages), the story flows as follows:

  • 1 page-spread on the Last Supper
  • 1 page-spread approaching the garden
  • 5 page-spreads on what happened in Gethsemane, including his prayers, the sleeping disciples, and the angel who "came to strengthen him"
  • 2 page-spreads on the mock-trials
  • 1 page-spread on the crucifixion (a mild scene with silhouettes of crosses)
  • 1 page-spread on placing him in the tomb
  • 1 page-spread on the resurrection
  • 1 page-spread of Jesus visiting with children
  • the end-page quotes John 3:16
I would recommend this book to LDS families with children ages 4-10 (or somewhat older, depending on the individuals).

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Three Generation Review of Maryellen Larkin Books

Maryellen Larkin was brought out in 2015 by American Girl. Her stories are set in Daytona Beach, Florida, around 1954. This blog post is a review of the two Maryellen Classic books, both written by Valerie Tripp:

The One and Only: A Maryellen Classic 1
Maryellen tries to stand out, begins a new year of school, and has a Christmas adventure.
Taking Off: A Maryellen Classic 2
Maryellen plans a special tenth birthday party, her dad has big plans for summer vacation, and what about her sister's wedding?
Written by   Valerie Tripp
Paperback   224 and 200 pages, respectively
Genre   Historical Fiction (America, 1954)
Recommended for   Girls ages 8-12*
Lexile  American Girl does not list a lexile score for any of these books, but it is worth noting that each of these "classics" are three times as thick as their historical books used to be, and don't have any illustrations inside.
*(Since the character turns 10 in the book, 11 and 12 year old girls who aren't already fans of American Girl, might not enjoy her story as much).

For a list of other Maryellen books, please scroll to the bottom.

This is a very special review to me. My husband's mother turned 10 in 1954, which means she experienced the same point in American history at the same age as this fictional character (although she experienced it in the Seattle area, not Florida). At my request, she graciously agreed to read and review these books with us.

Review by M. (Girl, Age 10)

I like the Maryellen books. My favorite character is Maryellen. She's kind of like me. Her name starts with an M, she likes pink, and she likes to hang out with big [older] people.
The books have a lot problems [for Maryellen to solve]. For example, she decides to paint her door red, and then things get out of hand.
I also like her younger brother Mikey. He's adorable. Mikey likes "tick-tocks." "Tick-tock" is what he calls a watch.
Maryellen also likes tv. They watch a lot of tv in the 1950s. Maryellen likes Davy Crockett. Her favorite movie star is Debbie Reynolds.
I would recommend these books to old people because they might have lived during that time. I would also recommend it to 9, 10, and 11 year old girls, because that's close to Maryellen's age. I say girls, because who wants to read a story about the opposite gender?

Review by Stephanie (Mother)

I was really excited when I saw that Valerie Tripp was writing the classic books for this new character. American Girl uses a number of different authors for their books, and Valerie Tripp has been my favorite.
My daughter's maternal grandmother (my mom) gave her the 3 book boxed set with mini doll (purchased at Costco) for her birthday.
My daughter kept looking up from her book to report the funny things that happened in the book, like when her little brother tried to play firefighter with the hose when the brownies were burning.

What I loved about the Maryellen Books:

I loved Maryellen's big family. She has two older sisters, a younger sister, and two younger brothers. A lot of authors don't give their main characters large families, because it can be difficult to develop these extra characters, without having them upstage the main story. Still, it's hard for a historical fiction novel to feel very authentic when presented with a family of only one or two children, unless a medical reason (like death) is given). I'm very impressed with Valerie Tripp here. The siblings feel authentic (with a possible exception of Bethany who can't seem to decide how old she should be).

Also, the side-effects of having a large family in that time period feel very authentic, including:
  • A hand-me down bike
  • A hand-me down dress
  • A hand-me down teacher
  • Sharing a room with multiple siblings
  • Little brothers who tag along when you're playing with your friends
  • Older sisters who don't always enjoy having you tag along
I was impressed with how many big and little bits of historical tidbits made it into the story, like the polio epidemic of 1954, references to the Depression, World War II, and the Korean War. Everyday details of the fifties were there too: a sister staying home to wash her hair and iron a blouse? Only in the fifties. My mother-in-law gives a more detailed discussion of the history, so I won't say anymore.

So, what are the possible weak points?

There is a lot of fifties-style slang and jingles. Some people might find it fun and cute, others might find it annoying. I was unsure the first few times, but ended up deciding I thought it was fun and cute. Your mileage may vary.
Most of the family members feel are great. Younger sister Beverly is a bit annoying, pretending to be a queen all the time. I think it would be more plausible if she was the baby of the family, but she isn't. There are two kids younger than her.
Another reviewer thought that Maryellen was a self-centered. Well, yes, a bit. As a middle child in a large family, she does spend some of her time wanting to stand out, but not all of it. She helps take care of her younger siblings, she befriends a new girl at school at the temporary expense of her old friends, and turns her birthday party into a fundraiser for the new polio vaccine. So, she might not be the most selfless of all the American Girls, but I don't think it's fair to call her self-centered.
A school picture of Toni from the 1950s
Review by Toni 
(Grandmother, who turned 10 in 1954)

The entire first book screams fifties. The large families were very common then.  Family togetherness and standing up for one another -- even if you didn't get along -- was very important.

Sharing a Teacher
My sister, Billie, adored her fourth grade teacher Mrs. Guthery. I was assigned to the same teacher the following year. The first time I entered the classroom, Mrs. Guthery said, "If you're half as good as your sister . . . " I didn't want to be just like my sister to be accepted. I didn't enjoy that year of school at all.

50s Style
Words like switcharoo, scalawag, peddle pushers, skiddaddle, and crinoline were common.
We always wore crinoline skirts under our full cotton skirts and poodle skirts. My poodle skirt was deep grey with a bright pink poodle and I loved it!
Girls did wear their hair in ponytails with silk scarves. Bobby socks were important, too.
Drive-in restaurants with waitresses on roller skates? Yes! I think they must not have had insurance for their employees back then. They would carry large trays of food out to the cars and set them on a stand that attached to the window frame. It was a real treat to go to that type of restaurant.

I don't remember weekly tv shows with water skiing or synchronized swimming. Maybe in Florida, but not in Washington state. Other shows like Rin Tin Tin, Lone Ranger and Roy Rogers we had.
I remember when we got our first tv set. It had an itty bitty screen in a great big box, but it was a big deal to see what was going on. Before that we had a radio that was four feet tall. There were tubes in the back of the tv and if your tv went out, you took the tubes to the grocery store where there were tube testers.
Of course, the picture was strictly black and white, but people wanted color, so plastic sheets were manufactured that you put over your screen. The sheets were blue at the top, yellow in the middle and green at the bottom. A close-up head shot would have blue hair, yellow nose, and blue chin and neck! Rabbit ears were set on top of the tv which were adjusted to try to get a clear picture. It was crazy, but it was also a big deal.

We wanted to have a picture postcard Christmas. I remember my mother taking boxes and books, and covering them with thick, fluffy, glittery cotton to make a "snowy village" on our mantel. She added mirror "ponds," trees, villagers and buildings; it was very special.
If you wanted a flocked Christmas tree you flocked it yourself. We took hours decorating the tree. Wire trees were common in pink, blue, and silver, but we always had a green fresh cut tree that we bought at the hardware store in Seattle. Vern's family had a silver aluminum tree.
Jewelry boxes with a wind up music box and a ballerina or ice skater dancing around was the ideal present. I remember getting one and it was really cool. It was a beautiful blue with blue satin lining.

A train trip for a 9 year old on her own? I can't see that happening. It definitely wouldn't have happened in my family. When we still lived down in the Fremont area, they didn't have school buses. If you didn't live close to the junior high, you had to take a city bus to school. My sister and I had to transfer buses too; that was a big thing: to pay bus fare every day and transfer halfway.
We couldn't go to Seattle shopping until we were in high school and then our Mother went too. We could go outside and play "kick the can" with the local kids, but the bus to school and the neighborhood was our world.

The second book had references to polio and the new vaccine for it. My little brother had polio as a baby and it put him about a year behind when learning to walk and in his studies too. I don't remember people having birthday parties about polio, but they definitely had fundraisers.
The book also talked about the Cold War and bomb shelters. We could never afford one, but every Wednesday at noon a siren went off and you were supposed to get under a table at home or under your desk at school. It got hard when some kids wouldn't fit under their desk.

Grandpa Vern Adds:
One of the things I remember as a little kid living in a project in Seattle was when a Dairy Queen opened up. They had a special: one penny a mound. I remember my brother and I had about eight mounds because we had a dime.
They had Saturday matinees at the theater for a dime. You got two shows, plus a serial and a cartoon. You saw things like Flash Gordon, Roy Rogers, Zorro, those folks.
The skate rink was also a dime, as was the swimming pool. 
We used to ride bikes all over because buses weren't dependable and you didn't know when they were coming.

A Linked List of All American Girl Books Featuring Maryellen Larkin

$ Purchasing Tips:
Both of the classic books are almost guaranteed to be in your local public library, and it would be worth checking for the others.
If you plan to purchase these, each of these books is about $10, purchased separately. Sometimes they are bundled with a third Maryellen book, and sold as Maryellen Larkin 3 Book Set (The Sky's the Limit: My Journey with Maryellen). When I last checked Amazon, the three pack was the same price as buying the two classic books separately (about $20).
My daughter was given the set from Costco, which included the three book set, and the mini-doll, (which American Girl prices on their website for around $25). The set is somewhat expensive (around $40), but is an alright value if you had planned to purchase all three books and the mini doll.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Coloring Journal for March 2016 LDS Women's Conference

Update: Click here for the September 2016 post. It has the new Primary Presidency, updated quotes, and a fun fall cover.

Ever since she turned 8, my daughter has struggled to enjoy the sessions of Women's Conference she gets to attend with me. Last fall, after using the General Conference Doodle Book made by the fabulous Jocelyn Christensen for the main sessions of conference, she said she wished there was such a thing for the Women's session.

Below is the Coloring Journal I made especially for my daughter. She came home and saw it all spread across the kitchen table as I was struggling to finally finish it. She was really excited about it. Since I was really making this for her, that meant a lot to me.
That said, since I did go to hours and hours of work on this, since I have a blog anyway, I thought I would post it here for anyone who wants it.
Other Resources for the Women's Session
This journal is heavy on the coloring and light on the places to take notes.
This year Sugardoodle is including a couple pages for taking written notes specifically for the women's session in their April 2016 Conference Packet. So if you just want to write and aren't big on pictures, you may want to check out their packet.
If you want printable flashcards to get to know our women leaders, you can find those in the October 2015 Friend.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Sweetening Jacob 5

My children are gathered around the kitchen table, taking turns spinning plastic Easter eggs.
We just finished reading Jacob chapter 5 in one sitting, and had a surprisingly lovely time. So here I am sharing what we did, in the hopes that our experiences will be of use to someone else.
Before I begin, I would like to point out that my (reading) children range in age from 8 to (nearly) 13, and we came to this chapter on a leisurely Sunday afternoon. If you have younger children, children who can't really read yet, or approach this an hour after bedtime on a school night . . . you may need a miracle.

So, what did we do that worked?

  • I pep-talked the kids into getting this done in one sitting
  • We made it a special occasion with treats
  • We discussed symbolism

Do it in one sitting
Now, the kids did groan a bit when they heard we were doing all 77 verses of Jacob 5 today.
"Do we have to do it all in one day?"
Now, there's a lot to be said for slow-and-steady. But there's also a lot to be said for weekend warriors and doing big projects in a concentrated burst of determination.
There's a lot to be said to breaking the scriptures into a certain number of pages per day, so each day the family spends an equal amount of time reading. I, however, hate to have my storyline interrupted mid-chapter. Nope. For me, it's a chapter a day. Even when that chapter is Jacob 5.
(In case you're wondering, it took us 40 minutes, including discussion time).

Make it a special occasion with treats
Now, to help this work, we make it a special occasion. I don't frequently mix scriptures and treats, but that's what really sells this chapter to my kids.
The first year we read Jacob 5, we had an unexpected box of cookies in the cupboard. I usually avoid pre-packaged cookies, so there was some novelty there. At each page turn, I walked around the table and set one small cookie next to each child.
Today, it was Easter candy.
Now, I feel a little guilty admitting that. Somehow, cookies seem less sugary than candy. Healthier. But it's that time of year, and I was surprised to receive several extra bags of candy after I had already purchased our family's Easter candy. And the kids were excited about it, which was more to the point.
Each child read a column. After they finished their column, M rolled an Easter egg with a few sweets in it to them. We went around the table counterclockwise several times. The last time around, I skipped my turn so each of the kids got an equal amount of sweets (at their request).

Discuss symbolism
After the first time around the table, when it was my turn, I paused and asked if anyone thought they knew what the vineyard represented.
"The Earth?" guessed S.
"Yes, the Earth, or the world."
Then I asked, "Who do you think is the Lord of the Vineyard?" We decided it was probably Heavenly Father or Jesus Christ. Then we went back to reading.
A few columns later, I asked who could guess what the olive tree represented. When I said it was the House of Israel, there was a loud, "Oh!" from one end of the table.
The kids started breaking in with their thoughts: could the servant of the vineyard be missionaries? Does this represent the Dark Ages? and so forth.

If you want help understanding the symbolism, the Book of Mormon Student Study Guide has a chart of suggestions. If you scroll to the bottom, there's a visual timeline of Jacob 5, that could be really useful, especially for visual learners.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Sunday Thoughts: Mountains of the Lord

I taught the Gospel Doctrine class in my ward today. We were discussing some of the Isaiah chapters that are also in The Book of Mormon. We discussed Isaiah's reference to the temple as "the mountain of the Lord." Since a number of the class members, as well as myself, had made the journey to and from our temple already this weekend (it's a minimum of 3 hours one way), I chose to spend a lot of the lesson time on this part.
In ancient times, prophets often went up into the mountains to pray and receive revelation from God, like when Moses got the ten commandments on Mount Sinai.

Our class discussion was, "How are temples mountains of the Lord?"
These are some of the thoughts we shared with each other:

  • LDS temples are often built up on a hill, if not an actual mountain
  • It takes effort to climb a mountain. It may take a physical effort to get to a temple (ours is 3+ hours away), and it also takes effort to "condition yourself" spiritually to get there
  • Temples often are lights on the hills they are on; also, by being temple worthy, we can be lights for the world (or at least, our community)

Friday, March 4, 2016

Family Review of Story Thieves, by James Riley

Story Thieves
A New York Times Bestseller
Written by   James Riley
Age Range   8-12
Lexile   750L
Paperback   416 pages
Genre   Fantasy
Recommended for   librarians, bibliophiles, and boys and girls ages 8-12.

As I read Story Thieves, I kept thinking, "The books that deserve to be on the New York Times Bestseller list just don't end up there. It keeps getting filled up with junior novelizations of major movies." Much to my delight, I discovered it had just made it onto the list (number 8 in Children's Middle Grade Paperback for two consecutive weeks in February).
I smiled as I read Story Thieves. The literary allusions and playful phrasing left me smiling again and again. Was the book a clever metaphor for life? I didn't care. When was the last time a book made me smile like that?
 In a recent issue of Boys' Life, my kids pointed out a book advertisement for Story Thieves, by James Riley. My oldest boy (12) loves fantasy, and really wanted to read it. My next boy (11) was more interested in a new sci-fi book. My daughter (10) was skeptical. Since the book had appeared in a boys' magazine, wasn't it a book for boys?
I downloaded the e-book, and read the first chapter aloud. The three oldest dove right into their copies (perks of having several kindles in a family: one purchase, six copies) and finished within two days, asking promptly for the sequel. I had to keep interrupting their excited discussions with, "No spoilers! I haven't finished it yet!"
My 8 year old son usually reads nonfiction. He reads well, but often prefers projects to personal reading. He liked this book better than most, enough to be willing to read an assigned chapter a day, for a few days.

Childrens' Reviews

Boy, age 12
I loved it. It was like a book within a book.
My favorite character is Kiel Gnomenfoot. He wears a black shirt, black pants, and a black cloak, and has two magic knife-wands.

Boy, age 11
Story Thieves was interesting. My favorite character was Kiel Gnomenfoot, because he's really cool. He can use magic.
I was a little surprised who Nobody was. The book was a little weird, though. How can Nobody take a form? How can something fictional be real?

Girl, age 10
I liked it. My favorite characters were Bethany and Kiel. I also like Nobody. He saved Owen. Sometimes I wonder if, really, we're all in a book.

Boy, age 8
It's very interesting. Owen's friend jumping inside of books at a certain page to find where they are going to be if they jump into that book. I wonder how Bethany's father escaped a book. Because her mother married that book character, their child, Bethany, is half-fictional and can jump into any book. Do they jump into books you've read before? Read the book to find out.