Monday, October 22, 2007

art explorations

art activities: 16-22 October

I'm not done with this post, but I need to post it today for the First Unplugged Project. I'll finish it up tomorrow.

First Unplugged Project

Thanks to Mom Unplugged for suggesting this group project and to Jenny for spreading the word!

On Friday, Eliza and I went to the Quail Botanical Gardens to enjoy a pleasant couple hours and also to be on the look-out for anything on the ground with an interesting texture. I only ended up bringing back three items: a fern frond, a Magnolia leaf, and a whatchamacallit from Araucaria columnaris, the New Caledonia Pine native to Australia.

Eliza spent a few minutes on it today, then lost interest. I'm keeping it out just in case she's more in the mood to try more later. She has been very unfocused today. I think being housebound due to the wildfires has made us all a little stir-crazy. So far, our neighborhood is not threatened (the high school is serving as an evacuation center), but the neighborhoods immediately north and east of ours are under mandatory evacuation orders.

Early Scissors Experience: Stage 3 - Paper Factory

This was just a simple activity to work on scissors coordination. Eliza has her own pair of blunt-tipped scissors that she can use at any time with supervision. Usually, I give her junk mail to cut up, but on Monday and Wednesday of last week, I gave her patterned tissue paper and semi-heavy card stock for a change of texture and color.

Snow Paint

The snow is simply a mixture of flour, salt, and water, which looks like slush on black paper.

This paper was the one she was most proud to show to her daddy when he got home from work. "Look, I made snow!" Funnily enough, Eliza has never touched snow in her life - she has only seen snowflakes and snowmen through picture books.

Here's a video of the process.

Zooming Wheels

I uploaded a video to YouTube, but I haven't figured out how to embed it here yet, and I didn't take a still photo. Eliza took her wooden cars, dipped them in washable tempera paint, and zoomed all over the paper.

First Rubbings

Usually I stay out of Eliza's art explorations, but this time I did about a quarter of the rubbings because she isn't familiar with them, looked confused, and asked for help. Once she saw that patterns emerge when you scribble with the chalk, she thought it was a great activity - she still didn't get it (she would say before scribbling on a random patch, "now I'm going to make a key!"), but she found it entertaining.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

diva's 3rd birthday

My baby girl is 3!

All she said she wanted for her birthday was cake and for kids to sing "Happy Birthday." Since we weren't having a party for her, we got permission from her Thursday playgroup to bring cupcakes.

On the left are "cookies 'n' cream" and on the right are "pumpkin chocolate chip with cinnamon icing" (both from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World) - the latter I managed to make soy-free. I liked the chocolate ones better (of course), but Eliza really enjoyed both! And it looked like the others kids liked them, too.

Eliza had a great time Thursday. There was a tie-dye project, but she was too distracted by the swimming pool and other kids.

Thanks to Jen for the great photos from Thursday (posted with permission). My camcorder was missing its memory card, so I couldn't take my own photos, so that's why these are actually in focus.

On Friday, her actual birthday, her dad took the day off work. We started out the day at music class (as we do every Friday morning) where Miss Carol ended class with "Happy Birthday" on the resonator bars. Eliza looks still and quiet, but it really made an impression on her. She spent nearly a week talking about the playgroup kids and Miss Carol and the whole puppet theater audience singing "Happy Birthday" to her. Extended celebration indeed.

After music class, we had some down time at home before going to the puppet theater in Balboa Park to see a bilingual show of "The Little Red Hen" and "The Rabbit on the Moon." There was a sign at the box office to notify them of a child's birthday, so besides the song, Eliza got a coupon for a free visit and a giraffe finger puppet.

We had planned to visit the pumpkin patch in the post-nap afternoon, but poor Chris was out for hours until early evening for what I thought would be a very short errand. One of us had to pick up the monthly co-op goodies and the other had to bake a cake - we both thought he got the quicker job. I baked "apple cardamom cake with lemon-maple frosting" (Vive le Vegan!), and it wasn't terribly attractive with that beige frosting, but it was so good - moist and a little dense like carrot cake. It was more nutritious than the cupcakes with considerably less sugar, but then again, we didn't have a big group with which to share. We each had a slice a day until it was gone.

Finally, we made it to the pumpkin patch on Sunday. The above photo is from the hay ride, which Eliza thought was fantastic (see crinkled nose). Eliza was so excited to pick out her own pumpkins (to paint). Chris and I each got one to carve, and threw in a white one that we'll stuff with chili and bake.

I managed to make it through her birthday without crying (although I almost lost it when I said good-night to my 2-year-old knowing I'd wake up to a 3-year-old).

Monday, October 15, 2007

kidlit blogger recommendations

This post has been sitting in draft for two weeks now! I really have been slacking on blogging and book reviews - it's part laziness, part paralyzing perfectionism.

I get so many wonderful book recommendations from other blogs. I told myself I'd post about them more than a month ago but never got around to it. Besides noting where I heard of these books, I did write reviews, intending to paste them into a blog entry and add further comments on Eliza's reactions, but it has been so long now, that I'd better post the reviews as-is.

I know the high star marks make it look like I'm really easy to please, but of the couple thousand books I've rated on LibraryThing, my average is 3½ (and of the books Eliza hands to me at the library, my average rating would be under 2). 1 is unspeakably awful, 2 is a waste of time, 3 is decent, 4 is very good, 5 is bloody fantastic.

I checked out two books mentioned in Kate's post:

Little Beaver and the Echo, Amy MacDonald

A lonely beaver hears his own echo one day and believing it to be someone also in want of a friends, travels through the pond habitat in search of the echo. Of course, he never does find the echo, but what he does find is something real and meaningful.

The pond ecosystem is illustrated by Sarah Fox-Davies in cozy watercolors. This gentle story of friendship is lovely and understated, sweet but saccharine-free. (ages 2-5) ( )

My Crayons Talk, Patricia Hubbard

This little girl's crayons sure have minds of their own. Each expresses its style:

"Gold brags, 'Fine,
Dress up time.'
Silver toots, 'Grand,
Marching band.'"

The girl's dresses change to match each scene. The mud-pie dress on the brown page made me laugh, although my little city girl hasn't yet heard of cow-pies - she liked the silver page best with its dog and cat playing flute (our last picture book theme was animals making music).

The art is mostly in crayon and suitably playful for the subject. We'll surely revisit this lively book. (ages 2-5) ( )
The following were recommended by Nina:

Once a Mouse: A Fable Cut in Wood, Marcia Brown

Once Upon a Mouse won the 1961 Caldecott medal (awarded for art in picture books), and with its innovative wood cuts, it's easy to see why. The wood-cut art is well-suited to the Indian fable it decorates.

The fable follows an old hermit in the forest who one day saves a mouse from being a crow's prey. Now the mouse's protector, the hermit magically transforms the mouse into larger and larger creatures to avoid threats from other animals. Once a tiger, the former mouse forgets his humble origins and grows arrogant and himself threatening. There's a moral to the fable, of course, but children need not be old enough to understand it to appreciate this story of transformation. (ages 2-6) ( )

Amazing Grace, Mary Hoffman

Amazing Grace's plucky African-American heroine loved stories and acting them out. "And she always gave herself the most exciting part," we are told. With homegrown theatrical magic, she transforms herself into Joan of Arc, Anansi the Spider, Hiawatha, and more. Her imagination did not limit her to roles of her own ethnicity, gender, or species.

When casting for the school play of Peter Pan begins, Grace knows she's right to play Peter, but her classmates try to discourage her, pointing out that Peter is a white boy. Grace's mother and grandmother encourage her, the latter taking her to a ballet performance of Romeo and Juliet starring a beautiful Trinidadian dancer, renewing Grace's determination to audition for Peter Pan.

What's not to love about this book? The story itself is fantastic, the illustrations are top-notch, and the female characters are strong and confident. (ages 3-7) ( )
I didn't review the "My First Little House" series from Jenny's post. We ended up checking out a half dozen. A couple were problematic for our family (e.g. deer hunting), so I had to return them straight away, but Eliza did enjoy the others. Her favorite of the bunch was Dance at Grandpa's. Although I loved the Little House books as a young girl, it was hard to pin down what I would think of these picture books if the originals had never existed - in other words, how much of it is the nostalgia factor?

From another of Jenny's posts, I checked out:

Anno's Counting Book, Mitsumasa Anno

Anno's Counting Book is unlike any other I've seen. It's not boring, or glib, or hit-you-over-the-head obvious. The book begins with zero's barren snow-covered landscape. Each page finds more people, trees, or buildings arriving on the land as settles build up the town. Spring arrives with "three" and the town continues to bloom. By "seven" (July), the little village is in the full swing of summer with its seven pines, seven buildings, seven chimneys, seven children, seven adults, seven cows, seven colors of the rainbow, seven sheets line-drying in the summer breeze, etc. The numbers go up through twelve (December), each page showing not just things to count but the progression of the seasons and village life. (ages 2-7) ( )

Some Things Go Together, Charlotte Zolotow (written), Ashley Wolff (illustrated)

Some Things Go Together is a simple picture book with just 6-7 words per scene, each with rhyming pairs that go together: "Hats with heads / Pillow with beds," "White with snow / Wind with blow," etc. "Me with you" (or "you with me") is mentioned three times. The 1999 Wolff illustrations are sweet and colorful, but I found the text awkward, and my daughter was so bored she didn't care to read it a second time (thank goodness it was a library book). (ages 1-2) ( )

Three Pebbles and a Song, Eileen Spinelli (written), S. D. Schindler (illustrated)

Moses the mouse has a song in his heart and rhythm in his feet. While his parents and sister gather food in preparation for winter, Moses twirls and skitters among the leaves, learns a shicka-whish song to whistle from the wind, and juggles pebbles with a catch-a-toss-catch . . . much to his family's disapproval.

By the time winter arrives, the family has plenty to eat, but boredom soon sets in. Moses' three pebbles and a song are just what the family needs. As the dust jacket reads, "Eileen Spinelli has an especially soft spot for the littlest mouse in this story, who, like herself, understands that play can be just as valuable as work."

S. D. Schindler's gouache and watercolor illustrations on marbelized paper are a charming delight with such exquisite attention to detail. This is a beautiful book and is not to be missed. (ages 2-6) ( )
Here Is the Tropical Rain Forest, Madeleine Dunphy (written), Michael Rothman (illustrated)

Here Is the Tropical Rain Forest is a wonderful introduction to rain forests for preschoolers (but too repetitive with too little information for older kids). Each page builds on the last in "The House That Jack Built" style. Parents may find the text a bit dull, but the gorgeous illustrations will draw in children and adults alike.

At the end of the book is a page with thumbnail illustrations of all the animals met in the previous pages and their official names. A note says they all live in the rain forests of Central and South America, but that's the extent of the information offered. Still, this lovely book is a good antidote to ecophobia-only nature education. (ages 1½-4) ( )

And, finally, this one wasn't a recommendation, but I found it in the library next to the other rain forest book:

Welcome to the Green House, Jane Yolen (written), Laura Regan (illustrated)

Besides having beautiful illustrations (thanks to Laura Regan), Welcome to the Green House has the most marvelous text of any ecology picture book I've read.

The book opens by describing a rain forest as a green house with ropey vines as view-framing windows and fallen leaves as a floor. Yolen's text has a sophisticated simplicity that rolls off the tongue. Onomatopoeia abounds:

"with the high chitter-chitter-rrrrr
of the golden lion tamarin
warning off intruders;
with the kre-ek, kre-ek, kre-ek
of keel-billed toucans
feeding on ripe, sweet figs"

Green House captures the richness of sounds, smells, and sights that is the rain forest. You won't find encyclopedia-like information here, but that belongs in another book - enjoy this one for its beauty. (ages 2-6) ( )

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

dance class: week 2

I have a book post almost ready to go. I had a cold from the weekend through yesterday (my first in almost 2 years), which was really annoying, but at least it was relatively mild and short. Even so, I was a hermit for four days to avoid giving it to others.

I wanted to be absolutely certain Eliza really wanted to go to dance class again. She said last week that she'd had fun, but it wasn't in a bouncing-off-the-walls-thrilled tone of voice. All week I waited until she brought up the subject, and it seemed with each day, she was asking to go back more often and with more urgency. So once I woke up feeling quite well this morning, I told her that dance class happens today. "Would you like to go?" "Oh yeah!!! I want to wear my yee-uh-tard!"

She did much better than last week. She still doesn't wish to participate vocally in the circle that starts and ends class, but she was in great spirits. There were no freak-outs, no requests to go home . . . just smiles. For chassé (last week's "I want to go home..." moment), most of the girls went across the floor with their moms, but once a pair of girls went across giggling. When it was Eliza's turn, I started getting up, but Eliza whispered to me that she didn't want to do it with me. I thought she meant she wanted to skip it, but she hopped to her feet and held her hands out to the little girl next to us and off they went with their chassé full of meandering, laughing, and squealing in delight.

Last week was a free trial, so we had to sign up officially this week and are paid through Halloween. It's still up to her whether to go each week, but if she decides she doesn't want to go half the time in the next four weeks, I probably won't sign her up for the next quarter (Nov. 1 - Jan. 31) as that's a much larger financial commitment.