KAM Reads

A lover of writing and reading shares her favorite books

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Friday Flicks: Series of Unfortunate Events

I wouldn’t normally do this, but I must advise that you close this browser window immediately and begin watching “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” on Netflix right now. Go ahead. I’ll wait. It will only take you eight hours or so to get through it.

unfortunate-eventsI will confess that I have only read two of the books. My husband has read some to my kids, but I just never got around to continuing the series. If these shows are any indication, it is clear that I need to rectify that immediately.

The cast. It really all came down to the cast for me. As soon as I saw Neil Patrick Harris I knew I had to watch. Patrick Warburton was a brilliant choice for Lemony Snicket. That deep growl and stony face is ideal for the narration. The actors playing Violet and Klaus are well cast and are played as smart, creative, likeable kids that you immediately root for. And the two episode stints of Aasif Mandvi as Montgomery Montgomery and Joan Cusack as Justice Strauss were wonderful. I was sorry to see those end, but I have Alfre Woodard to look forward to. And more Will Arnett?

I’ve been watching with my 12 year old and he would have absolutely watched the eight episodes all in one day. I’ve been able to slow him down enough that we’ve only watched the first four. Of course, that also bought me the time to start the show with my 10 year old so I get to see each of them twice. Pat on the back for mom.


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Picture Book Weekends: Sit-In

It’s Black History Month and I am fortunate that our local library is full of engaged, enthusiastic librarians who curate amazing collections.

I wish I had taken a picture of their Black History Month display. I think my favorite part was the biography of Beyonce that was next to the biography of Maya Angelou. That mostly just made me smile. But, as usual, they knocked me out with their picture book selection.

This book is a few years old (2010) but it had escaped my attention until now. It’s called “Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down” by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney. The book paid tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Woolworth’s lunch counter sit-in.

sit-inFour black college students, taking to heart Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words to “meet hate with love,” sat down at a lunch counter at a Woolworth’s department store in Greensboro, North Carolina on February 1, 1960. They sat, quietly and peacefully, waiting to be served coffee and doughnuts, knowing the policy was “Whites Only.”

The police came but did not do anything as they were just sitting, not violating any law. The restaurant closed instead of serving them. The next day more students joined them: polite, well-dressed, and peaceful. Protests spread to lunch counters all over the south. People grew angry and attacked the young people, but they did not respond. They continued to be peaceful. White students joined the protests, sitting in solidarity with their friends. The sheer numbers led to arrests, out of fear of what could happen. Boycotts and protests finally led to integration of many businesses, just so the businesses could stay alive. The book ends with a recipe for change and an excellent timeline of the Civil Rights movement.

I loved how Pinkney was able to distill challenging concepts like segregation into very simple, easy-to-understand words for elementary age students. Showing the students at the lunch counters doing homework reminded us that these were real kids, kids with every day lives, who were tired of the way things were. The interspersing of Dr. King’s words were powerful. The illustrations had a sketch-like quality with simple colors and bold lines.

This would be a great classroom book for elementary school teachers.

Other Picture Book Weekends books have included: Star Stuff, 365 Penguins and The Gigantic Turnip.  Other posts about picture books have featured The Red Book, Dog Loves Drawing, and Iggy Peck, Architect.


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I Believe Wednesday: Nature

It’s been a week since my last post, but at least it means that I can pick up where I left off!

It’s not really that I believe in nature. I mean, who doesn’t? It exists. What I actually believe in is the healing that nature can bring.

I am someone who finds peace in nature. When my heart feels its greatest pain or my worry feels larger than I can bear, nature is what helps me find a way to move forward.

I’m fortunate to have a backyard that backs up to a small stretch of woods. It lets me escape and refocus even if I have just a few minutes. My walk to my daughter’s school at drop off and pick up time also brings me through a wooded trail. I think, refocus, rebound. Just a short distance away we have conservation land and ponds. These are wonderful and I value them, but what I really crave is BIG nature.

The two places that bring me the greatest comfort are the ocean and the sky. Looking out over the gray-blue waves (or brilliant blue on a lucky day), draws me in. I find my breath deepening, my shoulders relaxing. The smell of the salt air, the shifting sand, the rhythm of the seas. My mind spins, but in different ways. Instead of the perpetual t0-do list racing through my mind, I marvel at the expanse, the sheer beauty.

nationalgeographicnaturepoetryAs for sky, it is, in particular, a night sky. No matter the weather, I love to stop for a bit outside, staring at the deepest, darkest night, pierced with shockingly bright beams. I observe the shape of the moon and seek out the few constellations I remember. And it too heals, because it reminds me of how much there is beyond, and how little my problems are in the grand scheme of the universe. It reminds me that we are all in this together — that we are all part of a single world and I have to always think about how my choices and actions and priorities impact others.

Where do you find your peace? When you have a moment when you seek nature, where do you go?

Past I Believe Wednesday posts include: I Believe Wednesday: Kindness, I Believe Wednesdays: Imagination and I Believe Wednesday: Take a Chance.

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Take Action Tuesday: BAKE!

I love to cook. The cleaning up part may not be my favorite, but the actual cooking is something I love.

Today is an unexpected snow day here in our neck of the woods. The weather was messier than expected and the “no big deal,” turned into a “two hour school delay,” turned into “SNOW DAY!”

This coincides with the echoing refrigerator in my house. It is really, really empty. Shockingly so for a house with five people. And thus, I bake. A quick soup and some fresh bread makes me look far more put together than I actually am.


Today’s recipe source is The Panera Bread Cookbook. I’m the kind of person who actually loves to read cookbooks. All the better when there are little stories or musings on the recipes inside. This is more of a straight-up cookbook but has excellent info on baking technique, particularly around shaping breads.

Some are disappointed that it doesn’t have the items found on Panera’s menu. It really is more about bread, and some other types of items which transform the bread you’ve made (like crostini or French toast.)

Honestly, this is not about the particular book for me. There are amazing baking books out there. Today, it’s just about the act of creating.

My mom never bought bread from fall to spring — fresh baked only. This wasn’t about being earthy or healthy or back to nature. It was that she did the calculation and figured out that she could bake it for a lot cheaper than buying and money was tight. I remember hating the store bought bread that appeared in the summer. (In the summer we lived in a cabin on a lake — and I really mean a cabin. This was not a summer home or a second house. It was a camp, as we say back home, with an outhouse and no potable running water. Water was carried in jugs that we filled from the spigot at the store or at our house on the weekly shopping/laundry trip. But I’ve digressed. More about that another day. The bottom line is that it wasn’t exactly a place that baking regularly would have been easy.)

Back to the idea of today as a day of creating. Right now my kids are lying on the floor together, each with a sketch book, drawing superheroes. (This has never actually happened before. Shhh….They often play together but this drawing together thing is new.) I’m about to grab my notebook to get down some ideas for a couple book projects. And in the background is some music, the scent of baking bread, and lightly falling snow.

Talk about a day to renew spirits.

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My Day, Monday: Youth Media Awards!

This is an exciting day for book lovers. Today the American Library Association announced the Youth Media Awards at their conference in Atlanta. For those of us with To Be Read book stacks that rival the Empire State Building, it can be an unsettling time. How can I add even one more book to my list, and yet, how can I not?

The list is long, but these are some of the most prestigious awards granted in this field: the Newbery, Caldecott, Coretta Scott King awards and more. There are awards for overall contributions to children’s literature, as well as for specific awards for authors; illustrators; lifetime achievement; books that highlight the experiences of African Americans, Latinos, people with disabilities; video; and more.

Among the highlights for me:

newbery2017_drankmoonThe John Newbery Medal went to “The Girl Who Drank the Moon” by Kelly Barnhill. This “coming-of-age fairy tale” tells of a girl, intended as a sacrifice for a witch, who becomes imbued with magic from the moon and must courageously fight to defend those who have protected her. The book is recommended for grades 4-6.

Newbery Honor Books included Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan,” “The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog,” and “Wolf Hollow.” “Freedom Over Me” was also a Corretta Scott King Honor Book award winner for author and for illustrator.

caldecott2017_basquiatThe Randolph Caldecott Medal was awarded to “Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat” written and illustrated by Javaka Steptoe. I have long been entranced by Basquiat so I’m excited to see this one. Steptoe was also the winner of the Coretta Scott King (Illustrator) Book Award.

The Coretta Scott King (Author) Book Award honors an African-American author and illustrator. The award very rightly went to “March: Book Three,” written by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell. This entire series is a must-read. “March: Book Three” also received the Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in literature written for young adults, the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award for informational books for children, and the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults.

I’m looking forward to reading the Schneider Family Book Award winner f0r books for ages 0-10, “Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille,” written by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Boris Kulikov. The Schneider award honors books that “embody an artistic expression of the disability experience.” The winner for middle grades was “as brave as you,” written by Jason Reynolds. The teen book winner was “When We Collided,” written by Emery Lord.

riordan_awardThe one I hadn’t paid enough attention to in advance was the biggest surprise and joy for me. “Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Hammer of Thor,” written by Rick Riordan, was honored with the Stonewall Book Award for “children’s and young adult books of exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender experience.” My son and I are HUGE Rick Riordan fans. We’ve heard him speak three times and have everything he’s written for kids. We are delighted to see him earn this honor.


The full list of awards can be found here.

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Picture Book Weekends: Star Stuff

snowathomeThis computer is out to get me. Seriously. I was without it for FIVE days because that’s how long it now takes to put a battery into a Mac laptop. I won’t rant about that topic anymore, but really? REALLY?  Anyway, I finally got my baby back last week. Last night I was about to plug it in to charge and discovered a split in the charging cord. So, now I have a great, brand spanking new battery, but my power level is on the verge of nothing because I can’t recharge. Another trip to the Apple store ahead.

But it’s a beautiful snowy day here in New England. Except if you check the weather. Until an hour ago, the report still said it wasn’t snowing. But what I see out my window is that big, fluffy kind of snow that drifts in the wind and makes you want to curl up with a book and a cup of tea. (Of course, I want to curl up with a book and a cup of tea every day. But that’s another story.)


This weekend’s (delayed) picture book recommendation is Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos by Stephanie Roth Sisson. While I gave the book to my kids when I bought it, the reality is that it was really a gift for my husband.

My husband LOVES “Cosmos” and Carl Sagan and all things space and science. He was definitely born to be an engineer. Listening to him talk to the kids about math and science makes me so happy, because I want them to not only learn the concepts, but understand why it is exciting and magical and important. (I was a bio major and so these topics are also near and dear to my heart.)

I adore this picture book because, like so many of my favorites, it is smart and thought-provoking and treats kids like human beings who can think deep thoughts and make sense of things.

The book opens with a Carl Sagan quote, “Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere.”

The book introduces us to a young Carl Sagan, growing up in an apartment in Brooklyn, NY. With very few words, and simple, elegant drawings, Sagan’s curiosity about the world is captured beautifully. The text deftly changes pace, beginning with a slow, building cadence to points where the language seems to leap with excitement, speeding you through as if you are racing for information like Sagan. Then it slows again, becomes almost contemplative, as Sagan’s thoughts and goals become deeper.

Even the layout changes as the ideas get bigger. After a few traditional page designs, the book suddenly turns to a two page vertical design, highlighting the idea of the expansiveness of space. Then it returns to traditional designs, and then opens up again to a two page layout. There is even a fold-out spread that provides three full pages of vertical space.

This is a wonderful way to introduce kids to the idea of thinking big and being aware of just how very big the world beyond is. And when life seems overwhelming, just remember, “The Earth and every living thing are made of star stuff.” — Carl Sagan

“What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”   —- Carl Sagan, Cosmos
Books in past “Picture Book Weekend” posts: 365 Penguins and The Gigantic Turnip.
Other posts about picture books included The Red Book, Dog Loves Drawing, and Iggy Peck, Architect.

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When Fear Wins

Today is a day to plumb the depths of my heart, to find the place where love lives and hope resides. To protect it, to care for it, to nurture it.

Today is a day to reach deep into my soul, to find peace.

Today is a day to extend my hand to friends, to those I care for, to those who are afraid and hurting.

But right now, my fear is invading, pressing down on me. It is easier to be afraid of something, something concrete and specific. I can face that. Fight that. Raise my fist against it. But this. This is harder.

I am afraid of my own fear, how it is possessing me, restricting me. Hope can’t find its way forward. Isolated.

Usually this is the moment I come forth with the happy ending, how the story turned, how it all became right again. My natural optimism providing strength to see the good. But not today.

Today I am letting myself be. Be angry. Be sad. Be afraid. Be bitter. Be mournful.

Tomorrow I will open my eyes. I will start again. I will move forward because I must, because people depend on me to do so. Because I need to find my way forward. Because I can’t live in this gloom.

But today. Today I let fear win.