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Firestar and Presents for Girls

I have three nieces and I take shopping for their Christmas gifts pretty seriously. As the mother of only boys, I guess I’m working out a lot of my feminist angst directly through what I give to my female relatives. (I have feminist angst to spare for the boys, too, I promise.)

Last year around this time, knowing that my nieces love Star Wars, I went on a hunt for a Star Wars-related gift. I was dumb. I typed in “star wars + girl” into the Amazon search field. I don’t know what I was expecting to find – just that I wanted the consumer-driven/stuff-driven society I live in to blow my mind. What I found instead was a Halloween costume for Princess Leia’s bikini from Return of The Jedi. I was pissed, but I figured it was just that Amazon sucked. [Aside: I tried this again right now and things are a little better in 2013. I found R2D2 socks.]

r2d2 socks

Surely there would be other, better places to find what I needed. I tried A Mighty Girl and I tried Think Geek and no one had what I wanted. Which is maybe a harsh way to judge them, because I couldn’t really say what I was looking for. I didn’t want a cooking set, for heaven’s sake, or anything that revolved too much around traditional “women’s work” (although, now that I think about it, an Ewok-themed tea set of twigs and acorns with a spit for roasting Han Solo would have been awesome) and I didn’t want to get them a regular Star Wars toy like a light saber that came in pink. But I also didn’t want to give them regular Star Wars stuff made for any old kid, because my nieces are special. I wanted a Princess Leia playdoh head that squirted out buns and braids or a Lego set where you could build Cloud City. Darth Vader on a pony, maybe. A pony with a Darth head and black cape?

So maybe my problem was that Star Wars isn’t best judged on girl v. boy, and I think that’s a fair assessment. But I was still so, so disappointed to discover that the Star Wars universe and the shopping universe had not collided to make Niece Awesomeness In Star Wars Flavor. [ETA: You can actually buy a Cloud City lego set; it’s $1300 on ebay and it’s ugly.]

cloud city lego

This year, I tried again. One of my nieces dressed up as the super hero Firestar for Halloween and I thought it would be fun to find her something about Firestar for her Christmas present. Well, guess what? THERE ISN’T ANYTHING.

I know, I know, Firestar is not a one of the more famous super heroes. She was on Spiderman and His Amazing Friends circa 1980. But that stuff is on Netflix streaming now and is currently having a resurgence of popularity. There are books about Spiderman (there is everything about Spiderman, really; even in my house, where the love of Spiderman is pretty low, around broccoli level, we already have a Spiderman nightlight and a pair of Spiderman sunglasses). But no books about Firestar. I thought, again, maybe I was just not searching well.


Firestar says: “WTF?”

Marvel Comics, I discovered, has a whole line of comics for younger kids; no Firestar. No female super heroes at all. Online, they have comics featuring “The Power Pack” which is a group of kids with superpowers who follow around better known characters like Hulk. It’s nice and all, but it feels a little like when sugar cereal started being “fortified” with vitamins and minerals. Fine, thank you, not exactly what I wanted. Also, please to read this one about “The Avengers” and I dare you to find all four panels featuring Black Widow. Marvel even has a line of superhero early reader e-books; women superheroes are conspicuously absent from them all.

Here is where I get a little ranty. What. Is. Going. On? Whhhhhhy? Kaaaaaaaahn! Auntie Hulk smash!

Early reader books are supposed to be high interest and low skill, so that kids who are just starting out reading, or who are struggling to read on their own, can feel excited about picking up a book. I have really started to appreciate the “early reader” section of my library, because that is where all the character-based books are – the ones about Lightning McQueen or Peter Pan or Ariel or whomever. I still have wonder and amazement in my heart for traditional picture books, but after we got a very beautiful picture book at the library called Train to Somewhere, thinking it was about trains only to discover it was about orphans who were being adopted from a train – cue tears – sometimes I don’t want the mystery of an unknown entity; I just want to get a Monsters, Inc. reader and go home.

Early readers are designed to keep kids interested in books and reading, even if they cater to TV shows and movies. So … how come kids who love Spiderman can have a book that caters to their interest while kids who love Firestar or Wonder Woman or Storm cannot? I can’t imagine it’s because it costs a lot to write these books. I mean, just read a few; they sound like a robot put them together. Which is totally great for kids who are early readers, I’m not trying to knock these books.

It’s just that, if Marvel already owns the rights to Firestar, and they don’t need to invest a ton of money into a creative team to write a book about her, and they can publish-on-demand to fill a need or they can upload a Kindle version and don’t have to ship thousands of physical copies to bookstores anymore – WHY HAVEN’T THEY DONE IT?

Auntie Hulk angry. Auntie Hulk think maybe Marvel not care about nieces who love female super heroes.

I love this site about girls putting together their own super hero costumes. When I first saw it, I thought it was such a testament to creativity. I guess I didn’t realize girls do this because no one is making these costumes for them. No one is making these books for them. No one is making these super hero things they love, so they have to do it themselves.


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Happy Halloween

I saw this picture last night while reading with my son before bedtime; it comes from Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things That Go which is an excellent book. It always cracks me up when I come across it. I’m not sure exactly why. Because an owl shouldn’t need to ride on a broom to get around? Because the broom should be its own method of transportation without needing wheels? Because the owl is dressed up like a witch?


My children have decided to skip their naps today, so trick-or-treating will be especially scary tonight 🙂

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Halloween costumes are under construction.

incredbles shirts

I’m not always very … confident, I guess, about my ability to make things-that-are-not-food, but I braved the world of the printable iron-on transfer this year. It is not that hard, I’m happy to report.

Finn and I decided on these Incredibles costumes several weeks ago, but lately I’ve been wondering if the kids wouldn’t be a lot happier if I just dressed them as tacos.

taco donovan

It’s the request every night after bath time, anyway.


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Review: Mary Elizabeth the Spotless Cow

Today I am taking part in the blog tour for Mary Elizabeth the Spotless Cow by Sal Barbera. If you are here because of the tour, welcome! This blog focuses on reviewing lots and lots of children’s picture books.

Mary banner

We got Mary Elizabeth in the mail on Monday and have been reading it every day since then. My three-year-old has been requesting it every afternoon when we attempt to settle down for naptime. I also found him reading it on his own yesterday. He was totally engrossed in it and didn’t realize I was watching him for a few minutes. Then he looked up and said, in that nonchalant way little kids use when they are being their grown up selves, “Oh, Mommy, I just reading this book.”

Mary-Elizabeth-Spotless-Cow cover

Mary Elizabeth is the new cow on the farm and she, unlike all the other cows, has no spots. At first, the other cows ignore her and won’t play with her because she has no spots. But Mary Elizabeth has seen this kind of treatment before and she has a plan: when the other cows are asleep, she puts mud on herself to look like spots. Will it work? Will the other cows like her now that she looks like they do?

I thought this story was very sweet. At first, the other cows seem like mean bullies when they shut poor Mary Elizabeth out of their social circle, but I appreciated that Mary Elizabeth hunkers down with a plan of action. She uses her own ingenuity to take care of the problem and she does it with confidence. And once the other cows realize the error of their ways, they turn out to be not such bad cows after all.

During the month of October, the publisher is offering this book at a discount through their website. In addition, 50% of the net profits will be donated to the Phoenix Children’s Hospital’s Child Life Program. Visit for more information.

Other picture book reviews you might like:

fancy nancycowboy boydgruffalo


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This Whole Gardening Thing

I’m slowly, slowly honing in on this whole gardening project how-to-grow-food thing.  It’s been four years since I started. I’m slow like that.

The first year was when I was pregnant with my first baby. We joked that the only things I could grow were peppers because I was pregnant with a boy. Get it? Peppers, but no melons. Maybe that is a bad joke. I also couldn’t grow squash or many tomatoes or much of anything, really.

But now, I’m kind of getting the hang of it and realizing things that better gardeners already know. Growing things to be bigger than my thumb is still a challenge, enough that I have completely abandoned trying to grow large tomatoes. But I’m getting pretty good at cherry tomatoes. Small peppers are still my forte. I made jalapeno jam last year just to use some of them up. I am always on the look out for ways to use hot peppers.

Next year, I think I’m going to devote half of the summer garden to cherry tomatoes, maybe 6-8 plants. The other half will probably be peppers and maybe some flowers. This year was the first time I added flowers and I like the way they are just pretty. In the fall, I’m planning to try a lot of leaf-lettuces and maybe radishes for the first time. I am determined that I can cook radishes in a way that I will like. This is not what happened with swiss chard, but I’m willing to give it a shot.

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The Motel of Mysteries for Perfect Picture Book Friday

Let me present:

  • The Motel of Mysteries by David Macaulay.
  • Ages 12 and up.
  • Themes: archaeology

motel of mysteries cover

My dad loves the library. He particularly loves spy thrillers and I have believed for many years that he has read all of them. Sometimes, he tells me, he gets back from the library with a fresh new book, only to realize halfway in that he has probably already read it. I was the same way as a kid, but with horse books. The children’s librarian at the Burnhaven Library put together a small catalog of chapter books on popular topics and every week, I went down the list of horse books until I had read them all. It was a great sense of accomplishment when I finished them all, but then I ran into that problem my dad probably faces: well, now what do I read?

It was always a special treat to go with Dad on his weekly visits to the library when I was little. One week, my brother and I found the “new books” display. That is where we found The Motel of Mysteries, by David Macaulay. We sat down on the floor to look through it and realized we were looking at a book unlike anything we had ever seen. It was written in the style of a National Geographic article and it appeared to be about a archaeological dig. But instead of revealing the secrets of ancient Egypt, it revealed — with hilarious wrongness — the secrets of a 1980’s motel room. The explorer, Howard Carson, misinterprets everything about the room and its contents, believing it to be a burial chamber full of religious artifacts. The TV is an altar, the bathtub is a sarcophagus, the Do Not Disturb sign is a seal to ward off thieves.

As a kid, I thought this book was pretty funny. Parts of it have remained in my memory ever since that day, resurfacing again and again. Looking at it again now, I am tickled by the section on Souvenirs and Quality Reproductions, which is a tour through the museum gift shop. Ceiling tiles have been recreated as coasters and you can have your very own coffee set based on a toilet bowl. And then there is this picture:

motel of myteries

Which is based on this one from the excavation of the ancient city of Troy:

ancient troy jewelry

When I was in college and saw this in a textbook, my mind immediately went right back to The Motel of Mysteries. There wasn’t much of an internet in those days, so I was left wondering if I had imagined the whole book as some kind of bizarre dream.

Related activities:

  • Here is a list of excavation activities for kids,
  • But if I had an older kid, I would ask him to write a story about how the items in a room of the house, like the kitchen or the laundry room, might be misinterpreted by an archaeologist of the future. I actually do this thought experiment all the time, especially when I see certain stories on the news or on nature programs. It is really helpful at developing the kind of “consider the source” thinking you have to do once you are in college. And forever afterward, I guess, if I am any indication.

This post is part of Perfect Picture Book Friday hosted by Susanna Leonard Hill. She gets the best recommendations from the best people about the best books for kids. Every week.


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A Writing Life That Energizes You

I’m hopeful today. Some days, when I picture myself as a writer, I get really down in the dumps. I mean, doesn’t everyone think they are a writer? (I know, I know, everyone everyone doesn’t think this, but I have a feeling that like 80% of people dream of writing a book). And what makes me (or you) better than everyone else?

Ok, but see, today I am feeling hopeful. It’s because I read this:

Go on, I will wait for you to read it and get back to me.

Oh, you didn’t read it because you just want me to summarize it for you? Yeah. I get that way, too.

Crystal talks about how she went from stressed out while running a crazy popular blog, being a full time mom with toddlers, homeschooling, etc. to doing all those same things without the stress. Whaaa? But how? (In her defense, maybe her toddlers weren’t running into the street all the time or taking off their clothes the minute her back was turned. Like some people I know.)

  • She embraced her calling as a writer. She realized she likes doing, feels called to do it. That makes it legitimate, even if no one ever pays her for it and Terry Gross never wonders about her writing process. Heyyyyyy, maybe I can do that, too.
  • She decided a “healthy balance” in her life went in both directions. That means you make time for yourself the way you make time for other people. My favorite line in her article is this: “There are going to be days when the blog gets shelved for playing in the snow or caring for a sick child or reaching out to a needy friend. In the same way, it’s also okay if your kids occasionally have a PJ & Movie Saturday or you have your husband pick up carryout for dinner because you were holed up finishing a writing project.” Really. I love that. Pardon the analogy, but it means you can have dessert because you ate vegetables. Well, no, you must eat dessert because you ate vegetables. Skipping dessert would mean UNBALANCED LIFE. And who wants that. Just replace the word “blog” in her sentence with “novel” or whatever it is you want to work on. My brain went ding.
  • Say no. We have all heard that before. I am a big fan of “saying no,” but I think we all know how hard it is to implement. I would like to say no to the baby breaking dishes during breakfast this morning or to the toddler throwing up because he tried to eat too much bagel in one bite – sometimes you can’t say no. I guess this means we should all say no every time we have the opportunity, just to make up for all the times when we can’t, but I suppose that is not realistic, either. But I do like the way she says she is in charge of when she gets to say yes or no to a new obligation. That sounds like something I can get behind: I am in charge.

Why am I writing about this? Am I just giving myself my own pep talk in writing? Well, sure, BUT:

  • It’s almost October, which means
  • It’s almost November, which means
  • It’s almost time for National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo, when we all sit down and punch out a book before we fall into a post-Thanksgiving coma.

I skipped it last year because I was wearing a screaming infant while I potty trained a toddler. But this year feels pretty good. So, get your story ready. It’s only 1500 words a day.

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Book Problems

The books are a little out of control around here.

20130923_074121I’ve been trying to keep the board books in the basket and the paper books in the cabinet, so the baby doesn’t eat all the “nice” books. But the basket is getting too small. And maybe it doesn’t look like there are a lot of books in that cabinet, but if we stuff more in there, they fall out on whoever opens the door.

And then there is this shelf.

20130923_074152I’m not sure I even know what is on there anymore.

Not pictured: the bag of library books, the ones on the beds, the ones next to the chair, the ones on the couch. In addition to tripping over tiny cars and trains every time I go into a room, which I expected as the mom of boys, I keep finding books all over the place. Which is great! Except when I want to clean up! I also have five books waiting to be picked up from the library and they won’t let me put any others on hold until I go get the ones that are already there.

I feel the urge to simplify. Too many things! All over my house! Somewhere in my brain is a little closet where my “throw it away” personality lives. But, arg, when it’s books it’s so much harder. The good ones are beloved, so beloved. The bad ones … wait, there aren’t any bad ones. I already got rid of the bad ones. The ones we have outgrown are all chewed on. And there aren’t very many of those anyway.

So, maybe we just need a bigger basket?


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Dinosaur Roar!

What does it mean when a one year old has a favorite book? Kids (ok, babies) at this age are still a little like dogs (a lot like dogs? I’m leaning toward a lot like dogs). When they get sick, you try to measure how bad it is by how they are eating and pooping. You ask yourself if the quality of their sleep is different. You hem and haw about taking them to the doctor because the doctor is just going to do the same thing you’re doing at midnight, which is guess. And then no matter the diagnosis you end up with the advice of “wait and see” which is also what you get when you take a sick dog to the vet. I guess my point is: tiny children are mysteries.

So when a one year old kid looks at a book with that look on his face – fascinated, amazed, delighted – what exactly is he responding to? What about it is different from all the other books in the basket or piled in the corner or whatever? My one year old (pause while I freak out that he’s already a whole year old) is in love with this book: Dinosaur Roar! by Paul and Henrietta Strickland.

dinosaur roarHe will dig through the other board books with some determination until he finds it, will carry it over to me using both hands, and sit in rapt wonder as I read it to him for the sixieth time. Then he grabs it, shoves it back in my hands, and signs “more.” If I’m not quick to start it up again, he will open up my hand and place it on the binding. Which is one-year-old speak for “Do it again, silly.” And if I should dare approach him with another book, he will swat it right out of my hands and go find the dino book again. He does not have time for Maisy’s Fire Engine; more Dinosaur Roar!

This book has a lot going for it. Colorful pictures: yes. Repetition: yes. Simple concept of opposites: yes. And then it has a punchline at the end as well. I like a good punchline. Maybe Donovan does, too.

Related Activities:

Teach Your Baby About Opposites: I think this would be great if, say, you were leaving your baby with someone for a few hours who said they don’t know what to “do” with the baby. Well, here. Walk around the house and play with stuff.

Makes Opposites Cards. Take photos of your kid and make cards out of them. I need to do this. I think we would wear them out.

Dinosaur Costume: Because Halloween is coming up. And also just because this is a really cute picture of a baby dressed like a dinosaur.

And just in case anyone needs another, here is my kid. Dressed like a lion, but it’s close.

donovan lion

This post is part of Perfect Picture Book Friday hosted by Susanna Leonard Hill. She gets the best recommendations from the best people about the best books for kids. Every week.


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Look What Arrived!

I took the moon for a walk

We just got a whole box of books from Barefoot Books! This was my prize for winning a contest at for a post I wrote for World Breastfeeding Week. You can read the post here, if you like: On Motherhood.

I Took the Moon for a Walk has to be my favorite book from this collection. We read it quite frequently and it is perfect for a bedtime book. I enjoy the rhyme and rhythm of it, which I don’t often say because sometimes I feel like the rhyming in children’s books is kind of overwhelming. Usually, it’s fine and sometimes it’s fun, but I don’t generally fall into the camp of “I love this poem!” But I am making an exception here. I also like that the story shows a child exploring the world at night without being scared or monitored by his parents. It was the kind of thing I always wanted to do when I was a kid – and something I did do a lot when I was older.

I’ve raved before about Barefoot Books because their website features free podcasts of children’s audio books. I highly recommend these if a.) you are tired of reading to your kids (it is ok to admit that it happens), b.) your child keeps asking for the same story on repeat, c.) you need something to listen to on a roadtrip. When Finn was quite young, maybe 2 years old, we found he enjoyed listening to audiobooks once he already knew the story. Our favorite was The Gingerbread Man. I told him a simple version of it, then we listened to it together for a few minutes, and before long he was requesting it after naptime.

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