Pragmatic Mom

March 22, 2010

Favorite Golf Books Because Spring is Here!!!

To coincide with the holy grail of the Master’s Tournament, my husband suggested these books for the golf nut in your life.  Could make a nice Father’s Day gift for later as well.  He qualifies.   He thinks it’s a crime against humanity if he’s not playing golf on a decent day;  he plays to a zero handicap; and he has amassed a huge collection of golf books and claims to have read every single one.  These are his favorites.  If you become a golf widow every spring like I do, your only recourse is to take up the game of golf.  And be sure to send your kids out to the course with your golf nut.  The kids love it.  They get to drive the cart, eat a hotdog outside, hit balls, play with the reseeding mixture, play with golf tees, and hang with their golf nut who would otherwise be absentee.  They learn great etiquette on the course and improve their  eye/hand coordination as a bonus gift.

The Art of Putting and The Art of the Short Game, both by Stan Utley.  Instructional books.

Playing Through:  A Year of Life and Links Along the Scottish Coast by Curtis Gillespie. 


The Seventh at St. Andrews  : How Scotsman David McLay Kidd and His Ragtag Band Built the First New Course onGolf’s Holy Soil in Nearly a Century by Scott Gummer.

The Edict:  A Novel From the Beginnings of Golf by Bob Cupp.

Scratch by Troon McAllister.

February 3, 2010

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

My sister sent me this massive tome for my youngest’s third birthday.  I was surprised; he can’t read yet and this book can rival a thick Harry Potter.  But my sister said, “No, no…it’s supposed to be this really cool book that is mostly illustrations.”  I glanced through it and it sat on the back burner bookshelf.

I took it out a few months ago, and it sat on my bedside table for another two months.  The sheer weight of the book was daunting.  Finally, I was in a rush to pack up for my jam-packed Tuesdays when I drive my kids around dropping off one to gymnastics then sprinting to the flute lesson…but secretly I love this day.  The flute lesson is a little island of quiet time; 30 minutes to read a book (which is usually why I blog on a book review on Tuesdays).  So, I grabbed this book because I was in a rush and my pile was down to two books, and what a pleasure it was to read this book!

I call The Invention of Hugo Cabret a children’s literature version of The Phantom of the Opera.  They are both set in Paris; Hugo is set around 1931.  They both sneak around in hidden canals and passageways that they know like that back of their hand.  And They both have deep, dark secrets from the past.  Hugo is almost a book within a book.  The book IS actually mostly illustrations (284!) , and much like the picture books Flotsam or Tuesday by David Weisner, the illustrations tell their own story.  There is also the story which is a fair amount of text, but part of it is broken up by pages and pages of illustrations and some of the story pages have only a scant paragraph.

The story of Hugo, itself, is a mystery that unwinds, layer by layer, into a deeply interconnecting and interesting story weaving the history of motion pictures with themes of magic, believing, and the power of friendships.  It’s really a lovely and riveting story.

The sweet spot for this book would be 3-5th graders, particularly reluctant boy readers.  Don’t let the thickness of the book deter your reader and this might be a perfect story to read together for reluctant readers.  This book won a slew of awards including Finalist for the National Book Award.

To purchase, please click on the image of the book to buy at  Thank you!

January 30, 2010

Mary on Horseback: Three Mountain Stories by Rosemary Wells

If you hear Rosemary Wells and think Max and Ruby , Yoko and Friends or McDuff, you have the right author.  She is an author, like Cynthia Rylant, who has incredible range.  Mary on Horseback:  Three Mountain Stories is a biography of Mary Breckenridge, a nurse during World War I, who provided nursing and medical services to the poor in the Appalachia after her two children and two husbands die.   Her nurses on horseback were the foundation of the Frontier Nursing Service that she created.

At just 53 pages and comprised of 5 very short chapters, Mary on Horseback is series of spare but powerful stories that graphically depict the hardships of the poor in Appalachia. Lesser known than Clara Barton and Florence Nightingale, Mary Breckenridge’s autobiography moved Rosemary Wells so much that she visited Wendover and talked to nurses at the Frontier Nursing Service.  Wells felt that her story should be shared with young people and wrote this story as a result.

I asked my 4th grader what she thought of the book; I had forgotten that she had read it in 2nd grade.  She agreed that while the reading level of the book is for Newly Independent Readers, the content is more suitable for 4th grade.  I think it’s important to provide strong role models for girls so I wholeheartedly recommend this book.

Winner of the Christopher Award, A Booklist Editors’ Choice Book, and A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year.

If your child likes this book, try The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill.  It’s about another woman who courageously goes to the wilds of Alaska to teach in a one-room school house and ends up changing the children’s lives.   The reading level is similar but the content is more interesting than “Grapes of Wrath” graphic because her students are rugged and hardy and completely capable of living off the land.  This is also historical fiction.

January 29, 2010

Non Fiction Animal/Math Picture Books

My 2nd grader bought these books home from her school library yesterday and I pounced on them.  Apparently, there were three available, but she was only able to check out two.  These books combine a really interesting, behind-the-scenes-at-the-zoo, rescue story about a zoo animal baby and marries it with a mathematical concept.  These books are perfect for grades 2-5.

Polar Bear Math:  Learning About Fractions from Klondike and Snow is the story about two polar bear cubs abandoned by their mother at the Denver Zoo and their fight for survival AND about fractions.

Tiger Math:  Learning to Graph from a Baby Tiger is the story about a tiger born at the Denver Zoo whose mama tiger unexpectedly dies of  cancer when he’s just a cub AND about graphing.

The author, Ann Whitehead Nagda, has an interesting background.  She has a degree in mathematics and worked for IBM.  She travels widely around the world then becomes a docent at the Denver Zoo and starts cranking out these books.  She seems like a really interesting person; I’d love to have her for my neighbor!

Here are her other books:

Cheetah Math:  Learning about Division from Baby Cheetahs

Panda Math: Learning About Subtraction from Hua Mei and Mei Sheng

Chimp Math:  Learning About Time from a Baby Chimpanzee

January 25, 2010

Percy Jackson Series by Rick Riordan

I took a day off the computer yesterday and just read books 2 through 5 of the Percy Jackson series.  I have to say it was the best day ever!  This is a really wonderful series with wide appeal both in age and in gender and the range is ages 8-adult.  There is also no weak link in the series and every book stands on it’s own, though I do suggest reading them in order.  I’ve included my previous book review of the first book, The Lightening Thief, below, and can add that I stayed up way past my bedtime, AGAIN, to finish the last book. They Are Simply That Good!

I’ve added the classic Mythology by Edith Hamilton which I read and loved as a child.  You may as well capitalize on an interest in Greek Mythology and even Roman Mythology that this series will instill in your child.  The Usborne is great for younger readers but Edith Hamilton is THE expert and her Mythology book has greater detail.

I also wanted to add that I bought the 5 book set listed below; the one that looks like it’s in a treasure box.  It’s $52 but the books are all hard cover, so I feel like it’s a bargain.  Also, I never found any of the Percy Jackson books sitting on the library shelves and I was too lazy to reserve so it was easier to just buy the set.  My 4th grader was just as excited as I was to open the box, and she abandoned Harry Potter, Book 6, to dive right in.  She also LOVED them which was very gratifying to me.   I do feel that I’ll get good use out of the books as I’m quite confident all my kids will go through this series at some point and LOVE IT!

The Lightening Thief by Rick Riodan.  This is “Harry Potter meets Greek Mythology” and it’s a fantastic read!  It’s such a page-turner that I stayed up to 2 a.m. to finish it!  This is a MUST READ before the movie comes out!

Percy Jackson is an ADD, dyslexic 6th grade hero who has trouble staying in school because, as it turns out, he’s no ordinary human but a half-blood related to one of the big three in Greek Mythology.  He must find and return Zeus’ lost lightening bolt to prevent WWIII.  This series makes Greek Mythology come alive so I’ve included a Greek Mythology book as well.  The level of difficulty is slightly easier than Book 1 of Harry Potter; this book is 375 pages long, normal sized type.  [ages 8-14]

(boxed set of first three books, $11.69)

(boxed set of all 5 books, $51.97)

January 22, 2010

No Flying in the House by Betty Brock

My 7-year-old came home from school two days ago with an important message for me:  “I just read the best book.  You need to add it to your blog.”  I had never heard of No Flying in the House and assumed it was a picture book, though I don’t know why.  My middle daughter is the reason why I created the Favorite Chapter Books for Newly Independent Readers because she refuses to read anything except chapter books.  She proceeded to borrow it from her teacher so that I could save a trip to the library and I have to say that she is right.  This is a great, old-fashioned fairy story.   Our copy was even more charming because it was clearly a really old book with a big chunk of pages taped carefully back into the book.  It looked like a garage sale rescue or a beloved book that was carefully passed down.  No matter!  It’s a find!

I’m a little annoyed with fairy stories in general; I was forced to read way too many Rainbow Fairies books to this same child.  With that same painful repetitive plot.  And even the same vocabulary words.  Over and Over.  It was my idea of hell.

But this is a lovely story about a half-blood fairy.  (I’m reading a lot about half-bloods these days; The Percy Jackson series just arrived at our house yesterday to great fan fare and excitement).  She doesn’t know she’s a fairy and her guardian is a 3 inch talking dog.  There are lots of interesting surprises along the way that both my daughter and I thoroughly enjoyed.

If you are in Fairy Hell, try to convince your darling to try this book instead.  It comes highly recommended by their peer who now agrees that the Rainbow Fairies Series is a little boring (and redundant and repetitive!).  We can finally get rid of those books and free up an entire shelf of space!  Yay!  This book is perfect for grades 2-4th.  It’s a chapter book with some illustrations.

Here are some open-ended questions if you want to have a book discussion from my 7-year-old:

  • What is your favorite character and why?
  • What do you think Belinda is trying to do to Gloria?
  • Did you think the book was confusing?  Why or why not?
  • Have you ever read a similar book to this one?
  • Was this an interesting book?
  • When Gloria is in her fairy world, do you think she’s still a 3 inch dog?
  • Do you think you are half-fairy?  How would you know?

If you want a related activity, she suggests, use sculpy clay to mold a 3 inch animal or a character from the book.  Or try to design a fairy world.  Draw it or create a diaorama.

As always, to purchase this book, simply click on the image of book and you will be magically transported to this particular book at

January 20, 2010

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

Grace Lin is the children’s literature version of Amy Tan. Her latest book, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is her best yet.  She weaves Chinese folk tales into a tapestry of stories where the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts.   There is always a  sweetness and  innocence to her writing; there are always loving parents and children learning to believe in themselves and their culture.

This could be Grace Lin’s own story. A RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) graduate, she dreamed as a child to become a children’s author and illustrator. And, it turns out, she did this with her best friend from childhood…the one who moves away to California just like her book The Year of the Rat.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is an Asian-American version of the Percy Jackson series starting with The Lightening Thief. Where Riordan weaves in Greek Mythology into his plot, Grace Lin uses Chinese Folk Tales into a wonderful, inspiring and heart-warming story that teaches all of us to just… BELIEVE.

My kids’ friends in 5th grade all voted this book the best book they’ve read this year. It is age appropriate for 8-12-year-olds, but frankly I enjoyed it too. Grace LIn gives a wonderful bibliography of Chinese Folk Tales that she used in the writing of the tale. She has beautifully illustrated this book to resemble Chinese paper cut-out art mixed in with 4 color paintings.  I’ll be shocked and surprised if she doesn’t win a slew of awards for this book!

If you are interested in a book discussion comparing Where the Mountain Meets the Moon to The Lightening Thief, I came up with some open-ended questions.  Some might require outside research.

1)  How old are the Chinese Folk Tales approximately?  How old are the Greek Myths?

2) Do you see any similarities in any of the stories?  Why do you think there might be similar stories?

3) What causes rain?  How do Chinese Folk Tales explain rain?  How about Greek Mythology?  Why do you think they have these stories?  What makes rain so important to the ancient Chinese?  ancient Greeks?

4) What causes death?  How do Chinese Folk Tales explain death?  How about Greek Mythology?  Which story do you like better?

5) Do we have any myths or beliefs that we can portent the future?  What about fortune tellers or psychics?  Who do you go to in Chinese Folk Tales to get your future told?  How about in Greek Mythology?  Why is knowing the future so important to people?  Are we so different than ancient Greeks or ancient Chinese?

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