Henry Wants MORE!

I recently experienced the joy of reading Linda Ashman’s Henry Wants MORE! with my younger child. Ms. Ashman has created a book that parents will appreciate and that children won’t be able to get enough of—it is THAT good.


Henry Wants MORE! tells the story of a toddler who wants to be entertained by his family. And entertained, and entertained, and . . .

The tales of how Henry’s family tries to entertain him will be familiar to any parent who has raised a toddler and survived the experience.

The book opens with Henry’s Papa lifting Henry high in the air again and again until Papa’s arms get sore. The description brought a smile to my face as I remembered swinging both of my kids up in the air like Henry’s Papa. And my kids always wanted “MORE” when my arms couldn’t take it any longer—just like Henry and his Papa.

Any parent who has sung “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” over and over or read Goodnight Moon for the thousandth time will appreciate when Henry’s Grandma plays Henry’s favorite song on the piano until the family’s “ears are getting weary.” But Henry simply cheers: “AGAIN!”

Everyone in Henry’s family gets into the game, helping to entertain Henry until they are all exhausted from trying to keep up with a toddler. Ms. Ashman takes the reader through Henry’s entire day until it’s time for him to go to bed.

In addition to accurately capturing the challenge of raising a toddler, Ms. Ashman has written a wonderful rhyming book that is appealing to children. By the middle of the book the first time we read it, my daughter could anticipate how Henry responded with each turn of the page, and she shouted it out with glee.

We have now read Henry Wants MORE! many times. Every time we get to Henry’s part, my daughter shouts it out loudly and with gusto. Then she laughs her delightful little-girl laugh, and I have to wait until she is done before I can move to the next page. Like I said, pure joy. Thank-you, Ms. Ashman.

Check out Linda Ashman’s website at www.lindaashman.com. There, you can find out what other fabulous books she has out this year (we have also enjoyed Rock-A-Bye Romp and All We Know, but we haven’t read her other new books yet). There are many other good resources on her website, including activity guides tied to some of Ms. Ashman’s books.

Have you read any great books lately?

The Life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

In a clash of my lawyer and writer worlds, we recently read I DISSENT! Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy.i-dissent

We’ve read a few picture book biographies lately, and we were particularly impressed by the way in which this presents Justice Ginsburg’s life so as to capture the young reader’s attention. The theme of Justice Ginsburg disagreeing, or dissenting, begins on the first page, and reappears every page or two throughout the story. It is not just a recitation of what happened in Justice Ginsburg’s life, but how she responded to it.

The book begins in Brooklyn, New York in 1940, where in families everywhere, one thing was the same:

Boys were expected to grow up, go out in the world, and do big things.

Girls? Girls were expected to find husbands.

Fortunately for all of us in America, “little Ruth’s” mother disagreed with this expectation. She took Ruth to the library, where Ruth read about girls and women “who did big things.” Ruth discovered that a girl could be anything.

The book explains that as she was growing up, Justice Ginsburg saw and experienced prejudice. She continued to persevere and work toward her goals despite the disapproval of others.

Law student, law professor, lawyer, and—spoiler alert! I don’t want to ruin the ending for anyone—ultimately, Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Her career path required persistence and a great deal of disagreeing with those around her.

As a fellow “lady lawyer” (which I say in all seriousness, as I have been called this on more than one occasion), I am grateful for the persistence of women such as Justice Ginsburg. I read the following description of Justice Ginsburg’s law school experience with interest:

Ruth’s law school class had a total of nine women—and five hundred men. She studied mightily and tied for first place in the class. And yet at graduation time no one would hire this brilliant new lawyer.

Why not?

She was a woman. Men didn’t want to work with a woman.

She was a mother. Men thought a mother wouldn’t pay attention to work.

She was Jewish. Many people were (still) prejudiced.

I have heard similar stories from women here in Nashville. The women who had just a few other women in their law school classes of nearly all men. The women who could not get jobs as lawyers after graduation.

A heartfelt thank-you to each and every one of you for making it possible for those of us who came after you to attend law school and to obtain jobs without our gender being an issue. My law school class was nearly evenly split between men and women, and I don’t know of anyone in my class who felt that she was denied a job because she was a woman.

My husband and I had a little chuckle when the family was talking about the book over dinner yesterday evening, and Alex referred to it as “I Dissect.” We’ve now cleared up that little error. This might be a good name for a biography of a doctor, or medical examiner, though—maybe there is another great woman of American culture in the medical world who Debbie Levy can do a biography about next?

Have you read any great books lately?

The One and Only Ivan

Newbery Medal winner The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate has made a huge impression on Alex and others in his class. What a compelling story Ms. Applegate has shared with the world.

The One and Only Ivan

I didn’t realize until I brought the book home that The One and Only Ivan was in Alex’s class library. I had been hearing great things about it recently and knew we simply had to read it. Alex undoubtedly would have read it sometime this year during free time in his classroom—I just made it happen sooner.

The One and Only Ivan was inspired by the true story of a gorilla named Ivan who was captured as an infant from the Republic of Congo. The real Ivan was raised in a home until the owner could no longer keep him. For the next 27 years, he lived in a shopping mall in Washington State. As a result of public outcry, he was moved to Zoo Atlanta, where he remained the rest of his life.

In The One and Only Ivan, Ms. Applegate has written a fictional account of Ivan’s life, and has created friends for Ivan at the shopping mall as well. Ivan lives with an elephant named Stella and a dog named Bob, and they are later joined by a baby elephant named Ruby. Each night, a ten-year-old human girl named Julia visits them while her father cleans the mall.

The novel is written in first person, with Ivan as the narrator. The illustrations, by Patricia Castelao, are sparse and are in black and white, but they wonderfully convey Ivan and his world.

Ms. Applegate poignantly describes Ivan’s life as a young gorilla living with the mall’s owner before he moved to the mall itself:

In my new life as a human, I was well tended. I ate lettuce leaves with Thousand Island dressing, and caramel apples, and popcorn with butter. My belly ballooned.

But hunger, like food, comes in many shapes and colors. At night, lying alone in my Pooh pajamas, I felt hungry for the skilled touch of a grooming friend, for the cheerful grunts of a play fight, for the easy safety of my nearby troop, foraging through shadows.

. . . sometimes I lay awake, wishing for the warmth of another just like me, asleep in a night nest of tender prayer-plant leaves.

Ivan begins the novel by explaining that in his current domain, there is no one to protect. The novel is a story of self-discovery, as Ivan grows from simply a friend into a comforter, protector, and true silverback. Over the course of the novel, he learns from his friends that even though they are all in cages and separated by glass, they can still protect one another.

Without preaching to kids, Ms. Applegate has found a way to raise awareness about the treatment of animals. The different ways humans are described in the book may be eye-opening to some. But it would not be realistic to tell a tale about animals captured in the wild who had only good memories of that experience. Likewise, the treatment of animals behind bars is not always positive.

Alex says “it was great. I liked how Stella said that Ivan could take care of Ruby. And I like how he watches TV and how Mack says he has a lousy jump shot. And how he drank soda and sat in a high chair. I like how Bob sleeps on his stomach. It made me feel happy in the end. I felt scared when I thought the man with the camera would pick up the clawstick and jab Ruby. I’m glad I read it.”

Ms. Applegate is the author of the Roscoe Riley Rules chapter book series, the picture book The Buffalo Storm, and the novel Home of the Brave. She and her husband, Michael Grant, wrote the Animorphs series. Ms. Applegate’s website is www.katherineapplegate.com.

It is always wonderful when you can find a book that you know you will read again and again. I am sure Alex will return to The One and Only Ivan and find something new and important in it many times.

Have you read any great books lately?

Helping Our Local Children

Forgive me for digressing from the main topic of this blog. I would like to share a little about the food drive I participated in this afternoon.  It was an exciting day, and a wonderful way to get into the holiday spirit.

For the past ten years (or so), my church ran a food drive for the children at the local school one block away. Now that the church is gone, a Legacy Fund has been established to make sure that these types of projects continue to care for the children of the area. Today’s food drive was the first event organized by the Legacy Fund.

The Tulip Street Church-Frances Southerland Legacy Fund was established this year (2016) as a permanent endowment to support the children of Warner School. It is run through The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee (the link to the fund on the CFMT website is here).

This year, 91% of the children attending Warner School live at or below the poverty level. Many of these kids rely on the free breakfast and lunch provided by the school as their reliable source of food.

That means that the two weeks of Winter Break can be scary for some of the kids—they may not know where their next meal will come from during those two weeks. The children at Warner School are in Kindergarten to Fourth Grade.

We try to make the Winter Break a little easier by packing backpacks full of food that children ages 5 to 9 can prepare for themselves, or that is already ready to eat. This includes single-serving Chef Boyardee, mac & cheese, granola bars, applesauce, and fruit cups.

We were thrilled to have the residents of Historic Edgefield joined in to help us with the food drive this year! With their help, we packed 127 backpacks full of food for the Warner School kids!

As my husband put it in his post on Facebook:

2016 Backpacks, by the numbers.

– 127 backpacks plus a truckload of leftovers for the school food bank to hand out to families who need pantry items.

– 6591 individual food items in 127 backpacks.

– 3 large boxes of pantry items for the school’s food bank.

– 5 vehicles to transport it all to Warner Elementary.

– 38 people packing food over the course of the afternoon.

– 2 staff from Warner (principal and vice-principal)

– 300 students at Warner Elementary

– 2.5 hours to unload it into the gym, unbox everything, pack the backpacks, and deliver to Warner.

The principal and VP were both helping and were overwhelmed by the amount of stuff they just received.

This week, the school counselor will pick kids with the most abundant need, meet with them and give them a backpack so that they have food for the two week Christmas break where they won’t be eating at school.

I love this.

The Legacy Fund has other projects planned that will take place throughout the year.  There will be fundraising opportunities to send kids to camp, collections of school supplies, and a Halloween costume drive, to name a few.

Many thanks to all who came to help or who donated food or backpacks!  We could not have done it without you!

Packing 127 backpacks!
Working hard together
A classroom full of backpacks!
Backpacks, backpacks everywhere!

If You Ever Want to Bring An Alligator to School, DON’T!

This debut picture book by Elise Parsley had me giggling from the first page, and I didn’t stop until I finished the book. What an exceptional start to Ms. Parsley’s picture book career!If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, DONTIf You Ever Want to Bring An Alligator to School, DON’T! (or Alligator for short) is a wonderful tale that shares what might happen should you decide to take an alligator to school for show-and-tell. It begins by explaining that:

“If your teacher tells you to bring something from nature for show-and-tell, she means a hollow stick, or a bird’s nest or some sparkly rocks. She does not want you to bring an alligator.”

This is very helpful information, since my children’s teachers only allow them to bring items from nature for show-and-tell. We have not yet found an alligator to bring in, but I suspect that both Alex and Abby would jump at the chance to bring in something this exciting as their show-and-tell item if they found one. I’m glad we now know what might happen if they actually decided to do it.

In the book, Magnolia takes an alligator to school, and it causes all manner of trouble. Each time it does, the teacher blames Magnolia. First, the teacher writes Magnolia’s name up on the board. Then she puts checkmarks beside Magnolia’s name. Eventually, she underlines Magnolia’s name, and Magnolia seems destined for a trip to the principal’s office.

Magnolia tells the tale entirely as an instruction to others, all in second person narration. It is well done, and a nice change from the typical picture book style. The font looks as though Magnolia hand-wrote the book. It all works very well together.

Ms. Parsley’s illustrations in Alligator are perfectly paired with the text. In the early pages of the book, the alligator appears innocent and anything but trouble. But watch for when the alligator gets hungry and takes a bite out of one of Magnolia’s classmates without his knowledge!

The alligator has many skills. It entertains Magnolia with its drawing skills, and later shows off its origami!

After her show-and-tell experience in Alligator, Magnolia has appeared in two more cautionary tales: If You Ever Want to Bring a Piano to the Beach, DON’T! and If You Ever Want to Bring a Circus to the Library, DON’T! I haven’t had a chance to read these two yet, but since they feature Magnolia, they are bound to be hilarious.

If You Ever Want to Bring a Piano to the Beach, DON'T

If You Ever Want to Bring a Circus to the Library, DON'T







Ms. Parsley can be found at www.eliseparsley.com, where she has information about her writing and illustrating career. On her website, she shares a link to the amazing story of the three-day journey from searching for an agent to having a signed book contract. If You Ever Want to Bring An Alligator to School, DON’T! is a fantastic book that deserves to have such an incredible back-story!

Magnolia is certainly a new favorite in our house. I look forward to reading about pianos at the beach and circuses at the library, and many more fabulous books from Ms. Parsley soon!

Have you read any great books lately?

Maybelle the Cockroach

Have you met Maybelle yet? If not, let me introduce you to the most charming cockroach you will ever meet.

I’m not usually a big fan of cockroaches, but this one has won my heart. Maybelle is very distinctive. Unlike other cockroaches, she wears a big pink bow on her head and a necklace of pearls.

Maybelle in the Soup

Maybelle lives under the fridge in the kitchen at Number 10 Grand Street. The owners of the house are Herbert and Myrtle Peabody. Mrs. Peabody insists that everything at Number 10 Grand Street must be JUST SO. And that there must be “absolutely, positively NO BUGS at Number 10 Grand Street.” Of course, she doesn’t know that she shares the house with Maybelle.

Maybelle’s good friend is Henry the flea. Henry dines regularly on Ramona, the Peabody’s cat.

There are just three rules that Maybelle must follow:

  1. When it’s light, stay out of sight.
  2. When you’re spied, better hide.
  3. Never meet with human feet.

These rules seem simple enough, but Maybelle always seems to be getting into trouble for breaking them. This is usually because Maybelle is trying to get some food that looks particularly delicious.

If the Peabodys see Maybelle, it will mean trouble for her and for Henry. The Peabodys don’t kid around about insisting that there must be “absolutely, positively NO BUGS” at the house. If the Peabodys think that there might be a bug in the house, they call the Bug Man—the Exterminator. And that means that Maybelle and Henry have to find a way to avoid an Extermination Event.

The results are hilarious and keep kids begging for “just one more chapter.”

Maybelle has starred in four books so far: Maybelle in the Soup, Maybelle Goes to Tea, Maybelle and the Haunted Cupcake, and Maybelle Goes to School.

Maybelle Goes to TeaMaybelle and the Haunted CupcakeMaybelle Goes to School

The books are well-written, short chapter books that are enticing for young readers. They are approximately 60 pages long, and the chapters are short—typically four or five pages long. The illustrations are black and white and are on almost every page. They are paired well with the text.

Maybelle’s adventures are written by Katie Speck. Ms. Speck’s website is katiespeck.wordpress.com.

According to Ms. Speck’s website, the idea for Maybelle came from her grandmother, who called all of the cockroaches they came across “Maybelle” and made up funny stories about them. I’m glad Ms. Speck’s grandmother had such an imaginative way to deal with their cockroach troubles, and shared her stories with Ms. Speck!

Ms. Speck has provided teacher’s guides for Maybelle in the Soup and Maybelle Goes to Tea on her website. She has also shared some “Deliciously Yucky Recipes,” including “Fleas on a Dog” and “Earwax Snacks.”

Maybelle’s books have been a huge hit in our household. I hope we will see many more Maybelle books in the coming years! She is the only cockroach I welcome in our house (I have to admit—I am a lot like Mrs. Peabody when it comes to bugs in the house . . . ).

Have you read any great books lately?

Journey to Oaxaca

Over Thanksgiving, Alex and I went on a research trip for our book. To get the rest of the family to join us, we called it a “family vacation.”

We spent four days in Oaxaca City, Mexico.

We knew there would be a few challenges—none of us know any Spanish (except the little Alex has learned so far at school), and we are still developing a taste for Mexican cuisine. But Alex and I were excited to see where the characters in our book travel.

My husband and I quickly learned that our plan of relying on Alex to translate was not going to work. I knew Alex wasn’t fluent, but figured he would have some Spanish basics down. The first time we looked at him for help, however, he simply shook his head and said: “I just know Spanish songs!” (I’m pretty sure that’s not true, but it meant we were left to muddle through on our own.) Luckily, all of the Oaxacans we met either spoke English or were pretty good at interpreting hand signals!

Oaxaca was simply fabulous! We stayed in the beautiful Hotel CasAntica, which is close to many of the Oaxaca sights, including the Zócalo, the Oaxaca Cathedral, and Iglesia de Santo Domingo.

Hotel CasAntica
Hotel CasAntica
Iglesia de Santo Domingo
Iglesia de Santo Domingo

Oaxaca was founded in the late part of the 15th century by Aztec warriors. It is a gorgeous old city. In the heart of the city, where we were staying, some of the streets are even cobblestone.

As wonderful as Oaxaca City is, the reason for our trip was outside the city, near the little town of Apoala. Even though it is small, Apoala is very important to Oaxacan culture. Oaxacan legend says that Apoala is where the Mixteca people were created.

Looking at Oaxaca and Apoala on a map, they seemed pretty close—just 125 kilometers (a little over 75 miles). So I thought this would be a perfect day (or half-day) trip. But the map didn’t tell me that we would need to drive 42 kilometers (26 miles) of that on a narrow dirt road through the mountains. We drove between 10 and 30 kilometers/hour (and held our breath every time there was a car coming from the opposite direction)! It took three hours to get there.

We finally arrived in Apoala, and a guide took us on a hike to the Cave of the Dark Snake. As soon as we got inside the cave, Alex declared that the long drive was “totally worth it!” After the kids had explored the cave for a while, we continued on to the base of a narrow canyon. A picturesque sight.

After lunch, it was time for a hike to the waterfall—the reason for the research trip. The waterfall was just as amazing as the Oaxaca tourist guide pictures promised. A straight-line waterfall that gushes down to a pool at its base. And that is just one part of this waterfall, which starts higher up the mountain and also continues flowing down the mountainside in smaller waterfalls.

Apoala waterfall

Another highlight of our trip was searching for alebrijes. An alebrije features in our book, and we wanted to find one like it. After searching in many market stalls for a donkey with wings, we finally came upon a donkey (without wings). We explained what we were looking for, and the stall owner said he would just make wings for the donkey and told us to come back the next day!

Here is my donkey alebrije!

My custom-made alebrije
My custom-made alebrije

Alebrijes are wood carvings created in the State of Oaxaca and sold both locally and internationally. They were named after the paper-mache alebrijes of an artist named Pedro Linares (who claimed to be inspired by a dream he had while ill). In creating alebrijes, the Oaxacan wood carvers adopted some of the fantastical influences and bright colors used by Linares in his paper-mache art.

The primary source of income for residents of the State of Oaxaca is tourism. A number of families rely on the proceeds from selling alebrijes to tourists. Wood carving—and now alebrije-making—is a craft passed down through generations, and is something that all members of the family can help with.

Tourists can find alebrijes for sale throughout the markets and at many of the stalls up in the streets.


Our trip was way too short. We missed out on the other great part of Oaxacan tourism—visiting archeological sites. There are many sites in the mountains around the city.

Alex summed it up perfectly on our last night: “It’s too bad we have to leave so soon. Oaxaca is such a beautiful city!” I guess we’ll just need to visit again soon!