Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site

Recently, the county started doing some construction down the street from our house.

It’s pretty much Mark’s most favorite thing ever. He LOVES anything to do with construction right now. I think most kids go through phases and his is DEFINITELY construction right now.

We’ll occasionally go and watch the big machines and it’s the highlight of his week.

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Since we drive by the work often, he’ll give me reports on what he sees:
“No back-hoe loader. Not moving. No guy in it.”
“Guy in it! Moving! Dump truck!”

Naturally, when we went to Powell’s a couple of weeks ago, I asked the very helpful clerk in the children’s section what book he would recommend and he pointed me in the direction of Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker.

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The story is pretty simple — all of the machines are going to sleep after a long day and each has its own bedtime routine.

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Mark particularly likes this picture where the bulldozer has a blanket with it.

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There’s lots of repetition, some good rhyme, and the pictures are really well-done and fun.

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Overall, a total win of a book for Mark!

At least, it is when I can tear him away from the dirt in the backyard. 🙂

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This Is Not the Atticus You’re Looking For

Or, my thoughts on Go Set a Watchman.

Before we get into the book, a brief personal history: To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorite books of all time. Between the number of times I’ve taught it and read it myself, I know the book really well. And I love it.

A brief history of how this book came to be: Harper Lee wrote Go Set a Watchman and sent it to her editor. He said that he liked the childhood stories of Scout better than the adult stories and maybe she should write a book of just those stories. This book became Mockingbird and the manuscript for Watchman was shelved and eventually put into a safe deposit box.

Fast forward to 2015, and the manuscript was discovered and it was decided that Watchman would be published. There’s been some controversy over how all of this went down (some saying that it’s a money-grubbing move by Lee’s caretaker). Lee is nearly ninety years old and some question whether or not she really knew what she was doing when she gave her blessing for the book to be published.

All of that being said, I wanted to read this book because I was most curious about where Lee’s journey of writing Mockingbird began. If the two books are really so different (and they are), how does the one connect to the other? What are the similarities? Was Lee’s voice the same in Watchman?

After reading it, taking notes (hi, teacher), and really letting the whole experience sink in, I have the following thoughts:

1) It’s not a sequel. 

It seems like there were many people who were hoping that since the events of this novel take place after Mockingbird this book would pick up a few years later and we’d get to see what the old gang is up to now. This is not the case.

It’s integral to remember that Watchman was written first, but Mockingbird is ultimately the book Lee wanted everyone to read. This is going to be really important to remember for point three.

2) It’s rough. 

Let’s bear in mind that this is a manuscript. It went through almost no editing (the publisher has said that they did some basic copy editing, but that’s it) and Lee’s smooth voice is most clear in the stories of Scout as a child. There’s a chapter devoted to Scout (now called Jean Louise by nearly everyone) and Uncle Jack. It’s one of the more confusing, convoluted things I’ve ever read. It seems as though Lee is making a point through Uncle Jack but it takes her forever to get there and you’re still not quite sure you’ve gotten it when you get to the end of the chapter.

If you can keep in mind that it’s not meant to be a polished novel, but rather the raw manuscript that it is, you’ll be okay.

3) Atticus is very different, but also the same. 

SPOILER ALERT (unless you’ve read anything in the news about Watchman and then it’s not a spoiler at all):
I think one of the things that has upset people the most about this book is the way that Atticus is portrayed as a racist. I mean, people who have named their children after this character are all set to head down to the courthouse and change their child’s name.

Yes, in Watchman he is a racist. We come to find out the only reason that he defended Tom Robinson (Lee doesn’t mention his name, but she does reference the case) is because Atticus is so loyal to the law that he defended Tom the way he did because it was his job and duty to do so.

BUT, let’s keep in mind that this is where Lee started with Atticus, not where she finished. She wanted to world to see the Atticus that defended Tom Robinson because it was the right thing to do and who told Scout she needed to stand up for what’s right in the world. Even in Watchman, he’s encouraging Scout to stand up for what she believes in — even if that means standing up to Atticus himself.

4) Jean Louise is exactly who she should be. 

Scout is clearly upset by the crumbling of her view of her father. Her whole childhood (and her adulthood up to this point), she idolized Atticus and finding out of his racist views shakes her to her very core. The fact that she is so shaken and knows what he believes is wrong shows us she is, indeed, her father’s daughter in the best way possible.

5) It relates to us now. 

Many have commented on how the race relations of the 1950s can relate to the state of our country today. But, I think the bigger issue we can connect with is the way the idea of states’ rights is handled in the novel. Even Jean Louise comments on how she was upset when blacks were given the right to vote. Not because they don’t deserve it (as Atticus and many others in the South see it), but because the rights were taken away from the states to make the decision themselves.

In addition, Uncle Jack tries to convince Jean Louise to come home. When she wants to know why she should surround herself by people who think things so different from her, he says:

“What does a bigot do when he meets someone who challenges his opinions? He doesn’t give. He stays rigid. Doesn’t even try to listen, just lashes out.

You’ve no doubt heard some pretty offensive talk since you’ve been home, but instead of getting on your charger and blindly striking it down, you turned and ran. You said, in effect, ‘I don’t like the way these people do, so I have no time for them.’ You’d better take time for ’em, honey, otherwise you’ll never grow.

… the time your friends need you is when they’re wrong, Jean Louise. They don’t need you when they’re right –“

This made me think of how many of us have Facebook newsfeeds that are a little homogeneous and how many people we’ve “unfriended” (or who have “unfriended” us) because of the differing of our views. [Off of soapbox.]

6) There are several parallels to Mockingbird

One of the things I thought was most interesting were the clear literary parallels between the two novels. For example, there were several chapters with paragraphs that were almost verbatim what I’d read before in Mockingbird. There were also a few scenes that Lee seemed to have reworked for Mockingbird. For example, there’s a “coffee” that’s thrown in honor of Jean Louise (by Aunt Alexandra, of course), and it’s pretty clear that this scene turned into the chapter with the missionary tea in Mockingbird. If you don’t remember much of Mockingbird, I don’t know how significant these parallels will be to you, but anyone who’s a fan of Mockingbird will find them interesting.

So, the question  is… should you read it?

If you can keep all of the above things in mind and you can look at it from a literary perspective, it should be a good read. If you’re madly in love with all of the characters from Mockingbird and you’re SUPER EXCITED to see Scout all grown up… put the book down and walk away slowly.

Blueberries for Sal

We read a lot of books in this house.

This picture is from shortly after Katherine was born. I had one of those moments where it was “two quiet” (parents of toddlers, you know), and I set Katherine down and went back to Mark’s room to find out what he was up to:

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It was one of my prouder moments as a parent (also, sorry for the poor lighting… life as it happens).

Mark, like most toddlers, loves reading the same books over and over. One of his current favorites is Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey, whom you might know from the book Make Way for Ducklings.

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Some good friends gave us the book before Mark was born. It’s very cute and all about this little girl going blueberry picking with her mother and meeting bears (that aren’t scary!) who are also picking/eating blueberries.

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The illustrations are simple and expressive.

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Last week, Ryan suggested I take Mark out for the morning since he and I haven’t gotten to spend much time with just the two of us since Katherine was born. It was a warm (soon to be hot!) July morning, so we went berry picking.

We first picked some raspberries and Mark did a good job for awhile. Then, he got tired and decided to pick up a stick and dig holes in the dirt instead. I totally didn’t mind and kept right on picking. (Note: there are no pictures of us picking raspberries because I forgot. Sorry.)

Then, on the way to the blueberries, every person we went by smiled at Mark and commented on how much fun he must be having. Sometimes, I think people see a correlation between a little boy’s similarity to Pigpen and his happiness. And they would be right.

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Mark was a CHAMPION blueberry picker. Much more at his height and come off the plant by the handful.

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And we had a GREAT time. Dirt and all!

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On our way back, Mark picked up rocks and threw them into the peach orchard over and over. I kept walking and called to Jim to “catch up”! So, he ran up to me and past me and turned around to say, “Catch up, Mama!” Thus, we have a new phrase
🙂

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Five Faves? Well, four books!

There’s no Mark and Mama this week as Ryan has the week off for Spring Break and we’ve been doing LOTS of stuff with the three of us all together. One of the things we did was go to Toddler Time at the library and I picked up a few books about being a big brother and expecting a new baby. I thought it would be fun to do a quick review of the four we picked up (I’ll ruin #5 for you and tell you it’s the link for the link-up… we ran out of time at the library… near freak-outs happen).

1. Baby on the Way by William Sears, M.D.

This book would probably be a lot better for older kids than Mark. It’s SUPER informative and goes into a lot of detail about where babies are from and how they grow, etc.

There are really good pictures and some nice hints about how to help mom out when she gets tired:

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Overall, it’s good, but definitely meant more for kids older than Mark.

2. Babies Don’t Eat Pizza by Dianne Danzig

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Another good book, but a little long to keep Mark’s attention the whole time. A LOT of information here about what it’s like for babies in the womb, what they might look like when they’re born, what they eat (not pizza), and good other facts.

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The one thing I wish this one had was some sort of narrative. The book “talks” to the reader, but I think it would be better if there was some sort of story to help keep the reader more interested (well, the smaller readers more interested).

3. I’m a Big Brother by Maxie Chambliss

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This book is a little different than the other two. The focus is on after the baby is born and focuses much more on the older sibling and their feelings. When we read this one, Mark liked it and wanted to read it one more time.

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It’s also a lot shorter than the other two and Mark was able to keep his attention on it. I don’t know how much he was able to understand about everything, but he liked the story for sure.

4. Waiting for Baby by Harriet Ziefert

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This was probably my favorite of the bunch! The story focuses strictly on the time right before the baby comes, about the last week or so. The boy, Max, is so excited to have his little sibling come that he tells the baby (at all different levels) that it’s time to come out now! Mark really liked that we got to be louder as we were reading.

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The last page of the story is just a picture of Max, his parents, and the new baby. Mark loves this page and turns to it over and over to talk about all the things he sees.

We’ve read this book probably about nine times in the last three days. It’s great for toddlers, but I think kids a year or two older would probably like it too.

5. Other Faves!

I promise to do more of these books (Mark really likes reading them!), but I’m going to leave you a link here to check out some other five faves this week. 🙂 Happy reading!

Book Review: Tobit’s Dog

Disclosure: I received a free digital copy of this book from Ignatius Press in exchange for the review you see below.  I wasn’t compensated in any other way, and the thoughts you see are completely my own.  

I’ll admit that I don’t read very much religious fiction.  Generally, I feel about it the same as I do about Christian rock music — it’s okay for some, but I find it a little heavy-handed at times.  A little too much, “God is everywhere!” for my taste.  I would rather find where an author might have included some religious aspects in a secular work.  I like to work for it a little bit.

You can understand, then, why I was excited but a little wary about taking on a “Catholic” novel like Tobit’s Dog by Michael Nicholas Richard.  But, I do like to read and I am Catholic… so I gave it a whirl and I was pleasantly surprised.

While some of the Catholic imagery and symbolism is a little heavy-handed, I felt myself genuinely caring about the characters.  The title character (kind of), Tobit Messager, is an African American man living in the South during the Great Depression.  He’s a good, hardworking man, but many of the local white folks are distrustful of him because of something that happened with his dad a long time ago.  Despite the poor way he’s treated, Tobit takes extra care to always do the right thing and live as the Lord would like him to.

There’s a very moving, racially-charged event that occurs (I won’t spoil what it is for those that are going to read the book, as you should!), and, through some interesting consequences, Tobit is rendered blind afterwards.  One of the ways he’s able to deal with his new blindness is through the kindness of a number of members of the community, including his wife Anna, son Tobias, and Tobias’s boss.  In addition, his intuitive dog, Okra, serves Tobit faithfully.

Okra, the real title character I suppose, is able to sense his master’s needs and judges many of the characters coming through the story.  In fact, Tobit’s family is visited by a far-flung relative who takes Tobit’s son and Okra on a journey to settle a debt that another family member has to Tobit.  I told you — lots and lots of characters!

It’s this journey where we see much of the Holy Spirit, God, and Devil symbolism and metaphors in the story.  As with many novels, the young man on the journey runs into many obstacles and is able to overcome them with help from varied sources.

I won’t sum up more of the plot than that.  One of the things I most enjoyed about this story were the characters and the few twists and turns along the way, so I don’t want to ruin them.

While Richard, the author, does hold our hands a little bit to help us see his ideas of God’s impact in our lives and why our treatment of others (no matter how they compare to us) is important, it’s for a good cause.  Ultimately, it’s easy to see how things haven’t changed much in the last century or so — we’re still hurting others for no reason other than our own prejudices, and that’s not what we’re called to do.

Through Tobit’s struggles, the journey of Tobias, and the interactions of the cast of characters, this story serves as a much-needed reminder of our calling to treat others like Christ.

Review of “Something Other Than God”

I mentioned this book in my Seven Quick Takes last week, but it was so good, I felt like I had to devote a whole post to it.

As I mentioned last week, I recently read (really, frantically devoured) Something Other Than God by Jennifer Fulwiller.  Before her book, I’d never really read a modern conversion story (I read Dorothy Day’s story for one of my religion classes in college, but nothing since then), and as a cradle Catholic, I don’t really have the same sort of story.  Yes, we all have our little conversions here and there where we come back to the Faith or are renewed by it.  But, the story of going from an atheist to a Catholic is really interesting.

While the book is laid out in chronological order, the more important structure is how Fulwiler’s conversion is so methodical and logical.  She goes from a complete doubter of any sort of god, to seeing how a logical belief in God and in the Catholic faith makes the most sense.

No, I can’t relate to her story in going from no faith and belief in God to the most structured and ancient of Christian denominations.  But, Fulwiler’s life (college, professional work, being a mother) is something that I can relate to.  I can connect with her on a level of being a mother and having a new understanding of mortality.

One of the parts of the book that struck me the most was when she has one of the first inklings that she’s searching for God (without, of course, knowing that’s what she’s searching for).  At this point, he first baby was born not long ago and she’s realizing mortality and the desire that all of us have, deep down, to know that there’s something after this life.

She thinks about her baby eventually dying and becoming part of the fossils that she saw in Mexico when she was growing up.  For the first time, she realizes that this idea doesn’t really bother her and she wants to know why:

“I sat like that for what felt like hours (though was probably just a few minutes), lost in thought, breathing in the icy wind that wound through the skyscrapers.  Finally, I stumbled across the answer, and the words rang through my mind like a bell: I don’t think it’s true.”  

She realizes that atheism can’t account for the bond and the love that she had with her husband and her baby.  It explained the chemical reactions, but she was starting to realize that there was more to that at the core of who we are as people — she starts to consider the idea that we might have souls.  This idea, of course, wrecks complete havoc on her firm atheistic beliefs and is the foundation of the rest of her conversion story.

Finally, one thing that surprised me about the book was how she doesn’t really talk much about her confirmation into the Church (she was baptized a Catholic as a baby).  At first, I was a little disappointed that there was so much background to her conversion and I thought the lack of reflection on her actual baptism to be a little unsatisfying.

But, then I realized why I (think) she did this.  The important part of her story is the journey of how she became Catholic, not the actual moment itself.  The moment of any sacrament is deeply personal; it loses something when he have to put it into words.  In hindsight, I’m glad she kept those moments to herself, forever something between her and God.

I highly recommend Something Other Than God and you can get it all kinds of places (but, here’s the Amazon link).  If you’d like a little intro to Jen and her writing, check out her blog, Conversion Diary.