What I Read – July 2016

Revolutionary RoadRichard Yates (Vintage Contemporaries, 2008)

A Tangled Web – L.M. Montgomery (Bantam Books, 1989)

The Painted Kiss – Elizabeth Hickey (Atria Books, 2005)

The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers – Elizabeth Pantley (McGraw Hill, 2005)

Six Walks in the Fictional Wood – Umberto Eco (Harvard University Press, 1994)

The Vegetarian – Han Kang (Portobello Books, 2015) (translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith)

The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be – Farley Mowat (Pyramid Books, 1968)

Currently Reading:

Rumours of Another World – Philip Yancey

The Nest – Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

Don’t forget! You can follow along with what I’m reading in real time on Instagram @karissareadsbooks.

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Book Review: The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers by Elizabeth Pantley

The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers - Elizabeth Pantley (McGraw Hill, 2005)

The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers – Elizabeth Pantley (McGraw Hill, 2005)

In sixteen months of parenting, this is the first parenting book I’ve read. While I’ve definitely been guilty of the middle-of-the-night-google-search (Always a bad idea. Always), my parenting resource so far has been friends. I have a few trusted friends who are slightly further along the road on this gig than I am and whose kids I happen to like. When I’m wondering how to deal with a situation/is this normal, they’re the ones I go to.

But when I saw this book in the thrift store for a dollar, I figured it couldn’t hurt. I’d flipped through Pantley’s first book, The No-Cry Sleep Solution (geared towards infants) in the book store and thought I generally agreed with her style.

First, a little background: Pearl has generally always been an okay sleeper. She slept through the night at a few months old, though not consistently. I nursed her to sleep until she was around seven months old when we sleep-trained. From that point she slept through the night probably 80% of the time. Most recently, she’s gotten in four molars and in the last month we’ve been away and had a few disruptions to her routine and so she hasn’t slept through the night much in the past few months. I still nurse her right before bed (though not until she’s asleep) and when she wakes in the night. My goal is to wean her completely by the end of the summer.

All that is simply to point out that everyone has different goals and desires when it comes to how and when their children sleep. One of the things I appreciated most about Pantley’s advice is basically something I’ve said all along: Do what works. If the way you get your child to sleep and how you spend the night works for you and your family, then you don’t have a problem. But if you don’t like the way things are, she might be able to help you.

Pantley’s advice is very breastfeeding and co-sleeping friendly. I appreciated her chapter on night weaning and have already instigated some of it and I’ve stopped nursing Pearl when she wakes at night. We’re not co-sleepers (though we did it for the first time in June when we travelled) so some of the advice wasn’t relevant and I did skip over a couple of chapters. One or two I might come back to when Pearl’s older. (Like when we make the transition from crib to toddler bed.)

Pantley doesn’t offer any quick fixes and is pretty straight forward about it. She does offer a lot of grace and some ideas of how to gently guide your toddler toward the behaviour that you want to see. A lot of the book’s suggestions are geared toward kids a little older than mine – kids you can discuss things with a bit more than you can with a sixteen-month-old – but there are many simple suggestions that aren’t overwhelming and feel easy to implement. Since reading this book, we’ve placed more emphasis on our house on bedtime routine and making sure the time right before Pearl goes to bed is quiet and calm. Pearl knows the steps now and knows what to expect next. I’m not into long and complicated bedtime routines but, as Pantley points out, spending a little longer on her routine is better than spending that time getting up with her repeatedly after we’ve put her to bed.

Overall, I think reading this book gave me more confidence in what we were already doing. No, my toddler doesn’t sleep through the night one hundred per cent of the time. And that might be the case for months longer. Maybe years (though I hope not!). But it’s also the case for many other families and it doesn’t mean anything’s wrong with ours. In the meantime, if you’re willing to put in the time for a few rough nights, there are some things you can do to make things better.

Reading with Pearl: The Ferryboat Ride by Robert Perry, illustrated by Greta Guzek

The Ferryboat Ride - Robert Perry, illustrated by Greta Guzek (Nightwood Editions, 1993)

The Ferryboat Ride – Robert Perry, illustrated by Greta Guzek (Nightwood Editions, 1993)

This is a thoroughly West Coast book. All about riding the B.C. Ferries, an experience well known to anyone who lives on our little peninsula here. Pearl rode the Queen of Surrey for the first time when she was just three days old, on her way home from the hospital in Vancouver. Fittingly, we barely missed the previous ferry and had to wait two hours for the next one, sitting in our car, first in line. We told Pearl that she had better get used to waiting around for ferries.

Robert Perry’s simple rhymes, accompanied by Greta Guzek’s distinctive illustrations show an idyllic view of this trip. And it is a beautiful trip. While locals may complain about our marine highway, the ride can be as magical as this children’s book portrays it. It’s not uncommon to spot whales, to wave at kayakers, or to simply enjoy the sun and wind on the deck.

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Guzek’s style is instantly recognizable and she’s a Sunshine Coast artist who’s well known in these parts. Nightwood Editions is also based here on the Coast. While the book obviously appeals to locals, I think it’s charms would translate well to anyone who likes being by the sea. I’ve given it as a gift to people with children in order to encourage them to come visit!

Book Review: Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

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Revolutionary Road – Richard Yates (Vintage Contemporaries, 2008)

Unhappy suburban families in the 1950s has become something of a cliche, but it’s easy to imagine that Richard Yates before the cliches began. He certainly is able to avoid them.

Frank and April Wheeler are in their late twenties, have two children, and live in Connecticut. Frank works in New York City and April stays home to take care of the house and kids. They’ve settled down to the domestic life expected of them, even if it’s not the life they thought they would live.

This book is entirely unexpected. While Frank and April engage in some of the cliches you might expect – affairs, vicious fights, unplanned pregnancies – they are far from cliches themselves. The story slowly unfolds their personalities, their histories, and Yates draws their lives so that what begins to happen to them and between them seems inevitable.

Frank and April met when they were young, rebelling against the societal expectations surrounding them and enjoying that – mentally at least – they hadn’t bought into it all. An unexpected pregnancy sets them on a more domestic course and within a few years they find themselves living in the suburbs, wondering if change is possible anymore. It’s a question most of us have asked at one time or another in our lives. When do the daily boring things you do and dislike – your job, your household chores – become all there is to you? When your inner life stops effecting your outer life, does it still count? Does it still matter? And is it too late?

The Wheelers hatch a plan to change their lives and here the tension of the novel only grows. Because it seems clear that this will never succeed. Not because the plan is unreasonable but because Yates steadily creates two characters who are undeniably unstable. You can’t help reading in a state of unease, waiting for the inevitable downfall and implosion. Yet even while it feels expected, that implosion has some pretty shocking consequences. Yates manages to be both true to the characters he’s created and still show us brand new things about them.

The book is bleak and sad and beautifully written. It won’t make you want to buy a house in the ‘burbs but it might make you more thankful for your own simple life.

Reading with Pearl: Janet & Allan Ahlberg

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One of the fun things about being a parent is getting to re-discover things you yourself loved as a child and being able to introduce them to your own kid. The books of Janet and Allan Ahlberg definitely fall into this category for me.

My favourites by the Ahlbergs were the Jolly Postman series – books filled with letters and jokes and funny references to classic tales. While Pearl’s still a little young for the Jolly Postman, she can definitely enjoy other offerings from Janet and Allan Ahlbergs.

These are the two books that we have in our collection, both board books (perfect for my not-always-gentle little girl). Each Peach Pear Plum is a rhyming story filled with fairy tale characters like Cinderella and Baby Bunting. Kids familiar with fairy tales and classic children’s rhymes will find lots to recognize and each page contains a simple search-and-find.

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Peek-a-Boo (or Peepo for the UK audience) follows a baby through his day, talking about what he sees. The illustrations are full of interesting details and are delightfully old-fashioned.

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These are favourites in our household and will be, I think, for years to come.

Book Review: Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein

Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library - Chris Gravenstein (Yearling, 2014)

Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library – Chris Gravenstein (Yearling, 2014)

I read this book in the hopes of finding a good read to give to my niece for her 11th birthday. (Don’t worry, her birthday is past and I don’t think she reads my blog anyway so I’m not ruining a surprise!) I wanted to get her something fun, not overly challenging but just a little bit, and with an adventure to it. I didn’t want it to be scary or to involve kids whose parents die/have died/are missing (which turns out to be a surprisingly difficult criteria!) In the end, I think this book fits what I was looking for quite nicely. If anything, it might be an overly simplistic read for an 11-year-old (age range could probably be 8-12 years) but there are lots of book references that, I think, will be new to her. Also, the characters are all twelve and I find having a book with older characters goes a long way for most kids!

Kyle Keeley is a kid who loves games – board games, video games, you name it – and doesn’t love reading very much. While he initially ignores the essay contest that will grant him early entrance to the grand opening of Alexandriaville, Ohio’s new library, he enters at the last minute when he learns the library’s benefactor is the eccentric Mr. Lemoncello, the man behind many of Kyle’s favourite games. What starts as a sleepover in the library turns into a grand, complicated, and somewhat educational quest to make their way out of the library.

From an adult perspective, the story here isn’t hugely thrilling.  Kyle and his friends work as a team to figure out clues, solve puzzles, and learn more about books. You can probably guess how it all ends. But the story is fun and creative and full of references to books new and old. It could be a great starting place for putting together a reading list and encouraging kids to find new books at their own local libraries. There are lists at the end of the book of all of the titles referenced, which would make a fantastic summer reading list.

The book draws obvious comparisons to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (and is self-aware enough to know this) but Mr. Lemoncello lacks that certain quality that makes Willy Wonka so memorable. Mr. Lemoncello is quirky but not much more. That said, I think the intended audience will enjoy him and be wowed by many of the fictional library’s impressive features. (They may not laugh out loud at the idea of a world famous librarian like I did but we all have different library experiences.)

The book has a sequel, Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics, which I also bought for my niece but didn’t read. So if your young reader enjoys Kyle and Mr. Lemoncello, you have many directions in which to point him or her.

Book Review: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Cutting for Stone - Abraham Verghese (Vintage Canada, 2010)

Cutting for Stone – Abraham Verghese (Vintage Canada, 2010)

I had put off reading Cutting for Stone for quite some time, mostly, I think, from a fear that it couldn’t live up to its hype. The good news is, it definitely can and does

The book is set in Addis, Ethiopa in the 1950s and 60s. Knowing very little about that time and place, I found Verghese’s descriptions fascinating. He draws the city well – its disparate backgrounds and all the unique history and colonialism that shaped it. After reading about it, I felt like I wanted to visit Ethiopia. The central setting of the novel is Missing Hospital (officially “Mission Hospital” but known as Missing locally). The story opens with a surprise birth – a nun who works at the hospital has gone into labour, despite the fact no one knew she was pregnant. Identical twin boys, Shiva and Marion, are born as their mother dies and their father flees.

Verghese is a doctor in his own real life and it shows in his writing. He doesn’t shy away from detailed, realistic, and graphic descriptions of illness, surgery, and anatomy. I don’t think of myself as a squeamish person but I did find a lot of it hard to read. I’m simply not used to having the interiors of human beings described in such rich detail and so found it difficult to read some of the lengthier descriptions. Medicine is a big part of  the story though. Shiva and Marion are raised in the hospital, among the patients, by two doctors. Illness and healing shape their lives in a myriad of ways and are hard things to avoid. While for most readers, I think Verghese is overly detailed in this aspect, a lot of it is interesting and, again, he does a good job of explaining things.

Marion is our narrator and Verghese really brings to life the strange and incredibly close bond of these twin brothers. How natural it feels to them and yet how it can slowly unravel over time. The story spans years of Shiva and Marion’s lives (almost all, in fact) as well as mapping out a crucial and tumultuous period of Ethiopian history. The political background is important and, again, Verghese does a good job of explaining what the reader needs to know without either over-explaining or speaking down to us.

I did feel that the book went on a touch too long. There were at least two places where it could have ended and been a complete book and although what came after wasn’t bad I wonder how much it really added to the story. Without giving anything away, I found the story wound up a little too tidily. Verghese seems to lean a bit much on an emotional rollercoaster technique as climax rather than letting his excellent characters and writing find their ending more naturally. That said, Cutting for Stone is still well worth a read.

Our Summer So Far

Our summer got off to a hectic start and things are just beginning to settle down again.

At the tail end of June, we headed to the Okanagan for a wedding. We left directly after Peter got off work on the Friday and drove straight, taking the Coquihalla Highway. (Well, one stop of burgers at Five Guys in Chilliwack, in the pouring rain. I’ll be honest, I don’t miss living there but I do like Five Guys.) We arrived in Okanagan Falls way past Pearl’s bedtime to discover that the hotel we were staying at was above a bar. Pro-parenting tip: Don’t stay in a hotel above a bar with your baby. Rough night.

Fortunately, the next morning we found an awesome diner across the street and made our way to the lake-beach a few blocks away.

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The beach (and the playground) was more mud than sand but there was also a splash pad where Pearl had a blast running through water and kicking the spray. Then we all went back to the hotel and had naps before the wedding.

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This is the only picture I took of this beautiful, garden wedding but others caught some pictures of the three of us so I hope to share a couple soon (Along with the conclusion of my 30 Day Dress Challenge. I know, I know.) The weather was perfect and the ceremony and reception were held in a lovely garden with games planned in between. The bride and groom had a lot of thoughtful touches – including goodie bags for the kids!

After breakfast the next morning, we headed home. We opted the more scenic, southern route, which took us through several small towns along the way.

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Our original plan was to take our time on the way back and stop in a few spots. But when Pearl fell asleep leaving Penticton we decided to just keep driving. Of course, you can’t leave the Okanagan in the summertime without fresh fruit so we did make a lightning quick stop at a fruit stand in Keremeos for blueberries and cherries.

Pearl woke up as we drove through Manning Park so we stopped for a late picnic lunch and to look at ground squirrels.

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An important feature of every childhood road trip through British Columbia.

An important feature of every childhood road trip through British Columbia.

We made it to the ferry terminal with enough time for an ice cream break before getting on the boat (Pearl’s second time. She’s a fan.) and then home and to bed where we all slept through the night.

We had a few days of work and home time and Canada Day.

Last week, Peter was away for a few days so I took Pearl into Vancouver. She had her latest check-up at Children’s Hospital and we stayed with family for two nights and got to catch up with friends.

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Like these two who I’ve been friends with since I was seven years old! Pearl was definitely past her bed time here but she did really well the whole week and got to hang out with all of her cousins.

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I lived in Vancouver for fifteen years but four years in a small town on the Sunshine Coast mean that I’m not quite used to the hustle and bustle of the big city anymore. I’d also forgotten that smiling at and greeting people on the street or on public transit is not normal. I used our stroller a lot but for busier locations, the Ergo was great for our introverted little girl.

Our hospital visit went well. I’ve accepted that returning to Children’s Hospital will always be filled with emotions for me and so I was more prepared for it this time. Pearl’s test results on her kidneys, while not perfect, were good and a slight improvement on last autumn’s. Her kidney function is good and one is almost completely normal now. Most importantly, Pearl continues to be symptom-free from her hydronephrosis. I met with the renal specialist who said there’s no reason to do surgery now or, most likely, ever and we’ll simply continue to monitor her kidneys.

Pearl and I headed home on Thursday, arriving home shortly after Peter. And so, this week, our summer begins in earnest. I think it’s going to look like this:

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And some of this:

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And a whole lot of other fun!

Reading with Pearl: Actual Size by Steve Jenkins

IMG_7125(Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004)

Steve Jenkins does all kinds of creative and interesting books for children about the natural world. His book Actual Size lets children get up close and personal with wild animals in a unique way. The premise is simple but fascinating: every picture of an animal in the book is the actual size of that animal in real life. From the pygmy shrew on the first page (2 inches long) to the saltwater crocodile (23 feet long) whose head and jaw folds out over three pages, each animal is shown in its true-to-life size.

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A crocodile is bigger than my dining room table.

Obviously some of those animals are shown more completely than others but it’s a really fun way for kids to see just how big (or how small) some of these creatures are. You can compare your tooth size with a Siberian Tiger or your eyeball with a giant squid or imagine how many dwarf gobys could fit in the palm of your hand.

For any kid interested in animals and the natural world, Jenkins’ art is a great, simple introduction.

Reading with Pearl: Home by Carson Ellis

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Home – Carson Ellis (Candlewick Press, 2015)

Pearl’s favourite books are the ones with the stock photos of babies. You know the ones, generic babies of various ethnicities doing generic baby things like taking baths and wearing hats. She loves them and coos over those babies like she’s looking at herself. (Which I guess is the point.) I, on the other hand, am a sucker for a well-illustrated children’s book. Hopefully Pearl will grow in her art appreciation.

We were given this beautifully illustrated picture book as a gift when Pearl was just a few months old. I recognized Carson Ellis‘ work from her illustrations for The Decemberists but didn’t know that she had done so much art for children. (She also did the illustrations for The Mysterious Benedict Society.)

This book is simple and sweet and really all about the illustrations.

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Ellis presents different homes – some realistic, some whimsical – each one intricately portrayed. It feels like it should rhyme but it doesn’t. With an older child it could spark a fun or thoughtful conversation about where people live and how different those places can be. We’ve got everything here from a Slovakian duchess to a raccoon so there are endless imaginative possibilities and that’s one of my favourite things in a book for children.