06 December 2017

How We Read My Son's Favorite Children's Books

First and foremost, let's just get this out of the way. What I am sharing is what works for my son. There is no magical solution for every child, and it takes time to figure it out. Sometimes it takes longer than other kids, and THAT'S OKAY. No child is perfect. What worked for your parents or another parent and their kid, may not work for you. And again, THAT'S OKAY.

Every child is uniquely different and does and likes things a certain way. It's our challenge in life to figure out our kids and by the time we do, time has gone by so fast, anyway. Don't judge yourself as less than another mom or dad because their kid does something different than your kid, or their kid is doing something you wish yours would do. Stop self-shaming. Stop allowing other parents to shame you. And ask yourself this question, "have you judged others and maybe made them feel less than you because you feel your parenting skills are better?" It happens. I've done it. I've sat there and judged others for small things. It's a slippery slope, but I have to pull myself away from the toxicity and remind myself that just as our kids aren't going to be perfect, neither are we. We all make mistakes, we all choose different things to teach our children. Sometimes that means a doughnut and not a carrot. It happens. I guess the only real "rule," if there is one, is that when you notice yourself judging others, apologize. When you notice others judging you, walk away, remove the toxicity, pray for them, whatever works for you. I want my teeny, tiny little corner of the internet to be a judgement-free zone.

Phew. Done with that part. On to the books!

When my four-year-old son likes a book, he doesn't just like it, he LOVES it. To the point where we read it for nap time, bedtime and any other random time in-between for about two weeks. We exhaust it to the point of no return. If he likes it and I don't, oh boy. There be a struggle, insurmountable beyond an average stressful day, right? But if we both like it, an adventure we shall have!

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is one such book that will always make our all-time favorites list. I absolutely choked up on the final pages, and my son still brings this book up when certain moments in our day remind him of the story. The fifteen-minute short-film on YouTube is beyond amazing. You can find my review with all the links by clicking here.

Our current favorites, in no particular order, are the ones pictured above and listed below. He loves them all, but right now, he really leans towards Nightsong, by Ari Berk and Loren Long. And I can't blame him, it is quite a sweet tale.
  • Little Cub, by Olivier Dunrea - a little bear cub in the woods with no one to care for him meets an Old Bear who has no one to care for either.
  • Boy + Bot, by Ame Dyckman and Dan Yaccarino - A boy meets a robot and they become instant friends.
  • Gracie, the Lighthouse Cat, by Ruth Brown - Based on events in the late 1800s of a daughter and her family's lighthouse when she helped save a shipwrecked boat, this story is based on a cat named Gracie who saves her kitten from the storm as well.
  • Angry Dragon, by Thierry Robberecht and Philippe Goosens- A boy with big emotions and how to process anger or disappointment.
  • Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak - the classic tale of the adventure of a little boy meeting the wild things.
  • Nightsong, by Ari Berk and Loren Long - a baby bat learns how to use his voice to "see" in the night and grow braver in his flight.

But how does any book become our favorite?

My son's default answer is usually "no" to everything new at first, so getting him to try a new book can be a struggle. When he does agree to it (normally because I start reading it out loud for myself), then he begins to listen and absorb.

It becomes "our favorite" with these three things:
  • Beautiful illustration
  • Meaningful story
  • Presentation, presentation, presentation
The last one is the key, at least for me and my son. If I really like a story's message, or appreciate the artwork and want my son to experience it also, I have to get my game on. I have to be ready to act out the story as much as I can. I've sometimes even gotten up and acted out a page. But it's usually in my voice only and how I deliver the words that matters to him. I'll sometimes change words or sentence structure, adapting it to the way I know the message will become clear for him on the first few times reading it. There's no rule that says you have to read each word exactly as it's written on the page, right? After all, when you read a book and there's a complicated scene or sentence, doesn't your mind try to translate it to something you're more familiar with? Why not use that same tactic when reading to your children? I know how my son looks at things and what words he likes to hear, so I'll add them in where I can to help the story move for him and he can better understand it. I don't change it drastically, of course, or permanently; I simply insert extra words he knows into the sentence, or I replace one word with another.

There have been books I read alone at first. I want to see what is important to the story, or what pages might be more meaningful for my son, so I'll focus on those pages by really voicing those sections and pointing out hidden pieces of the artwork. Just reading it flatly, with only slight variations in my tone, makes the story less interesting for both of us. I am as invested in what my son reads, and I want to spend those precious few moments with him in a substantial way. I work full-time and my husband is gone Monday through Friday for the next few months training for a new job, so everything becomes harder and significantly more important for each minute with my toddler.

This is what works for me, but it is different for every child. Don't get caught up in what the "perfect" moms and dads are doing. Don't let the judgments of others make you feel less than anything. You are YOU. You are just as important and only YOU know your child better than anyone else. I believe it's true that evaluating yourself to see what you can improve is important, but what I have to remind myself of is that this should make you feel good, cleansed even. Because while change is always hard, if the process results in something good for you and your family, then it is absolutely healthy.

I recently had to go through this self-evaluation and assessment of what my family needs and I'm not going to lie, it was emotionally SO hard. But, it made such a positive change for my entire family. And while I can't be the full-time stay-at-home mother right now, I have to try what I can, but definitely throw that awful mom guilt right out the door.

At the end of the day, what matters is that you:
  • "Show up" as much as you can for when your child needs you. Just show up. I don't mean for just special school performances, but showing up and being there for them when you think a change needs to happen for their benefit. And be ALL IN when you do show up.
  • Try something different.
  • Do what you can, but be realistic and don't be afraid of your limitations.
  • Always, always keep your school looped in to expand your network. They understand. They get it. They understand a lot better than us first-time moms do sometimes, you know?
Love is supposed to be pure and good and you know in your gut what is right. I strongly believe this extends into everything in your life. Choose what you know is the right thing to do for both yourself and your child.

Sooo... this became less of a post on favorite books and how I read books to my son, and more about being a first-time mother and not letting others self-shame... :) Oopsie!


18 November 2017

When to Listen to an Audiobook

Traveler's Notebook & postal pouch by SojournerUSA, coffee by Starbucks' Breakfast Blend
In trying to make blogging my regular habit again, I took a look at my Audible cloud list, and realized how many books I've listened to over the years that still resonate with me today. To those who are new to audiobooks or feel it's something for people out of touch (hey!), fret not. I also had a hard time adapting and learning how to listen to a book versus reading it. It just wasn't something I was used to and after many failed attempts, it then became an acquired skill. It changed once I found a story I immediately connected with and was read by an engaging narrator. I was then forever hooked to this new way to "read." (Side note: Many years ago, I was at the mind-blowing BEA in New York and attended the APA Audiobook and Author Tea side panel. I choked up, as did many, when an attendee who was blind stood up and said, "thank you for making these audiobooks and doing them so well now. I can finally read again.")

But when should you listen to an audiobook? (Whenever.) Are there specific ways to listen to it?  (No.) What if you're not used to it? (Okay. So what? Try.)

Simply put, all I need is my iPhone and earbuds (iBuds? earphones?) and that's it. I do have an Audible membership, but you can always download books from your local library as well.

When to Listen to an Audiobook
  • Errands (grocery store, post office, etc.)
  • Long road trips
  • Short road trips
  • Any time in the car
  • Silent moments between partners in the car and you can sneak your headphones in
  • Staring placidly out at any body of water, drinking coffee or tea
  • Running (this I highly recommend. I found when I listened to music, I used to run at the pace/beat of the song. Thus, if I needed to slow down but was listening to a fast song, I would run faster than I should. Listening to an audiobook helped me control my pace. And trust me, It, by Stephen King and read by actor Steven Weber is entirely MUCH freakier while running at night. Passing sewers is a completely different experience.)
  • Cleaning the house
  • Then really cleaning the house
  • Then using the Flylady, Clutturbug, or Melissa Maker techniques and really CLEANING the house
  • Taking a shower (No lie. I will use the Bluetooth connection to a small mobile speaker and listen to the book while I take even a short shower.)
  • Gardening
  • When Netflix has too many options (or Amazon or Hulu)
  • When taking the crazy toddler to the playground
  • Journaling and needing background noise
  • Playing with art and watercoloring away
  • Bible journaling
When Not to Listen to an Audiobook (Say what now? When to NOT listen?)
  • I... well, I guess when you're trying to nap
  • If something is on fire?
  • ...
I've listened to so many audiobooks that my commute anywhere is not right without a story filling my head. Right now, I'm listening to Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen Meany that was part of Ti's Book Chatter readalong and that I optimistically dove into but failed miserably to read while she was hosting it. Then, as my history would predict, once any readalong timeframe concludes, I jump into it only then, and with full enthusiasm.

The main message is this: Try. Just try it out.

Find something that you think you might like and start listening to it while heading on a road trip or doing long errands and just pop it on. Don't get overly ambitious and first try with a thirty-four-hour audiobook; instead, pick something that has rave reviews for both story and performance, fitting in a genre you like, and pick something around eight to ten hours long, maximum. Something that would fit in your "wheelhouse," as we say in the corporate world, when most of us don't know what it means. Try. If you're not connecting to it, move onto something else. But always give it a shot just in case. You might be missing something that you end up truly loving. That was how it was for me. Now, I can't go a single day without at least five or ten minutes with a story. That is one habit I don't quite anticipate ever giving up.


16 November 2017

So this is an update on life and blogging...

While safely tucked away on Instagram, which has become my comfy spot for life in general over the past few years, I have watched the book blogging world become quite a different space than when I lived in it. Sometimes it seems fun and supportive and happy, while other times it appears divisive, fragmented, different, an influx of new bloggers that I don't know, but I really miss this space. I'll pop up a quick micro review on Instagram once in a very great while, and that's about it, but I miss this corner. I want to see if I can return, to poke my head out onto the blacktop and see if there's anyone else who wants to play hopscotch again?

I want to defy all differences of negativity for the very sake of nostalgia and missing my fellow book bloggers. And while I realize life also happened for me over the past few years, I still feel downtrodden when I click on a friend's blog site and I see they may not have posted in as many years or as many times throughout our respective absences. It's weird, this once so crucial part of my existence, something that I would feel more likely to lead off with in conversation when introducing myself (Hi, I'm Natalie, I am a book blogger.) I say nothing about my real day job because I never felt that defined me. It pays my bills but is not quite at all a dream.

Book blogging, on the other hand, very much so was something I felt that defined me to an extent. It was something I was proud of, a hobby that seemed more than that, something that I loved talking about. And now that all that cancer junk is behind me, I want the book blogging fellowship feeling back again.

I don't know what this new landscape of reading and reviewing looks like, but I want to peek a little into the universe of it all again to see if I feel like my feet feel secure.

I want to talk about my life after Stage 3 breast cancer, how I went through chemo and radiation and had no hair for six months, and how while I know it's firmly in my rear view mirror, I'm still always terrified. I want to talk about my son who was only 7 months old when I was diagnosed and how I have so many pictures where he had more hair than me, and the times when he only recognized me for my bald head and never knew who "she" was when I showed him pictures from BEFORE.

I want to share that I firmly believe my son saved my life. I want to open up the conversation on fear and anxiety, about my stronger faith in God and how much more studious I am with the Bible and how I came to follow that road that I am so glad I took, even though I know many who knew me years ago would be stunned today. And I also want to talk about my ever-developing addiction over the past year to traveler's notebooks and Bullet Journals, and journaling in general! Planning and putting my events on iPhone only?? Pfftt. That's so 2011. People are starting to remember that the old school pad of paper with a nice pen (fountain pen, anyone?) works even better and makes it easier to remember something, so now there are systems out there to help refine and tweak. Let's talk about that, yes! And don't forget those traveler's notebooks... want to fall down a rabbit hole? Go onto Instagram or search on YouTube for "traveler's notebook setups" or "planner setups." Welcome to your paycheck flying out the window, book reviewers...

There's so much LIFE out there. So much to see and do. I want to find that new routine, not just in the world of Instagram, but back in this corner, with all of you, celebrating life. I hope many of you still remain. I hope I can be consistent. Part of me wants to talk about everything here, and part of me thinks staying on Instagram is the best place for me. I'm not sure yet. But I wanted to throw my hat in the ring to declare that it wasn't quite over for the Coffee and a Book Chick and her little ole book blog. Not just yet.


14 November 2017

Don't mind the dog in the background who refused to get out of the picture :)
Oftentimes, I've wondered where the children's books are that not only will keep my son engaged, but also will maintain my enthusiasm to read it over and over and over (and over!) again.They are out there, naturally, but as a first-time mother, I'd feel a sinking sense of overwhelming fear when navigating through a children's book section, unsure of how to look for something, or even what I was looking for. With the teeny tiny tots of all ages bursting from long aisles, toys askew on the carpets, and parents on cell phones who just need that "break," it added to the insurmountable feeling of my own confusion. I usually jumped on board with all of the very well known book titles, but some of those just didn't stick, or were a disappointment.

My son is almost four-years-old now and it has been extremely frustrating that for me, a life-long reader, to figure out exactly what "level" we should be reading at and what he "should" be enjoying has been a moving target. Comparison might be key for understanding overall development, but at some point in a school, or even unintentionally between moms, it becomes downright judgy. Every child is different. Every child verbalizes their emotions and feelings in unique ways that only their primary caregiver understands, who can translate and just "get it." Each child is different in which television show to watch, and it may be completely different than what most kids prefer. Every kid I know loves SpongeBob. I think SpongeBob is funny. My kid? Meh. It's okay. But the look on people's faces when you reveal that something wildly popular isn't of interest to him is received with shock and shakes of heads at times. Don't get me wrong, my son loves many a catchy show (Blues Clues! Transformers! Captain America and Iron Man). But my kid is not better than your kid. And your kid is not better than mine. Right? Everyone learns differently, both through books, television, and socially. 

So back to my confusion... I found myself wandering in the library again. Here I am, a book blogger of seven years, and I felt overwhelmed in a library? Or in the kids' section of a major bookstore? This cannot be.

But I was. And then one day, pregnant several months with Dominic, I was walking through a bookstore. By simple chance I happened upon a table that had books sorted all over in no particular order and I saw the cover of the book that immediately sparked my interested. And it was then that I remembered a fellow blogger had reviewed it years before. I cannot recall her name or site now, but should she still be out there and happen to read this, a BIG thank you goes to you. Thank you for writing a review so filled with passion and love for this book that I bought it the second I saw it in the store when my son was still just growing inside me, that I bought without even reading it or scanning through it. I never even really knew the story because I bought it only because of her review. It became a book I easily kept separate through my son's "I-rip-everything-to-shreds" baby stages, and then finally one night, when cleaning out a guest bedroom closet, I came across a stack of books and saw it at the top and immediately thought, "Oh! Here it is! I always wanted to read this!" 

That night, I read The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce and illustrated by William Joyce and Joe Bluhm for the very first time for me, and to my son, and I got so emotional at the end that I choked up and my eyes did the typical prick at the corners for slight tears. The beautiful imagination of the story, the imagery and characters so heartwarming and expectant, full of life and journeys and secrets within the book that my son will come to understand when he gets older, combined with the curiously delightful and beautiful illustration, completely touched my heart to its very core. Mr. Morris Lessmore, a quiet writer, suffers a devastating loss but is saved by a room filled with flying books that he tends to and cares for throughout his entire life. I turned the very last page and looked down at my son and found to my excited relief, that his eyes were wide and that he actually loved it, that he was just as entranced as I was by the tale of a man who lived his whole life among flying books in the library of his own world. I have read it every single night for two weeks to Dominic, and it has not grown old for either of us.

To the book blogger who wrote that review from four or so years ago - again, thank you. I truly hope I can give that book the same justice of a heart-touching review which encourages all who read this to buy it for their child, or to set it aside as a holiday gift to a friend or family. It will be entirely worth it.

There is even a short 15-minute film available on YouTube from MoonBot Studios and it is every bit as beautiful as I had hoped. I highly recommend you read the book first, of course, and then especially read the jacket with the author's description and the reason why he wrote it. It makes the story even more of, well, just everything amazing and good.

I will constantly be on the hunt for more of these stories. Do you have one that is every bit as enthralling, compelling and heartwarming? Drop your recommendation in the comments below, and I thank you kindly in advance.

About the Author
William Joyce is an American writer, illustrator, and filmmaker. His illustrations appeared on numerous New Yorker covers and his paintings are displayed at museums and art galleries. (Wikipedia) Visit the Author on his website

About the Illustrator
Joe Bluhm is an illustrator known for several incredible books including the work done on The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, and he has a new book coming out in 2018! Visit the Illustrator on his blog.


05 September 2017

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XII

It is truly hard to believe that 12 years have passed since the very first RIP event hosted by Carl over at Stainless Steel Droppings. Faithfully and devoted to this annual event, Carl took one leadership break during that time, and this year, blogging has changed for him and the reins are now with the good Andi's and Heather's hands. These are two fantastic ladies who have been a part of the community for such a long time, bloggers who I read with fascination over their reviews and thoughts. I commiserated with them on books or authors who didn't live up to what was expected, or debated with others when we felt that a book was deserving of high praise.

Life has changed. So much. It has for me over these past seven years since I first started my humble site. Like Carl, I've waned in participation and eagerness to write and post. Mind you, I still read voraciously, but it's a different mix of what I used to delve in. I've given birth to a beautiful now almost four-year-old (!!) son and I've also gone through Stage 3 breast cancer 3 years ago, which resulted in a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, and two reconstruction surgeries. The breast cancer was not caught early; it was instead caught in time. Thank you, God. Every year, I return for my annual scans and every six months, I have my blood tested. The fear of the unknown is only fun when it is in a book or a film; never when it is in real life.

I miss the book blogging community. I miss the camaraderie and adventure it felt like we were all having as we received books from publishers or authors, as we dug into the tales and communicated out into the world what our thoughts were. I miss the simplicity and the fun of it all. Life has gotten in the way, sometimes good, sometimes bad.

But at the end of these days, each adventure is for something good, right? It might be painful, it might be frightening, but we learn a little more about ourselves each time and we persevere just a step harder on any challenge. We become more so who we truly are as each year goes by.

This is my long rambling intro to the fact that while I rarely post today, even though I've read some phenomenal books, I always, ALWAYS will post about this challenge. This is the season of each year I always love. The changing leaves, the cooler weather, the change in coffee options. Granted, I live in North Florida and we do get cold weather, but nothing like the old days of when I lived in Baltimore, Washington, D.C., or even St. Cloud, Minnesota. But I still remember.

I love this annual event. It is a nostalgic feel to dive back into the typing, the reading, the watching of scary stories, and then to put them all onto my tiny corner of the blogging world and wait for the occasional comment or two that comes up. Gone are the days of "so many comments that I can't keep up" time. And I am okay with that. To some extent, right? 

If you've not heard of this annual event celebrating all things that go bump in the night, head on over to Andi and Heather and Carl's blogs for the intro! And let's start getting scared! In a good way, of course.

Important Info
  • Challenge dates: September 1 through October 31
  • Goal: read and have fun - this isn't really a challenge, of course!
Challenge levels
  • Peril the FirstRead four books, any length, that you feel fit (our very broad definitions) of R.I.P. literature. It could be Stephen King or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Shirley Jackson or Tananarive Due…or anyone in between.
  • Peril the SecondRead two books of any length that you believe fit within the challenge categories.
  • Peril the ThirdWe all want you to participate. This Peril involves reading one book that fits within the R.I.P. definition.
  • Peril of the Short StoryWe are fans of short stories and our desire for them is perhaps no greater than in autumn. We see Jackson in our future for sure! You can read short stories any time during the challenge. We sometimes like to read short stories over the weekend and post about them around that time. Feel free to do this however you want, but if you review short stories on your site, please link to those reviews on our RIPXII Book Review pages. (INSERT LINKS)
  • Peril on the ScreenThis is for those of us who like to watch suitably scary, eerie, mysterious Gothic fare during this time of year. It may be something on the small screen or large. It might be a television show, like Dark Shadows, or your favorite film. If you are so inclined, please post links to any R.I.P.-related viewing you do on our book review pages as well.
  • Peril of the Group ReadThis year we will read and discuss Slade House by David Mitchell! We plan to post discussion questions on October 1 on our respective blogs, and you can answer them at your leisure, and as you like! If you post on your blog, link up. If you post on Twitter, Insta, etc. use #ripxii.
In addition to, or instead of, these group read options you may want to host your own. That would be welcome too and if you choose to do so please let us know so that we can advertise them for you.

Again, you may participate in one or all of the various Perils. Our one demand: enjoy yourself!


28 February 2017

Swan Song, by Robert McCammon (Audio Book)

I have been reading. I promise. Mostly non-fiction, self-help (yeah, I know, when did I start doing that?) books.

And audiobooks. Ugh. I was struggling for a while.

Then my brother-in-law recommended this 34 hour audiobook. The last time I listened to a book that long was It, by Stephen King, and I was really walking and running a lot so it was easy to dive into that story and it was AWESOME. But I never feel like I have time now.

Within an hour of listening to this story (or probably less) I realized I absolutely had to make time for this Stoker-award winning story. I'm just going to say it: this easily falls into one of my "favorites" of all time audiobooks, and also books. The story itself would also land in my "Stephen King, sorta like The Stand or Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian epic story/tale" category. Yeah, I liked it that much. In fact, I LOVED it. My brother-in-law and I don't always see eye-to-eye (I'm pretty sure it's because I'm right all the time. Just kidding!), but the one thing we have always had in common is reading, and reading and listening to incredible stories. This was a phenomenal recommendation from him.

And get this: It's been thirty years since Swan Song was first published, and they are releasing a thirtieth signed limited edition with a gorgeous cover from Subterranean Press this year:

There's not a lot of insight on why the nuclear bombs explode, but it's clear that almost every country decides they have to use theirs to protect themselves, which ultimately results in a nuclear wasteland of our nightmares. Only a few survive. Somehow, a woman who calls herself Sister in New York, a former wrestler in Alabama named Joshua, and a young girl named Swan, have made it through this and their stories begin. Each have a back story where they have suffered deeply, but the goodness within each of them is their foundation to continue living, to thrive and to keep order in chaos.

But something is really different in this nuclear world, something that no one ever had to deal with before. Monsters now exist. Or were they always there and now we can see them? Is it heaven and hell on earth, or did all of those nuclear bombs mutate people and animals into beings beyond imagination? Swan has always had certain abilities, but have they magnified in her now because of the radiation?

This is an incredible story that is told from start to finish without missing a beat, never slowing down, and never skimping, and it's such a good one. I have a portable, water-resistant bluetooth speaker and I would even prop this up in my shower so I could listen to the story unfold. It is that good.

Note: Yes, Robert McCammon may be a horror writer, but I assure you that while there are certain elements that are frightening, this is a book that anyone can read and enjoy. 

Listen to a sample by clicking here.

FTC Disclosure: I downloaded this book through my membership at Audible.com

About the Author
Robert McCammon is the author of over twenty books, and the winner of multiple book awards He is
from Birmingham, Alabama. For a much better overview of this prolific writer, visit him: