40+ and Fabulous Book Club

     Kismet?  Absolutely!  With forty fast approaching, I became familiar with author Sondra Wright and her debut publication, 40+ and Fabulous:  Moving Forward Fierce, Focused, and Full of Life!  Previously, I had searched via hashtags for links and/or Tweeps dealing with turning forty, but came up only with  tweets concerning a particular size of malt beverage.  Truly shocked at not finding a plethora of groups, causes, and sayings including the infamous “turning forty” ideal, I was elated when I came across a book celebrating this decade (and then some) of adulthood.
     A compilation of autobiographical essays written by talented, strong women at least forty years of age comprise the majority of the pages.  These pages reveal with much honesty and humor the truth about experiencing one’s forties from a female perspective.  After close reading and much highlighting, recurring themes began to take root . . .  the inevitability of the “girls” heading south (and not solely for the winter), the deepening of female friendships and the release of toxic relationships, the forgiveness of not only others, but also one’s self, and a thorough understanding (physically and intellectually) of the often perplexing male specimen.

     An excellent book club choice for a lively discussion, a Ladies on the Lawn party as portrayed in sixty-year-old Terry Kohl’s contributing commentary is the optimal setting.  Taking liberties due to extreme St. Louis summer heat, I opted for an air-conditioned Ladies on the Linoleum and Carpet party.  Although long, flowing garden-style clothing would be welcomed, I am more of the tattered jean capris and hoodie kind of gal, and I want my gal pals to come dressed in whatever suits their moods.  Guests may bring a dish of her own choosing to pass.  What is crucial to this book club discussion is the one male instrumentalist.  In Kohl’s case, her musician played the fiddle, violin, and mandolin.  For our purposes, the hub with minimal urging retrieved his electric guitar from his man cave and serenaded us with heavy metal as we sipped our sangria.  Think Amazon Women at the Festival of Dionysus . . . 

Even if a hunky musician does not reside in your abode, do not hesitate to invite the girls over, turn on the iPod, and with the guidance of Sondra Wright, discuss how 40+ and fabulous you all are.

Sondra Wright

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Tatty Ratty "Baby" Book Club

     By being participants in the 2011 International Postcard Exchange, our United Kingdom pen pals, Sam, Rebekah, Jeremy, George, and Daniel recommended the picture book Tatty Ratty by Helen Cooper to us.  So, we immediately placed our order online and anxiously awaited an e-mail from our local library, Glen Carbon Centennial Library, stating our book was in.
     The image of a bunny eating a doughnut while taking a ride in the evening sky piqued our interest.  What follows is an imaginative tale of the whereabouts of a lost bunny enhanced by the reference of familiar characters from other children’s storybooks.  Thus, not only is a new tale being told, but the backstories of other famous literary figures are introduced within Tatty Ratty.  As a parent, I found the story useful as parenting advice if ever in the unfortunate predicament of a child missing a favorite toy.  As a teacher, I appreciated the introduction of allusions in this literary work.
     As a means of experiencing Tatty Ratty, the squirts dug into their own collection of stuffed animals and found their own “Tatty Ratty.”  Opting to create an adventure exclusive to our Tatty Ratty, we took turns placing Tatty Ratty in various circumstances throughout the house and then using our imaginations to explain how she arrived at each location.

Tatty Ratty taking a joy ride on the Plasma Car.

Working off some of that porridge on the treadmill.

Cleaning up after a full day’s worth of adventure.

Fresh from our Farm to Table field trips, we made a trip to the local produce stand, Norma’s Produce and Greenhouses, and selected items which a bunny would most likely enjoy.  Returning home with our bounty in tow, the squirts cleaned their (few) selected vegetables and (numerous) fruits and prepared them with minimal assistance (“I can do it!” was heard often during preparation) into a child-friendly salad.



Helen Cooper

Smokin’ Seventeen Book Club

     Having finished mourning over my one-night read of Janet Evanovich’s Smokin’ Seventeen, I feel I am ready to offer book club ideas.  A near obsessive fan of the Stephanie Plum series, I have read this series three times due to the fact I truly miss the plethora of characters (okay, specifically Morelli and Ranger . . .  ooh la la!) when I am not engaged in the series.  So, when a fellow author groupie and friend notifies me of the latest release date, sleepless nights ensue until I am able to download the book to my phone.  Thus, promptly at midnight June 20st, my phone declares “download complete.”  Thrilled with the girth of this novel, 39 chapters, I take the plunge. 
     Without having to attach “spoiler alert” to this blog, I can say with all certainty that “Smokin'” is an apt description for this book’s contents.  The two main male characters (my two sweeties), Morelli and Ranger, definitely make their presence known in the novel as well as in Stephanie’s life.  What I do feel is lacking is the more protective side  of Morelli, more consistent with previous novels in the series.  In addition, a quote spoken by Ranger explaining his interest in Stephanie as entertainment read as near verbatim from a passage in a previous book.  However, I do admit that I have most of Ranger’s quotes memorized (ask my hub who now sports a black RANGEMAN t-shirt), so others may not even think twice when reading these lines.  Perhaps foreshadowing hinting at a change in their relationship in Explosive Eighteen?  November, the month of the next  book release, will tell.  In the meantime, yes, other characters do exist in Smokin’ Seventeen, and the plot takes on a familiar, yet unique spin of twists and turns.  An entertaining, engaging read which I am sure will be reread at least once before 18’s release.
     As for book club, dressing as characters from the novel would be an ideal way to set the mood.  Think Grandma Mazur, Stephanie, Connie, Morelli, Ranger, Vinnie, Lula, Mooner, Alpha, and Dave.  Since Dave offers some mouthwatering dishes in the novel, book club can take his cue and together prepare a meal of salad, scalloped potatoes, and lamb chops (see chapter 29).  Lemon meringue pie for dessert would be the feasting finale along with an assortment of doughnuts in honor of Steph and Lula.
     If hosting the book club for Smokin’ Seventeen and wish to dispense party favors, a grab bag of assorted granny panties from which members may choose would be a memorable giveaway.  Or, asking each guest to bring a pair of granny panties of his/her choice for a White Elephant gift exchange and/or competition to guess who brought what may add to the festive nature.

Janet Evanovich

Molly’s Magic Pencil: The Blue Genie

     Peter Davies’ second book, The Blue Genie,  in the Molly’s Magic Pencil series is an ideal picture book to use for dramatization.  With only four prominent characters in the story, our family of four had no problem in dealing with lack of participation.  Having short jumpers the squirts consider “genie” outfits, I figured the two girls would be taking turns playing the Blue Genie.  Instead, they both chose to play the protagonist’s part, Molly.
      So, we dug in closets for red (okay, hot pink) outfits to mimic Molly’s red jumper.  Then, backpacks were filled with paper and the crucial Magic Pencil.  By default, the hub played Blue Genie since he was wearing a blue shirt and blue jeans, and I was inevitably Mrs. Jones, the tearful geriatric lady (I’m being typecast already, yet still a month away from 40) whose cat, Tiddles (played by our stuffed black cat), is stranded high on a tree limb.

Tiddles stranded in the tree.

     Since each squirt wanted the spotlight to herself, we rehearsed the scene several times (more than I had planned) in our backyard (luckily, the neighbors already know we’re nutty) each time alternating the actress who portrayed Molly.                           

Take 1:  Molly #1 searching in her backpack for the Magic Pencil.

                                                                               

Take 1:  Molly #1 drawing a teapot.
Take 21:  Molly #2 searching in her backpack for the Magic Pencil.
Take 21:  Molly #2 drawing a teapot.
The Blue Genie saves Tiddles.

      When every blank space on the paper had been filled with a drawing of a teapot,  we brought the dramatization to a close by singing the first verse of, “I’m a Little Teapot.”  Bedtime was accomplished only with a sincere promise, “Yes, we will act out The Blue Genie again tomorrow.”


Peter Davies

Doctor De Soto by William Steig

     As part of the homework assignment for Reading Camp, we were to choose a picture book from the reading list provided and then partake in a dramatization of the story.  As luck would have it, William Steig’s Doctor De Soto, a Newberry Honor Book happened to be on our bookshelf.  No hasty trips to the library for this assignment.  Score!
     Main characters Dr. De Soto and his wife, Mrs. De Soto, work tirelessly on various patients’ teeth such as moles, chipmunks, and pigs.  Due to De Soto being a mouse, he took extra precautions against any potential patients that may cause harm to himself or his wife.  Outside the office, a wailing fox begged for treatment, and De Soto and his wife, from the kindness of their hearts, relented and decided to treat him.  A fox is a fox is a fox, so inevitably, his ulterior motives surfaced.  Yet, in the end, De Soto and his wife were able to successfully outfox the fox.
     A perfect choice to read before a dental visit or perhaps a field trip to a dentist’s office.  In our case, the squirts and I each chose a character from the story to reenact.  Being the largest of the bunch, I was the sly fox and used my spooky voice in the retelling.  My girls furiously worked on my teeth with their invisible instruments and finally sent me on my way with an intentional dose of artificially created lockjaw.
      For snack, an ideal time to reaffirm the healthy snack option- Green Meanies, mouths made from healthy food options – in lieu of sugary snacks as an attempt to keep dental work at bay.  If there is time, I have found that I cannot go wrong with sticker scenes with my squirts and their friends.  Oriental Trading offers Make-a-Dental Sticker Sheets which reaffirms the theme of the story.

Reading Level:  Ages 4-8
William Steig

Hello Baby!

     Mem Fox’s Hello Baby! offers a simple, yet effective first look at animals through colorful illustrations set against a clean, white backdrop.  Direct questions to the reader are followed by rhyming responses on adjacent pages.  Without a doubt, the cadence of this story engages the young reader.
     Initially, the zoo comes to mind as a means of experiencing this children’s book.  However, with 91 degree weather looming outside, Momma decides to come up with a cool plan B.  Thus, The Painted Zebra, an air-conditioned pottery studio, works since the striped zebra is one of the animals discussed in Hello Baby!.  Here, each squirt including Momma picks a piece of pottery in the shape of an animal of her choosing and then paints the piece to her heart’s desire.  In a week’s time, we pick up our fired objets d’art creating the perfect opportunity to revisit Fox’s Hello Baby! for reading reinforcement.  For snack, animal crackers appease rumbling tummies after an intense painting session.  Mem Fox

The All-American Cookie Book Book Club Ideas

     As mentioned in my profile, I am a recreational baker at best.  I enjoy baking, enjoy eating baked goods, but can never guarantee my results with the oven.  One day I may hear rave reviews, and the cookie jar is soon empty and in need of washing.  Other days, all who come in contact with my baked goods seem to be “full,” “stuffed,” and “couldn’t eat another bite” with that same forced smile on their faces.
     Yet, without fail, every time I attempt a recipe with Nancy Baggett’s The All-American Cookie Book, my cookies are uniform in size (the flattened-pancake-burnt-at the-edges look is out) and scrumptious in taste.  What ensues in my household is no longer polite, forced enthusiasm, but rather a fussing of sorts over whom is entitled to the last cookie on the plate.  In addition, Baggett places each cookie into a historical context which further justifies my incessant baking.

Classic Chocolate Chip Cookie

     The All-American Cookie Book is an ideal book club choice to be accompanied with a cookie exchange for Christmas, Valentine’s Day, or simply to celebrate the cookie itself.  An assortment of flavored milks- strawberry, chocolate, soy, almond-  would definitely work with this snack of choice. 

Nancy Baggett

Molly’s Magic Pencil Book Club Ideas

     It comes as no surprise that the vivid images composed of rich colors by illustrator, cartoonist, designer, and author Peter Davies engage the emergent reader.  In fact, my three-year-old snatched the book from my hands and proceeded to tell the story in her own words using only the bold pictures as guidance.  With a sprinkle of Harry and the Purple Crayon mixed with a dash of Aladdin’s magic carpet, Davies’ words add a memorable tale with a positive message to Molly’s Magic Pencil.
     The English teacher within could not help but notice the run-on sentence on page one as well as some missing commas throughout.  Distracting for a thirty-something, but ignored by the target audience, three-year somethings.  In addition due to editing, a picture of Grandpa looks as if he is missing part of his left arm, but I assured my toddler that Grandpa was completely intact.
     For book club regardless of weather, definitely incorporate a flying carpet into the storytelling area.  This may be a sheet, rug, or blanket.  Allow the kiddos to take a ride with their minds as they listen to Molly’s Magic Pencil.  Snack may be the creation of a flying carpet using graham crackers, peanut butter or icing, and various colored sprinkles in order to create the carpet of his/her choice.   To conclude “baby” book club, give each book club member a “magic pencil” and paper allowing the creative juices to flow and to review Molly’s Magic Pencil.

Peter Davies