Sunday, July 21, 2013

It's so fluffy!

We are big fans of the movie “Despicable Me” in our house. Not just the kids, I enjoy it as well. My favorite character in this film has to be the youngest child, Agnes Gru, who oozes energy. Her three year old exuberance and naivety are endearing as she takes in the world around her. This little bit loves life. And unicorns. During the movie, she receives a stuffed unicorn and screams, “It’s so fluffy!” as she hugs the life out of her new furry friend. 

You just can’t help but smile watching her excitement. Agnes has life figured out, whether we realize it or not. Sure, she believes in mythical single-horned creatures but this little girl, she gets it. The big IT. She embraces life with every inch of her tiny body. She takes chances, trusts deeply, and laughs often. 

In the recent days I have been Agnes. My unicorn came in a different shape and size but my excitement level rivals hers. Last week, I was offered the position of Extension Services Specialist with the St. Charles City-County Library. Fortunately, I found the self-control to accept the position before initiating my happy dance which resembles more of an out-of-the-body, gyrating traumatic experience. Fortunately, no one else was home. 

With my new role as the Extension Services Specialist, I get to take my love for literacy, learning, nonprofit work, and outreach services and wrap all that up in one beautiful package. And friends, let me tell you, it is so fluffy! 

Check out the St. Charles City-County Library Foundation at

Friday, July 12, 2013

Hard Rewards

    This has been a summer of hard reading. I’ve picked books I knew would be a challenge for a variety of reasons and set my goal on tackling each and every one of them. And I am winning. My happy dance is occurring right now at my computer desk and chair, be glad you cannot actually see it firsthand. Just go with me in spirit. 

    So what have I been reading? Well, today I am going to write about just a couple of them, starting with Veronica Roth’s Divergent and Insurgent. Two of the older girls participating in the week-long creative writing class I taught raved about the first book, Divergent. I mean they went on and on about it in a way that only teenage girls can. I checked it out on Goodreads and learned it is a dystopian science-fiction. My first reaction involved vigorous head shaking indicating refusal. But if you recall my New Year’s Resolution was to read more broadly and in more genres so I decided to give it a try. 

    Divergent is the first in this trilogy by newer author Veronica Roth. A fast-paced novel with a sixteen year old heroine, this work has definite appeal for the YA audiences. Beatrice, the main character, is flawed just enough for most of us to relate to her but is also profoundly determined and stubborn, qualities many of us enjoy in characters. I found a lot of comparisons to the Hunger Games both in theme and style. I read Insurgent after finishing book one but have not read the third installment yet, mainly because the library does not have it and I am not willing to buy it. While I did not feel the second book compared well to the first, I gave Divergent 4 stars on Goodreads based on its endearment to the YA audiences, its careful avoidance of promiscuity (which I appreciate as a mother and a teacher), high energy pacing, and strong characters. 

    While Roth’s books were easy to read in terms of style rather than appeal, the other book for today was a challenge on another level. I just finished The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe. Wow. Hard.Core. 

    I kept seeing Schwalbe’s story pop up in recommended lists on Amazon, Goodreads, and the like but for months, I avoided it. Even after I took the plunge and ordered it, I just wasn’t sure I was ready to actually crack the spine. After all, this book is about watching someone you love slowly die right before your eyes. This theme hits kind of close to home for me, except that I am on the other side of it. 

    The End of Your Life Book Club is a true-story written as a memoir by a son, cataloging the informal book club shared by his mother and him during the last two years of her life. It is a profoundly moving tale, describing the conversations shared between the duo, often using books as springboard for deeper discussions on the meaning of life. 

    So much of what makes this story unique and special is learning about Mary Anne Schwalbe as a woman both before she became ill and after. A tireless advocate for refugees, literacy, women, and children, she traveled the world championing her causes before growing ill. Even as her Stage 4 pancreatic cancer progressed, she continued to focus her efforts on building a library in Afghanistan, no small task in that. Clever, determined, slightly-controlling, and a true matriarch, Mary Anne led a life well-lived until the end. We have the pleasure of learning about her and the entire Schwalbe family through this memoir. 

    In addition, because books are central to everything the family does, we are introduced to works from every genre and authors, new and old. Mary Anne and Will’s book club, often held at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, weaves together topics to life, death, right, and wrong through literature. And in typical Mary Anne style, it’s always about the endings because she reads those first!

    I gave The End of Your Life Book Club 4 stars on Goodreads. In all honesty, the only reason I didn’t give it 5 was because at times I found the story stalled and moved a little too slow. I am also not overly-religious and while I respect Mary Anne was, I did not relate to these aspects of the work. Overall, I loved reading this hard story, reflecting on the journey, and hoping that in the end, mine will be a life well-lived too.

Monday, July 1, 2013

What should we do?

    Despite the mild weather we’ve been blessed with, it is indeed summer. I know this because I have four kids at home on summer break. Yes, four of them – all day, every day, ranging in ages ten to sixteen. I am tasked with a lot of creative entertaining. For those of you facing the endless barrage of “What should we do now?” questions, I have three words for you: summer reading programs. 
     We live in St. Peters, less than a mile from the Spencer Road Library. This branch is part of the St. Charles City-County Library system which hosts a fantastic summer reading program for readers of every age. This year's program is called Dig Into Reading. Here are my top ten reasons for checking out the library’s programs.

   1. It’s free! No additional comments needed. 

   2. Any additional reading helps prevent the dreaded summer-slide. Kids lose a lot of ground over the long break, regardless of their starting point. Programs like this keep them engaged, their minds working, and limit regression. 

   3. The programs help keep the kids busy. Different ages and grade levels have varied expectations but the end result is the same, the kids are occupied with something other than television or video games. 

   4. The kids are quiet. Think what you want, but sometimes we just need a little quiet time. If they are reading, they are not talking (or yelling, singing, humming, whistling, etc). 

   5. There are prizes! I vividly recall the day last year when we trooped to Sonic to redeem all our ice cream coupons. For five glorious minutes we sat quietly in the car at Sonic, enjoying a creamy dessert. Those were beautiful minutes. Each of the kids has also received a free new book of their choosing over the past few years. The big kids, i.e. the grown-ups, aren’t left out either though. This year we received a green zippered bag. Fun and functional!

   6. There is a great sense of accomplishment when you turn in your reading log. We all need to set goals and work toward them. It feels fantastic to meet them and help your kids work toward meeting their goals. 

   7. Countless fresh conversations spark all around the house as a result of new books read. I find myself soliciting advice from my oldest daughters for selections and vice versa.  

   8. The kids see us reading and honestly, I think this is hugely important. We have always been avid readers, but the programs remind us to take more time to read each day with our kids. 

   9. You can use your reading minutes to double dip on different reading programs including Take 20 and Read. I wrote a blog post about this county-wide initiative a few months ago. If you haven’t checked out this program, please do so. There is great stuff happening in our community! 

   10. It’s free!

Our library has amazing programs throughout the year. Check out your library and see what it is available. You might be surprised by what you find!  

Photo Credit: St. Charles City-County Library District