Baking with Sarah Varon

We bought a lot of butter last week.

After reading Sara Varon’s delightful and touching graphic novel Bake Sale, the kids and I felt hungry for baked goods.

Varon’s book features Cupcake, owner of a bakery, and friend Eggplant. It’s a story about dreams, friendship and a lot of baking in Cupcake’s shop. Her illustrations are both charming and funny.

bake-sale-cover

Eggplant and Cupcake inspired the Rush kids.

Calvin suggested we follow Varon’s recipes and it seemed like a good Saturday morning plan. Of course, Max and Calvin couldn’t agree on a recipe, so I let them each pick one. Max chose cupcakes and Calvin chose the brownies – both requiring a lot of butter.

We set out to Clifton Market to buy the ingredients. Before we left, we read the recipes and made a shopping list.

IMG_5743

Calvin checks out the brownie recipe.

IMG_5746

Max made our shopping list.

Baking with little kids is an adventure and I summoned my most yoga-like self as they cracked eggs and helped me measure. We started with the cupcakes.

IMG_5750

Calvin tests the cupcake batter.

By the time we started mixing up the brownies, the kids lost interest but I carried on like the sugar addict I am.

The results were delicious. Max thought the cupcakes were best, Calvin liked the brownies. I think the cupcakes may have been my favorite.

IMG_5754

Success!

We love this story and its adorable illustrations. Here are the recipes below:

IMG_5782

Cupcake recipe.

IMG_5783

These brownies us a lot of butter! Yummy.

IMG_5784

Varon also has a recipe for peppermint brownies in the book.

I’m not the only blogger who has featured this book. Read Jama’s Alphabet Soup for a very charming description of this book.

 

Meet Clare and Wolf Hollow

My friend Clare suggested I read Wolf Hollow by Lauren Volk.

Did I mention Clare is in fifth grade?

I love talking to this bright, interesting girl about our shared passions – Project Runway and reading. We both thought it was scary the first time we read about the panther in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods.

Fox Hollow is one of my favorite books this year – it packs a punch. It’s the story of Annabelle, a young girl, in 1943. Annabelle is dealing with a horrible bully at school, prejudices that come from the war and an odd, but kind and reclusive neighbor, Toby.

This book is for ages 8 to 12 but I think any adult would love it.

ClareGraff (1)

Clare picks out great books.

Clare rode her bike over to my house to talk about the book. Here’s our conversation:

What was your favorite part about Fox Hollow?
I just liked the whole theme of the book. The specific parts I don’t want to give away. It was so beautifully written. I just really loved it.

I really liked Annabelle – she was 12 and I’m 11 and I could relate to her. I just really like her – she’s so powerful. She’s so cool.

Even though the story was set in World War II, why could you relate to Annabelle, the main character?
She was good at keeping secrets and got down to business and didn’t play around like her other friends. I can relate to her being aware of what’s going around her.

She helped a lot of people – and I like to help people.

I can also relate to Annabelle because many people misunderstand people right now and also, people are very unjust.

Wolf-Hollow-by-Lauren-Wolk-Book-Review

Wolf Hollow is a John Newbery Medal winner.

Can you tell me about your mother/daughter book club?
We started three years ago but it barely feels like a year. We usually choose a book that’s based on girl power and being strong. We like reading about girls facing adversity who are strong. After we read the book, we have a meeting and a discussion. The moms talk and the girls act out the book in the living room.

What are some other books you’ve read?
Pippi Longstocking, I am Malala and I love Harry Potter.

My mom usually reads us books before bed – we’re reading Hatchet about a boy surviving the wilderness. He’s successful! Brian’s Winter is his (Gary Paulsen) second book. It’s an awesome book.

More about Clare
She is a competitive swimmer for Cincinnati Marlins, she’s in choir, plays the clarinet and likes art and acting. She has a pet tarantula named Rose.

Thank you, Clare!

This post is dedicated to the memory of author Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Thank you for giving us Little Pea (and more).

Ghosts make for a great bedtime

What’s the sign of a good book – fighting over it with your kid!

After starting Raina Telgemeir’s Ghosts at bedtime, Calvin and I both wanted to take it to bed with us. (Yes, he sneaks reading after hours – just like I did as child.)

This graphic novel’s mix of realism and fantasy are compelling. Sisters Catrina and Maya move to a new California town because it’s better for Maya’s Cystic Fibrosis. They find out that it’s also home to a lot of ghosts and the townspeople don’t seem to mind. In fact, they celebrate their dead with Dia De Los Day Meurutos (Day of the Dead) celebrations.

img_5669

Our new favorite read.

There is a lot under the surface of this book – life changes, friendship, and mortality. I’m not sure if Calvin picked up on all of this but the important thing is he loved it.

We had different reactions – Calvin found the ghosts “a little scary at first” and wants to know, “why do ghosts like orange pop?” These ghosts are friendly and love orange pop.

Being hugely sentimental, I’ve always been attracted to the Day of Dead tradition. I’m the girl who still misses her grandparents.

img_5652

I’ve always been fascinated by Day of the Dead. Check out my glamorous skeleton.

Here’s what’s also different – when talking about the book, Calvin can rattle off the names of the characters. His 40-something mama had to look them up for this post.

We’ve both read it more than once and are looking forward to Max’s take.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this great read comes out in conversation at our house. We’re also reading Telgemeier’s book Sisters. Stay up late and read these books.

img_5670

These friendly ghosts like orange pop and Maya.

Using books for the tough stuff

Parenting can be heart wrenching.

Right?

A few weeks ago, Calvin and I were snuggling as I tucked him in for the night.

He shared some tough things. We all have tough days but to hear it from your seven-year-old…ouch!

He told me was sad because at recess his friends like to jump rope and he found it hard.

I took a deep breath and told my oldest twin, “You know what, Calvy? You had to learn how to walk TWICE and I bet none of the other kids did. You are really strong! But when you were sick, it might have made it hard to jump rope, but that’s ok. You’re still awesome and don’t forget that.”

Then I told Calvin that it was my job and his dad’s to take on the hard things, so he could go to sleep and forget about them. Ok, I didn’t make this one up – I borrowed it from an essay Glennon Doyle Melton wrote about an interaction with her son.
(Thank you, G!)

Calvin hugged me hard, seemed ok, and went to sleep.

I’m not bringing this up to show that I’m some superhero mom – because I’m not. We all have our stuff and one of Calvin’s is that he had a brain tumor at two and there are some residuals. But he and Max don’t remember or know the details (right now) and just live their lives.

I’m sharing this because I think parenting is tough and coming up with answers is hard and seeing your kids hurt is the most difficult of all. But maybe if we keep reading and sharing, we can all help each other.

After this happened, I thought about some of the books we’ve been reading. Many children’s books about famous people share the obstacles they’ve overcome.

Max and Calvin seem drawn to these books. My hope is that they are internalizing these messages.

Here are some of our favorites:

img_5622

Alta wants to be like Wilma Rudolph

The Quickest Kid in Clarksville by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Frank Morrison. In this story, young Alta wants to be like her hero, Wilma Rudolph, the fastest woman in the world, from Alta’s hometown. Alta and her rival Charmaine, who has new shoes, eventually join forces and watch Wilma in a victory parade. Not only did Wilma overcome polio and poverty to become the fastest woman in 1960, as an African American athlete, she insisted that her homecoming events be integrated and open to everyone. (This story is important on so many levels and it’s Black History Month!)

Hello, My Name is Octicorn by Kevin Diller and Justin Lowe, illustrated by Binny Talib lures my kids in by its seemingly silly illustrations and subject matter. Who has ever heard of a half octopus, half unicorn? But sometimes it’s hard to be Octi – he’s the only of his kind and sometimes he gets left out because he’s different. He’s different on land and on sea. But Octi points out all the things he’s good at – making s’mores, eating cupcakes, and hugs. He makes a great friend.

img_5621

Octi’s family tree.

Brad Meltzer’s books have become a constant in our lives. After Calvin and I had the aforementioned conversation, we read his book I Am Helen Keller. The kids were pretty amazed by Helen’s achievements and there is braille in the book which they loved. I Am Albert Einstein shares that he wasn’t thought to be very bright! And even Lucille Ball had to be persistent. I Am Lucille Ball‘s  message helped me with something I was going through at the time.

img_5623

Great advice from Lucy.

“This isn’t a joke: Don’t let other people change you. Be true to who you are.”

My friend Ryan had a great suggestion for Calvin – trying to turn the rope for his friends. When I told Calvin this, I could see the wheels turning in his head. Whatever happens, I’ll keep trying to say the right thing and I’ll keep turning to books for help!

Our country’s history and saying thanks

If you want to have an interesting conversation with your children, read President Barack Obama’s Of Thee I Sing, a Letter to My Daughters.

img_5568

I pulled it off our shelves as a personal way to recognize our 44th President. I bought this book for my one-year-old twins when it came out in 2010. (Cincinnati friends – it’s illustrated by a local – author and illustrator Loren Long. How cool is that!?)

Now that Max and Calvin are first graders this book really makes an impression. When we read Obama’s beautiful tribute to his daughters, they are thrilled that they knew the people in history he referenced.

“I love this book because I know all these people!” Calvin exclaimed.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Albert Einstein, Jackie Robinson, Helen Keller… to name a few.

They’ve been learning about Martin Luther King Jr. and love talking about him. It’s important and sometimes difficult  to talk about our nation’s history and I find that books (and their school) are helping me navigate this.

img_5566

Martin Luther King Jr. by Calvin.

Rosa Parks (not in this book) was during Martin Luther’s time,” Calvin commented.
“People stopped riding the bus for awhile.” (People stopped riding the bus in solidarity.)

“He had a dream and he got killed for that dream,” Max said solemnly.

We talked about this. And we talked about why George Washington’s “barefoot soldiers crossed wintry rivers, forging ever on.”

Calvin asked me about Maya Lin, designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I explained that it honors those who gave their lives in the war his Pop Pop fought in. I’m not sure he totally understood – he wanted to know why MLK’s name wasn’t on it. But it’s a process.

This book’s text, message, and illustrations are gorgeous.

img_5570

“Maybe I’ll be one of these kids and be famous,” said Max.

Thanks President Obama – for everything.

Happy Pig Day (on video!)

I had this great idea but Max and Calvin had their own plans.

One way I get them to practice reading is “suggest” they each take on a character in a book.  This works with Mo Willem’s delightful  Elephant & Piggie books.

They love this so much,  I thought it would be cool if I could record them reading  Happy Pig Day! for this blog.

But when we would read, they would get really wound up, make funny voices and laugh hysterically. I would try to get them to “be serious.”

What was I thinking?

I realized I had to let go and quit trying to stage manage them. The end result is so much better when they are being themselves.

So here it is – scroll ahead to 1:03 if you want to see Calvin joyfully cracking up.

And do yourself a favor – adults and kids – go get an Elephant & Piggie book.

Two goofballs read Happy Pig Day from julia mace on Vimeo.

The holiday wrap-up: toys and tonsils

One of my favorite moments during the holiday was in the hospital.

After the usual presents, visits with friends and family, too much food, Calvin had his tonsils and adenoids removed two days after Christmas.

You may know we have a long (and fortunate history) with Calvin and Cincinnati Children’s. He went into his surgery like a trooper.

Initially, I think it was harder on Max. My husband told me, “I think he’s a little scared. And why wouldn’t he be?”

At 7, he may not vividly remember his twin’s formerly long hospital stays, but I wonder if it’s embedded deep in his memory.

So, we brought Max to visit Calvin during his overnight hospital stay.

The moment that was so nice was Max’s relief at seeing Calvin and his subsequent head-patting of his twin. “Is his heart ok?,” he asked. “What’s wrong with him?”

Calvin was drugged up but immediately perked up when Max came in the room. Even the nurse noticed. Calvin grinned  while receiving the head-pat and cuddle.

This reminded me of the power of twins and the beauty of my kiddos. When Calvin was really ill, it was Max that fortified him and us. It also reminded us that when something happens to one of them, it impacts the other.

img_5503-2

My Christmas babies sans books!

And the books

The other moment? Reading, of course! After the thrill of Zoomer kitty and chimp, legos, cars, and sugar, they secretly love their new books.

On Christmas Day, Max and I cuddled up among the chaos of toys and discarded wrapping paper and read The Day the Crayons Came Home by Oliver JeffersIn this beautiful second book about crayons, Duncan reads letters from his forgotten crayons. Both the story and illustrations are brilliant.

Here are some of our other holiday books this year – tested for you by my favorite first graders.

The Pirate of Kindergarten by George Ella Lyon, Kentucky’s 2016 poet laureate.  Calvin especially liked this story of a girl with double vision. (Thanks, Kate!)

Ballet Cat: The Totally Secret Secret by Bob Shea. This book has a great sense of humor but also a sweet message about friendship.

 

Ever the baseball fan, Max received Baseball from A to Z by Michael P. Spradlin, illustrated by Macky Pamintuan. I know it’s good because I’ve found him reading it. (Thanks Lou and Lanthan!)

9781484713785_il_2_20d68

Leap your way into the New Year with Ballet Cat!

Both Max and Calvin are venturing into graphic novels. Here’s some that were under our tree:

Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea by Ben Clanton

Binky the Space Cat by Ashley Spires

 

Happy New Year all! Lots of love and keep reading.

P.S. Calvin is slowly mending.