Posts Tagged ‘raising school kids’

Write a Review Wednesday: Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze

Welcome to another Write a Review Wednesday, a meme started by Tara Lazar as a way to show support to authors of kids literature. Last week we reviewed DK Readers: Star Wars series. This week we go a little older, reviewing Simon and Schuster‘s Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze (age 9-13), written and illustrated by Alan Silbergerg. I have to thank Katie at Simon and Schuster Canada for my review copy.

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MIlo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze deals with a 13-year-old boy’s struggle to come to terms with the loss of his mother. Ever since Milo Cruikshank’s mother died nothing has gone right. Now, instead of the kitchen being full of music, his whole house has been filled with Fog. Nothing’s the same. Not his Dad. Not his sister. And definitely not him. In love with the girl he sneezed on the first day of school and best pals with Marshall, the “One Eyed Jack” of friends, Milo copes with being the new kid (again) as he struggles to survive a school year that is filled with reminders of what his life “used to be.” [synopsis from Simon and Schuster Canada]

Although life as a teenager is in my distant past, the awkward moments, feelings of trying to fit in and school crushes are memories that still float around in my head, more so now that my oldest gets closer to that preteen age. Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze does a great job illustrating these awkward moments, probably more so for me since I was one of those awkward kids growing up. The issue of Milo’s mother’s death is subtle at the beginning of the story, only alluded to. At first I thought it was just a bit of background information. As the story progresses, as Milo develops stronger friendship ties and becomes more comfortable with himself, he reveals to us (and his friends) how his mother’s death really has impacted him. He develops enough courage to try to bring her back into his life, his family’s life, even though he fears his dad’s reaction.

Throughout the pages Alan Silverberg adds cartoon-like illustrations; illustrations that Milo makes to express how he feels, thoughts going through his head, or moments witnessed. They remind me a lot like doodles you would do in the margins of your school book. The images help to illustrate a thought, like Milo explaining how his dad is different in front of people, wearing his Dad costume. They also add a slice of humour to the story and give you a sense that you’re reading Milo’s personal thoughts, like a diary.

Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze will have you nodding your head in understanding, laughing and cringing at those awkward teen moments and crying as Milo opens his heart to mourn and love his mother. Even with the main character being a boy, pre-teen girls can still relate to Milo’s feelings and experiences; I don’t think they’re boy specific. Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze is a great story about friendship, fitting in and coming to terms with your inner self. Take a peek at the book trailer below:

To add a copy of Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze to your personal collection or to give as a gift to a preteen you know (or even a school classroom), visit your local bookstore or Simon and Schuster Canada. For other great book recommendations for kids, read through the past Write a Review Wednesday posts. What books are you enjoying with your kids?

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Write a Review Wedneday: Me and Rolly Maloo

Welcome to another Write a Review Wednesday, a meme started by Tara Lazar as a way to show support to authors of kids literature. Last week we reviewed Bunny’s Lessons. This week we read Charlesbridge Publishing‘s Me and Rolly Maloo (age 8-12), written by Janet S. Wong and illustrated by Elizabeth Buttler. I have to thank Donna at Charlesbridge Publishing for my review copy.

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Jenna is a star at math which makes her not so popular at school. So when Rolly Maloo, the most popular girl in school, invites Jenna over to her house, she is beyond thrilled. This could put Jenna on the popular list, hanging with the cool kids. But when Rolly asks Jenna to help her cheat on a math test, Jenna doesn’t know what to do. She knows cheating is wrong but is it so bad helping a friend in need?

We’ve all been here, well some of us anyway, on the outside of the group, wanting anything to be included. With kids of my own I see these issues rearing their ugly head again, especially with my 8-year old daughter. Everyone wants to feel included. Sometimes that desire can take over cloud your judgement, causing you to make bad decisions and miss the good things you already have.

Me and Rolly Maloo puts you in the shoes of Jenna, wanting to fit in and struggling with right versus wrong and misconceptions of friendship. I like that Jenna’s character, though she knows cheating is wrong, really struggles with the idea. Jenna doesn’t just take the moral high ground or stoop to cheating without giving it much thought. The way the story is written we don’t really know which path Jenna would follow since the actual cheat is interrupted.

Although you might perceive Rolly Maloo to be the bad guy (or girl) in this story, her characterization depicts her as having her own internal struggles over the whole cheating issue. This just reinforces that being popular doesn’t mean life is easy either; there are pressures and stresses and influences that Rolly falls pray to also.

The unique style of Me and Rolly Maloo makes it a great read not only because of the subject matter and issues touched upon, but also in the illustrations used. Me and Rolly Maloo is a chapter book with elements of a graphic novel. This graphic novel aspect gives you a peek at some of the more subtle feelings that not only Jenna and Rolly are encountering but also their friends and mothers (there is no father presence in this story. Actually, there is only one real male figure in the story, one of the classmates). This helps give some background without having to add another whole layer to the story. Plus it is a nice way to break-up the copy for those reluctant readers.

My 8 year old daughter hasn’t had a chance to read Me and Rolly Maloo yet but I think the storyline and the illustrative treatment will be something she will enjoy. To add a copy of Me and Rolly Maloo to your personal library, visit your local bookstore or Charlesbridge Publishing. For other great book ideas for kids, take a read through the past Write a Review Wednesday posts. What are your kids reading?

Teaching Life Lessons Can be Rough

My 8-year old is a lot like her dad in many ways, but there is one thing she takes after me on. Night time. Like me, my oldest daughter is a bit of a night owl. She seems to get a second wind when the sun goes down. This will come in handy when she enter post secondary and has to spend countless nights working on assignments (I turned in some of my best work at 2 a.m.).

But being a night owl means you’re not much of a morning person. This can work against you when it’s a school day and you need to get up and ready and out the door by 8:30 a.m. That being said you can understand how my usually happy and chipper daughter is a little unresponsive and very unco-operative in the morning. I should realize this but when I have 3 kids to get ready and fed and out the door my perspective (and patience) is a little warped.

One morning this week I had enough of the pouting and argumentative behaviour. My daughter was annoyed with something I had asked her to do and to teach me a lesson she decided not to come down for breakfast, that she wasn’t going to eat breakfast that morning.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. In the past I’ve cajoled and convinced her, albeit reluctantly, to come join us for breakfast. Usually after eating her mood has brightened and the day continues fine. But this morning, in my tired frustrated mindset (I told you I’m a night owl too) I didn’t go see her. I was tired of fighting in the morning and using breakfast as the rope we tug back and forth. This time I decided if she didn’t want breakfast then fine, I wasn’t going to push her.

I continued our morning routine getting the other 2 kids ready. When it was time to go I told my 8-year old to come down and get ready for the van. Of course she never believed I wouldn’t let her go to school without breakfast so she moaned and groaned and cried about needing something to eat. I gave her a larger morning snack for her to eat at recess but that didn’t help.

At this point I was debating if I had made the right choice, letting her skip breakfast, but it was too late to change anything, we had to go. We just made it to school with my 8-year old in such a state of tears about being hungry. After dropping my son off I took my daughter to the bathroom and had her splash water on her face to try to calm herself down.

I didn’t take her home, although she asked not to go because she was so upset; I made her stay in school. I didn’t want her to think her behaviour was a way to get what she wanted. I didn’t see her until the end of school at 3:30 p.m. She was back to her old self and didn’t seem to have any issues in the classroom. We both gave each other a big hug and apologized, both of us.

Did I do the right thing? If I had followed my old pattern and made her come downstairs and eat, like I’m sure most moms would have done, the morning drive to school would have been uneventful but we’d probably have the same issue with breakfast the next day. Did I push the lesson too far by sending her to school without breakfast and so very distraught? Maybe. I don’t know. Will my daughter pull the breakfast strike again knowing that I won’t cave in? Only time will tell.

Sometimes the best lessons to learn are the ones you experience yourself. I think my daughter and I both learned something from this experience. Hopefully we’ll remember and handle things without so many tears. I hate those lessons.

For the (lack of ) Love of Playdates

So school has started up again. That means waking up early, making lunches the night before (or at least planning on doing that and then rushing around first thing in the morning actually doing it), helping with homework and…dun dun dun dun…those dreaded playdates.

There’s something about the start of school that drives everyone into a playdate frenzy. We step into the school yard and my 8-year old is bombarded with requests for playdates. I realize she hasn’t seen many of her friends all summer and everyone is excited to get together but I sweat over the thought of the playdate question.

Many parents do it; some are organized enough to have scheduled dates with the same kids every week. How they do it is another story, not the scheduling part but the physical kids over to their house or over to a friend’s house act. Who has time? I know school has just started but here’s what happened when I relented to my 8-year old having a playdate:

  • 3:30 – 4:00 pick-up at school and negotiate the whole playdate plan (where, when, who, including having to explain to the 6 and 3-year old that they can’t partake). Walking home the very distraught siblings and playing some sort of negotiation game on when they can have their own playdate.
  • 4:00-4:15 provide a quick snack to try to subdued the distraught siblings. And since one of the distraught siblings is a 3-year old you know there’s nothing quick about anything. She changed her mind 6 times before reluctantly eating a quarter of something and complaining later how she’s starving.
  • 4:15-5:00 work on any homework assignments and reading skills all while trying to distract and entertain (read ‘try not to kill’) the tantrum tossing 3-year old in the background. This makes it hard for the 6-year old to get his homework done and he makes that very clear with big sighs and saying loudly ‘I can’t concentrate’
  • 5:00 realize that I’m suppose to be at the playdate house to pick my 8-year old daughter up and we’re still in mid-homework kerfuffle.
  • 5:00-5:15 (though it sure felt like it was much longer than that) try go shove a pair of shoes on my reluctant 3-year old for our walk to the playdate house. I explain for the 800th time why we can’t drive there and have to walk. I’m forced to pull out the old stroller from the backroom since that’s the only way I’m sure we’ll get to the playdate house before school tomorrow.
  • 5:15-5:30 We make the long walk with the tired 6 and 3-year old fighting for most of the way there. I can’t be bothered to stop the squabbling and tune it out to the joy of my neighhbours and those walking by (Mother of the Year award nomination flushed down the toilet at this point).
  • 5:30-5:40 Work hard to extract my 8-year old daughter and her friend from each other so we can make the walk back home.
  • 5:40-5:55 Explain over and over (and over) again why we will no longer be having playdates during the school year.

And with every playdate at a friend’s house you know you’re expected to return the favour. It may not be said out right, but you know the thought is lurking in the back of the parents head. I know because I’ve been there, hosting one particular friend many times and never receiving the invitation in return.

Nope the whole playdate thing is way over-rated in my book; they’re stressful, time-consuming and extra work that I just don’t need. My kids may think I’m a terrible mother for not allowing them out on playdates but believe me it’s better than dealing with me when I get stressed out about the whole ordeal.

Am I the only one who feels this way?

Sliding into Grade One

The end of school is almost here for us. With the end of school comes graduation for some, like my 6-year-old son. Okay, I know he’s only moving from Senior Kindergarten into Grade 1. It’s not a huge deal as he’ll be at the same school, with the same friends. It does mean he’ll be at school for a full day, including lunch. That’s kind of a big deal. For that reason, because my son was excited about this transition, I was excited for him but I wasn’t going to get all mushy over the whole idea of his graduation. I mean, he’s not moving off to school, he’ll be coming home with me like he does every night. So I wasn’t going to get all caught up in the graduation hype. Yes, I offered to help decorate (one parent had a friend who donated her time and talent to make these amazing balloon sculptures in the gym):

And my oldest daughter was excused from class (as were any other kids who had siblings in the senior kindergarten class graduating). My youngest daughter of course had to sit up front with her big sister and her friends to watch.

Of course my son dressed in his finest graduation attire. To avoid any confusion, my son’s the one on the right (that might be a sign of how we all viewed the whole kindergarten graduation, it was a fun ceremony and not a life changing, off to college type of event).

I had said I wouldn’t get all emotional at the graduation mainly because it wasn’t a big deal. I was viewing this as more of a school ceremony but not having any real significance (though I wouldn’t tell my son that). I said I wouldn’t cry. Then of course my son’s teacher read her lovely speech about watching them grow and change and learn and develop and now she reluctantly returns them back to us, their parents or the new teacher. Oh man, just thinking about the speech makes a drop or two fall from my eyes. I said I wouldn’t cry and I did. And I wasn’t the only one.

The kids sang some songs and each child shared with everyone what they wanted to be when they were bigger. There were the standard responses: doctor, veterinarian, married, a mom. My son loudly and proudly proclaimed he wanted to be a toy inventor. It’s a step up from being a professional Lego builder, which was his last ambition, but I still think this career will have him living in our basement for a few years.

Then all the kids went on stage and as their names were read out they slid down from kindergarten into grade 1, where the principal greeted them and gave them their certificate. I love this shot of all the paper graduation hats.

Here’s some highlights:

Of course no graduation would be complete without a party. And there was lots of fun (mainly fruits and vegetables) but of course a nice big cake.

So as my son leaves kindergarten and heads off into a new school year, a new adventure known as grade one, my youngest will be starting her own adventure in junior kindergarten, with my son’s current kindergarten teacher. So I look forward to repeating my promise of not getting emotional or crying at her graduation too in two years time.

Write a Review Wednesday: The Most Brilliant Boldly Going Book of Exploration Ever

Welcome to another Write a Review Wednesday, a meme started by Tara Lazar as a way to show support to authors of kids literature. Last week we reviewed Groundwood BooksPetit, the Monster (age 2-5 ). This week we’re looking non-fiction with DK‘s The Most Brilliant Boldly Going Book of Exploration Ever (age 8-17 ), by The Brainwaves and illustrated by Lisa Swerling and Ralph Lazar. I have to thank Chris at DK Canada for my review copy.

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It seems as soon as your kids are old enough to talk the questions start: What’s that? Why do cats have tails? Where do babies come from? As parents we seem to spend a lot of time answering (or sometimes distracting the kids so we don’t have to answer) their unending questions.

When they get older the questions and a child’s inquisitive nature doesn’t change but lucky as our kids discover the joy of reading they can answer some of these questions on their own. DK Canada offers a number of great fiction books that are both informative and entertaining at the same time. The Most Brilliant Boldly Going Book of Exploration Ever by the Brainwaves is one such book.

In this book the Brainwaves are these little cartoon like characters that take you on a journey, in this case through the world rediscovering the world of exploration and their explorers. The Most Brilliant Boldly Going Book of Exploration Ever takes you on a journey through the North Passage, sets sail with Chinese explorers, climbs up Mountain Peaks and dives into Ocean Depths.

Instead of being hit with a large Encyclopedia page of text, readers are given quick explanations, facts and tidbits interspersed among colourful cartoon-like illustrations. Even the page layouts make discovering facts fun: Turn the book up one way to read about North Pole exploration and then flip it around to discover the South Pole or cross a bridge between the New World Market and Old.

My 8-year-old daughter enjoyed reading this book, especially the little dialog bubbles from the book characters. Even my 5-year-old and 3-year-old enjoyed looking at the pages and an overview of exploration (meaning I didn’t read it word for word but pulled out a few interesting lines or paragraphs). Although the book is very graphic and appealing to a younger audience the actual information is ideal for the 8 and older crowd.

The Most Brilliant Boldly Going Book of Exploration Ever is great for a child that is full of questions or has a keen interest on explorers or exploration. There are other titles available in this series: The Most Explosive Science Book  in the Universe, How the Incredible Body Works, The Most Fantastic Atlas of the Whole World,and Greatest Intergalactic Guide to Space Ever. There’s even a similar series aimed at the younger 5-10 crowd: Little Brainwaves Investigate Animals and Little Brainwaves Investigate the Human Body.

You can add a copy of The Most Brilliant Boldly Going Book of Exploration Ever to your personal library by visiting your local independent bookstore or DK Canada. You might also enjoy reading our review on DK Canada‘s Pick Me Up and Open Me Up. For other great book suggestions for kids, checkout past Write a Review Wednesday posts.

Why the Lie?

Maybe it’s just me, but I love perpetuating the myths of the Easter Bunny, Leprachuans, the Tooth Fairy and others with my kids. These fantasy characters were a wonderful part of my childhood that I love to share with my own kids. They ARE childhood.

And of course like with our own childhood, they will grow-up and their belief will be overtaken by reality and skepticism.

I may not like to admit it but I do know someday my kids will stop believing in some of these characters, if not all of them. It’s a sad reality. I’ve even started to notice some doubt in my 8-year-old daughter (though some things I’ve done haven’t helped). So what happened on the weekend shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise.

My 8-year-old lost another tooth. She placed it in the Tooth Fairy jar (we have a small jar with little fairy sitting on top) and placed it on her dresser that night. Before I went to bed I took the tooth and replaced it with money (Yes we leave money. That’s a different blog post to deal with).

The next morning we slept in. I was surprised my daughter didn’t rush in telling us about the funds the Tooth Fairy left behind; she would usually do this, waking us up at the crack of dawn. I thought perhaps she had forgotten to check but when I went by her room I noticed the Tooth Fairy jar was empty.

So curious, I asked my daughter:

me: Did the Tooth Fairy visit you last night?
8yo: No. Well, yes. She came and took the tooth but left no money.
me: Really? Are you sure? Did you check to see if it fell on the floor?
8yo: I looked everywhere, no money this time.

My daughter proceeded downstairs as if nothing happened. Now I know in the past I’ve been negligent about the Tooth Fairy’s visits but I know I took the tooth and left the money. I know I did.

It’s obvious she took the money. What I couldn’t figure out is why she wouldn’t admit too it. She still gets the money. My only thought is she was testing me. She’s probably already figured out that the Tooth Fairy isn’t real; that mom and dad replace the teeth with funds. Maybe she wants to see my reaction, see if I admit that the Tooth Fairy left the money, because I left it.

But I can’t bring myself to admit it. I can’t be the one to break the fantasy. She may have her doubts and that’s fine but I don’t need to be the one to confirm it. We still have two younger kids who haven’t even experienced the Tooth Fairy yet. I don’t want them to be jaded before they’ve even lost their first tooth. I don’t need my 8-year-old in a fit of anger with her brother or sister to blurt out ‘And the Tooth Fairy isn’t real. Mom leaves the money. She told me so.

Even when my 8-year-old returned with substitute Tooth Fairy money from her dad (trying out her story on him too I suppose), I still kept tight-lipped.

The fact that my daughter had doubts about the fairy didn’t bug me so much. Even testing her doubts to see if I or her dad would fess up didn’t bother me much either. I have to admit it was pretty ingenious. The ongoing lie was bugging me. Okay, she did her test and didn’t get the result she wanted. Now she should admit to the money being left, say she found it after all. The fact that she kept telling the story and on top of that accepted additional money from her dad, these things bugged me.

Eventually my daughter felt guilty and admitted that she did get money (though she admitted to her dad and not me). In return she had to work with her dad in the backyard building a shed before the rain arrived. We also agreed that perhaps the Tooth Fairy not leaving money for my daughter (see, I had to still believe the original story since I wasn’t suppose to know about the confession) was a sign that my daughter was too old for Tooth Fairy visits. Any teeth left to fall out could just be tossed and we wouldn’t have to worry about the ritual anymore,  until her brother or sister get bigger.

I knew I would be disappointed when my kids were old enough to not believe in some of the childhood fantasies we’ve brought them up on. I guess I didn’t know the lesson would hurt me so much.