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I'm Going to BlogHer Food '14 in Miami!

Our 4 Favorite Kids' Poetry Books (because April is National Poetry Month!)

I grew up as a bookworm, and now I'm a book-loving mom with a book-loving kid. What can I say, I'm lucky? I've read so many fantastic kids' books with him in the last six years. So far my children's picture book roundup posts have focused on specific topics: friendship, dogs, pirates, bedtime, awesome girls, robots, magic, gardens, cats, superheroes, and love and marriage.

But since April is National Poetry Month, let's switch gears with a roundup of our favorite kids' picture books with poetry as their focus. While a lot of children's books use rhyming text to tell a story, these books are specifically created to showcase poems - whether originally written for a children's audience or not. I love poetry books for kids that believe kids can manage interesting, "advanced" writing and imagery. The variety of language and structure is great for their growing brains and imaginations... and also refreshing for the grownups who read with them!

(Does this post use affiliate links? Yes! More about that if you're not familiar.)

Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems, curated by Paul B. Janeczko and beautifully illustrated by Melissa Sweet who works in mixed media including painting, drawing, and collage. The nice folks at Candlewick Press sent us a review copy of this one, and we are so grateful. It's a delight. It's a collection of tiny poems that capture everything I love about reading poetry with kids - especially the fresh use of language different from prose stories, and the imagination of the authors who often created their poems based on noticing something in the world and seeing it in an unusual way.

I read this with Boy Detective one lazy weekend afternoon and we stopped so many times to discuss our reactions to the poems, and how we each understood them. He was also tickled as he found various little details in the illustrations.

Continue reading Our 4 Favorite Kids' Poetry Books (because April is National Poetry Month!).

Captain America: The Winter Soldier - Eight Things I Loved

The first Captain America movie was fantastic, so I crossed my fingers that Captain America: The Winter Soldier would deliver.

I was not disappointed!

This film starts with Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America (Chris Evans), struggling to find his place within S.H.I.E.L.D., led by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Missions are not always what they seem, he never gets all the information, and Steve has a hard time fighting for and with people when he can't trust them. Can he fit in? Does he want to? But when Fury is betrayed, Rogers realizes there are bigger problems that need solving.

The plot was tight but balanced, with room for character development as well as action. The humor added to the movie instead of distracting (*cough*Thor*cough*). There was not a single moment or scene wasted! Everything had a purpose. And all the actors did an amazing job with the emotional core of their characters.

Here are the specific things I liked the most, that really struck me while I was watching it Thursday night and have stayed with me.

This is a TEAM movie. Because that's what Steve Rogers does. He's a leader. He finds the best in people and brings it out. His relationships with Black Widow, Falcon, Nick Fury, and Maria Hill are so important, and their teamwork are so important, even though as the title character he's going to face the final challenges alone. I love seeing this man work with people instead of making himself out as a hero above everyone else.

The team's demographics work out to be 1 white man, 2 black men, and 2 white women. I'm still waiting for the filmmakers to stop ignoring women of color, clearly, but compared to the Avengers this team much better reflects the reality of today, and I'm happy about that.

Three strong female characters that put Marvel Films' damsels in distress Pepper Potts and Jane Foster to shame. With Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), and Agent 13 (Emily VanCamp), there is no crying, or getting kidnapped, or getting magically transported to an unknown location alone and reaching out to touch the glowy red malevolent stuff so you can get infected and spend part of the movie after that sleeping. There's just doing what needs to be done. Doing the right thing. Agent 13 doesn't have a big role in this film but I'm hoping to see more of her in future installments.

I particularly appreciated that Scarlett Johansson seems to be getting more and more comfortable playing Natasha. Her first appearance in Iron Man 2 underwhelmed me, but she's really learning what it feels like to be this woman.

FALCON IS SO AWESOME! I love Anthony Mackie, the African-American actor who plays him here. Falcon (a.k.a Sam) and Steve establish a pitch-perfect friendship in which both men respect each other so much, both as warriors and as people. I loved Falcon in the Brubaker-authored Cap comics and this Falcon has a similar spirit. Plus, his wings look completely badass. I'd seen Mackie before in The Adjustment Bureau and really enjoyed his performance there, so it was wonderful to see him get a bigger role and a chance to shine.

The portrayal of the Winter Soldier made sense. I was extremely worried after seeing the trailer since you primarily see him operating out in the open in daylight. What the what? Clandestine assassin much? Ghost story, like Natasha said? But the mission he's deployed on in this film is not like all his previous missions, in both the canon the film is establishing and in the comics. That difference makes his masters' decision to deploy him out in the open comprehensible. And he's really scary. Really, really scary. Not quite Terminator 2 scary, but when he shows up you definitely get nervous. I love the groundwork they're laying for a future film with him as I think it will be true to that character's struggle from the Brubaker-written comics which I adore.

Cap's shield. I never got such a strong feeling of the power behind that shield hitting a person or an object until this movie. It's not just a fancy boomerang, y'all.

The fight choreography was intense, and the filming let you see what was happening. I love good fight scenes, but so many films these days try to make them more dramatic by shaking the camera or cutting so much that you can't see what's happening. This film got it right. The athletics of the stunt doubles and actors are amazing to me. Everyone has their own fighting style without it feeling like a shlocky . (C-Man looked it up and says the choreographer was the same guy who did the fights for Raze. Interesting. And this movie is so not like Raze.)

They made Batroc the Leaper not a stupid character. That's quite an accomplishment given how ridiculous he is in the comics! They gave him a distinctive fighting style which was fascinating to see against Captain America's, and Batroc was actually scary.

THE TWINS. For those of you who've seen it, enough said. For those who haven't but are familiar with a lot of Marvel comics, you'll know soon enough...

Are there things I'd have liked them to do differently? Of course, mostly around diversity, since that's my entertainment passion. Here are three key issues for me:

  • With so many S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, I'd love to see some with visible physical disabilities. It would happen in their line of work, and I can't imagine that field agents with permanent injuries don't end up working as analysts. At a bare minimum you could easily place someone using a wheelchair or sign language, going by in a scene where people are going down the hall, or in the lobby. It's well established in the Marvel-verse that despite advanced technology, not every injury or illness is 100% fixable. Obviously there are disabilities that are harder to show on camera with minor roles, but we can start somewhere.
  • I'd also love to see more women. There's a fight scene in an elevator where ALL of the agents are men, and there's like 12 of them. Why? Do we just not want to show Captain America hitting a woman? And let's not fix this problem by casting only white women, please and thank you.
  • On GLBT issues in the Marvel film-verse, I'd encourage everyone to read this: Gay punchlines and Marvel’s ‘All Hail The King’.

Between Jackson, Mackie, and Maximiliano Hernández who plays Jasper Sitwell, plus Johansson, Smulders, and VanCamp all with significant speaking roles, plus Bernard White, Chin Han, Hayley Atwell, and others in small speaking roles, this is possibly the strongest showing yet for expanding the "white guy" focus of comics-related movies.

But you can tick off all the diversity checkboxes that make Skye happy, though, and you still need to make a really good movie! Which they did.

WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR GO SEE IT!

Need a better way to explain your blog? Look at Kickstarter.

I learned the "elevator speech" or elevator pitch concept working in nonprofits and politics. Simply put, you have the length of an elevator ride between one floor and the next to convince someone to give money or support your issue.

For bloggers, the equivalent is that moment when you introduce yourself and say what you blog about. Those couple of sentences you have to make a clear impression of what you cover and why they should read it... or get a "that's nice" or slightly quizzical look back from the person who has no idea what you're talking about.

Oh, wait. Does that last part only happen to me?

Anyway, if you're going to network with other bloggers or potential sponsors, it's great to have a clear, concise, and compelling explanation of your blog. You have a little more conversational space than just a tagline, but you don't have much longer.

Need some help getting yours right? I recommend looking at Kickstarter to get a feel for what works, and what just doesn't.

Kickstarter is a crowdfunding site where creators ask others for financial backing for a project. On the Kickstarter site, you can browse project "tiles" like you can see in the image above. Each contains one image, a brief bit of text, and info about how much the project needs and has raised. That's all the space a Kickstarter creator gets for their first "elevator speech" to potential backers browsing the site.

The success of a Kickstarter isn't just based on its elevator speech, obviously, as project creators tap into their existing networks in a variety of ways. But I've noticed some patterns of how folks pitch there which are the same type of mistakes people make when introducing their blogs, ideas, or causes in person.

Continue reading Need a better way to explain your blog? Look at Kickstarter..

How to make the pasta we used to buy from Costco

With thanks to Flickr user Christian Cale for the photo, used here under a Creative Commons license.

Instructions for making that pasta, a.k.a. why we no longer buy that pasta:

Start two hours before you would like to eat.

Okay, fine, suit yourself. Wait until half an hour before dinner. I'm sure that will work out beautifully. I'll go read a book.

What? The water's not boiling yet and you're feeling pressed for time? No, I'm not going to say "I told you so."

So now the water is boiling? Great! Put in half as much pasta as you want to cook.

Well, if you'd done what I told you to and started two hours ahead of time, you could have boiled enough water. But now that it's 20 minutes before dinner, you don't have time to start over and boil more water.

You just put in too much pasta. You know that, right?

Don't get frustrated. I'm just trying to help!

Yes, it's been the amount of time the package said you should cook it. What? You're going to test it? Why?

Why are you acting so surprised? Of course it's not done. We go through this every time.

I think setting the timer for another 10 minutes is overly optimistic, but if it makes you feel better, that's fine.

If you're going to add more water now, you should probably microwave it first so it's hot. Just sayin'. And are you sure 1 more cup is enough?

Yes, I'm sure you would eat it at this point. He won't, though. He likes his pasta actually cooked.

Did you set another timer? 'Cause there's not one running. How long ago did you last check it?

Hey, watch your language!

6 Kids' Books About Love and Marriage That Adults Can Love Too

I didn't seek out children's picture books about love and marriage to read with my kid. They just kind of wandered into the stacks we bring home from the library. (Those stacks are SO big since we are a book-loving family.) I never even thought of "love and marriage" as a topic anyone would sit down to write a kids' books about. But apparently people do, because some of them have become our favorites. And when I looked at them as a group, I was pretty pleased with what they had to say about how relationships should work!

So here are some really fantastic stories about good people and good love. Leave us any suggestions in the comments, especially books featuring people of color or other kinds of diversity!

(You may also want to check out the rest of the series so far: friendship, dogs, pirates, bedtime, awesome girls, robots, magic, gardens, cats, and superheroes. Does this post use affiliate links? Yes! More about that if you're not familiar.)

Miss Viola and Uncle Ed Lee by Alice Faye Duncan, with art by Catherine Stock. This is one of my all-time favorite kids' books. Miss Viola and Uncle Ed Lee couldn't be more different, but their young neighbor Bradley witnesses quite a transformation when one party gets motivated. The child's point of view narration leaves a whole extra level for adults reading the book to enjoy, without taking away from what young readers get out of it.

Continue reading 6 Kids' Books About Love and Marriage That Adults Can Love Too.

Prelude to a campout

Scene 1

C-Man: Is there any reason why I should look for a tent that sleeps more than two people?

Me: No.

Scene 2

Me: How was testing out setting up the tent?

Boy Detective: Great! I got to hit a lot of stuff with a hammer!

Me: Wonderful. But did the tent actually work? That's kind of important.

Boy Detective: Oh yeah. And there's even enough room for three people!

Me: So if I accidentally come on the camping trip I have somewhere to sleep?

Boy Detective: Yes!!!

Scene 3

Boy Detective: Is is time to get in the car yet?!

Me: No! Dad's not even downstairs yet.

(3 minutes pass)

Boy Detective, hand on the doorknob: Is it time to get in the car yet?!?

Me: No, come back in the house. Do you want to sit in your car seat for 5 minutes being bored?

(2 minutes pass)

Boy Detective: IS IT TIME YET?

And then it finally was... hopefully for more of this which was so enjoyed last fall...

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THANK YOU!

Thanks to Chris Giarrusso for the title "Planet Jinxatron." Buy his books!

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