Cowboy Pug: Book Review

This was another birthday gift for a student. I’d never heard of the series before, but this student likes pugs so I thought Cowboy Pug would be an appropriate enough gift. Again, I can hardly be expected to buy a book for a student and not read it first!

The cover of "Cowboy Pug" by Laura James

Author: Laura James

Illustrator: Églantine Ceulemens

My GoodReads rating: 3 stars

Average GoodReads rating: 3.95

Language scaling: A2+

Summary: Lady Miranda and Pug are set to be cowboys for the day, but first they need to find a horse…and stay on the right side of the law.

Recommended audience: Elementary and middle school students

In-depth thoughts: After Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Cowboy Pug was a refreshing, if vacant, little read. The story is a little dragged-out but cute. It’s apparently the second in a series, which would explain why I felt a little lost going in. (Why does this small child, Lady Miranda, have a huge house and servants and a sedan chair and apparently no need to go to school? Are we in a semi-fantasy world or the real one?) I can’t imagine the actual target demographic will be thinking much about that larger context, though. It’s a cute pug! In a rodeo!

Adults might not be so easily charmed (unless they love pugs or horses), but it’s innocent and imaginative fun.

Book Review: Diary of a Wimpy Kid

One of my younger charges is a fan of the Swedish translation of Diary of a Wimpy Kid. His birthday is coming up, and I think he’s at the point where he can appreciate the English original. Of course I couldn’t resist the temptation to sit down and read his birthday present before I wrap it up and give it to him.

Cover of Jeff Kinney's "Diary of a Wimpy Kid."

Author: Jeff Kinney

My GoodReads rating: 2 stars

Average GoodReads rating: 3.97

Language scaling: A2+

Summary: Middle schooler Greg Heffley’s life and times.

Recommended audience: Elementary and middle school students

In-depth thoughts: Some children’s literature continues to hold up, even when you’re an adult. Other children’s literature seems to have a narrow appreciation window. Diary of a Wimpy Kid falls firmly in the latter camp for me. I imagine there’s some appeal to watching the snarky and frankly sociopathic Greg come up with plans and then fail horrendously at them when you’re still 10 or 11 years old—it’s a lot of the same kind of hijinks that make certain grating YouTube celebrities so popular with young fans—but as an adult there’s not much to enjoy.

The art is cute, at least, and you have to credit Kinney with inspiring a bunch of copycats. There’s also a few scenes of Greg’s dad being surprisingly (or not so surprisingly) adamant about Greg not having “girl toys” that Kinney could have done something with but just…didn’t. I’m not expecting a treatise on gender in a book for elementary school kids, and I’m glad he brought it up at all, but there was more that could have been done with it.

In the end, though, Greg is too unlikable for my taste, especially in how he treats his “best friend.” I think some parents might want to sit down with their young readers and talk about, for example, what kind of “friend” Greg really is and the difference between what’s funny in a book and what’s acceptable in real life.

What I Did on My Summer Vacation, Days 15 and 16: Albany, NY

Day 15

We’re up early to see L  out the door to work. A makes some eggs and toast for breakfast, and we have some of the Söder to go with it and wake up from the late night. After some art and doodles, the oldest wants to have a puppet show, and I keep both boys distracted for long enough with Monkey the Dentist and Giraffe the Doctor that A  has time to jump in the shower and have a few minutes to herself (until the youngest gets some serious separation anxiety and I drop him off to be in the bathroom with Mom).

I also have a fun time reading to the oldest, because I love reading anything, even if it’s kiddie picture books for the five thousandth time. I chat with A  over the boy’s head when he’s deeply involved with a book himself, though we never get back to the topic of friendship and time. Once in a while he wants some quiet, or he wants attention, and he yells at us: “Stop talking!” After numerous incidents, A lectures him a little about having patience and waiting, and that’s the last “Stop talking!” for the rest of my stay.

We also read through a book about dragons, and at the end it mentions Komodo dragons. One of my students has family in Sri Lanka and has visited on and off, and told me once about seeing a Komodo dragon on temple grounds, where it was allowed to just hang out and be a Komodo dragon because you aren’t allowed to kill anything near the temple. I bring up the story with A,  and she mentions that oh yeah, when she worked at the zoo she got to get up close and personal with a Komodo dragon, close enough to touch it.

Cue the meltdown from the oldest.

“NO MOMMY DON’T TOUCH THE DRAGON”

All the days I’m there, he doesn’t go down for a nap in the middle of the day, so as the afternoon drags on he gets a little overwhelmed and fussy (which makes dinners a little rough going, but we bribe him through with alternating reading pages and having bites of food).

While the youngest (still an infant) is down for a nap, I go out for a run in the park across the road.

 

I jump in the shower to wash off the sweat and grime when I get back and air out my workout clothes on the porch. A offers to wash them with the family clothes, but I figure they’ll be fine with some fresh air. A smart move, as it turns out: a stray crayon ended up in the wash and while nothing was ruined, it made the process a little more stressful than usual. It stressed A enough already; if a guest’s clothes had been involved, it would have freaked her out even more.

 

But the big event, in between books and arts and crafts and puppet shows, is the oldest’s favorite TV show: “the moon show.” “The Moon Show” is just his name for it, of course; can you guess why he calls it that? A hint:

“Do you know what Miss Koba’s favorite TV show is?”

“No, what?”

“The Moon Show!”

I don’t understand what about MST3K can possibly appeal to three-year-olds but there you have it. We don’t make it through the entire episode before L gets home and it’s time to start getting ready for dinner, but enough that I’m satisfied. After dinner and baths and bedtime books, the three of us sit down to a classic MST3K episode (a fond Hamilton favorite: Eeegah!), which ends up being background noise while and I (with input from A) break down how the new season compares with the series and give voice to our assorted little nitpicks (I think Jonah comes across as really nervous in the host segments; A misses how cheap the props used to look). We don’t make it through the entirety of Eegah!, either, and this time everyone heads to bed much earlier.

Day 16

L has taken a half day off work the next day so he can be home and hang out with us a bit, and also talk to the guy from the solar panel company who’s coming to evaluate the best place to put more solar panels. That means he’s also home in time for lunch, which is pierogi, one of my absolute favorites. I’m touched that A remembers—especially when she has absolutely no way of knowing that I haven’t had any in ages. What Sweden calls “pirogi” are really pirozhki and now if I want any I have to make them from scratch myself instead of getting an acceptably tasty ready-made version. I read a bit more from Her Smoke Rises Up Forever during the afternoon, while L plays with the oldest. We also putz around outside on the slightly crooked swing set.

Dinner is a bit of a hassle, again thanks to lack of an afternoon nap, but “eat, then read” bribes (tonight’s book is The Missing Piece Meets the Big O) get the job done. Everyone is a little rushed because we’re expecting my high school friend Fox, along with her boyfriend,  for company and board games, so it makes the oldest’s fussiness a little extra trying. But everyone gets shuttled off for a bath and bedtime stories successfully. Instead of helping with bedtime stories like I did the last couple nights, I set to work sweeping up veggie burger bits and washing dishes.

Fortunately, Fox and her boyfriend are running a little late themselves, so we have plenty of time for snacks and board games and adult company. This even though L and I have an early morning tomorrow: a four-hour drive to Maine the day off the wedding. We won’t have a lot of margin for error!

My Favorite Novels of 2017, According to GoodReads

I’ve already tackled the best nonfiction I read in 2017. Now it’s time for the best novels.

A cover of John Okada's "No-No Boy," featuring the title in large red sans-serif text on top of a charcoal side portrait of a Japanese man facing right, eyes downward, against a light blue background.
Image courtesy University of Washington Press

No-No Boy, John Okada. I don’t know how I missed this novel until now. Okada deals with the unique struggles faced by Japanese-Americans in the post-war years, which coincide with the universal struggle of children to live up to their parents’ expectations—or escape their influence.

A cover of Eleanor Wasserberg's "Foxlowe," featuring a monochrome illustration of a house flanked by two leafless trees with a large orange sun (or full moon) in the background. Orange leaves surround the image, as if blown off the trees, and dark blue and black clouds frame the entire thing.
Image courtesy Fourth Estate

Foxlowe, Eleanor Wasserberg. Another reason I do this annual round-up is to make sure I didn’t miss cataloging any important reads on the blog and somehow I missed talking about Foxlowe! A review is forthcoming, but the short version is that Foxlowe documents the decline and fall of a commune (or cult?) in a rambling old house called Foxlowe, from the perspective of a young girl who grew up in it and then finally left. I’d like to thank Universe in Words for bringing this book to my attention, because I don’t think I would have heard about it otherwise.

Cover of Akwaeke Emezi's novel "Freshwater."
Image courtesy Groove Press.

Freshwater, Akwaeke Emezi. For years, my reading has focused on classics I somehow missed or overlooked in my education, so I’ve been missing out on new releases for a while. Freshwater was the first bleeding-edge new release I’ve read in a long, long time, and it was worth it. A potent reminder that new classics are coming out every day.*

Cover of Meindert deJong's "The Wheel on the School" featuring a watercolor illustration by Maurice Sendak of five young boys and one girl in traditional Dutch clothing standing in front of a yellow wall, pointing and looking at a stork flying against a clear blue sky.
Image courtesy Harper Collins.

The Wheel on the School, Meindert DeJong. I haven’t reviewed this one here yet because I only read it on Christmas Eve. More specifically, I only re-read it on Christmas Eve. This is one of my favorite books from childhood, and it didn’t disappoint upon reading it again as an adult. (In fact, I’m sure I got much more out of it now than I ever did as a child.) What is, on the surface, a simple story about Dutch children who want storks to come back to their little fishing village of Shora is about so much more: about community and compassion and the importance of wondering and having dreams.

So that wraps up the best in reading for me in 2017. What were the best novels you read? I’d love to hear about them! Comment here or let me know on Twitter.

*indicates a book I received free of charge from NetGalley in exchange for a review; the review was already posted elsewhere

Friday 5: Count All the Bees in the Hive

Which of the Winnie-the-Pooh characters do you most relate to?

Rabbit, I suppose? I like to read, I can be bossy, and I find real-life Tiggers to be very trying.

 

The original Winnie the Pooh toys

Which of the Winnie-the-Pooh characters has qualities you’d find most attractive in a romantic partner?

My own partner is very much a Piglet, if that’s any indication!

 

In what way have you “wandered much further” today than you should?

I’m only answering this in the morning, so the day has hardly begun, really. I’ll admit to sleeping in a little, but only a little.
Of Winnie-the-Pooh stories you can remember (from the books, Disney cartoons, or other sources), which is your favorite?

To be honest, I don’t remember much from Winnie-the-Pooh. I know I liked the Disney adaptation of “Winnie-the-Pooh and the Blustery Day” when I was younger. I was also quite enamored with the word “blustery” and immediately set about using it in real life.

I also like the Russian animated adaptations. The art is so charming! The crayon backgrounds look just like a child’s drawing, which I think is very appropriate for Winnie-the-Pooh. Plus, this version of Piglet is absolutely adorable.

There are only three, but they’re all freely available on YouTube. Here is the first Винни Пух adaptation: В которой мы знакомимся с Винни-Пухом и несколькими подозрительными пчелами. (In which we meet Winnie the Pooh and a few suspicious bees.)

 

Which quote from the Winnie-the-Pooh stories would be good for the epigraph in the book about your life?

“I’ve got a sort of idea, but I don’t suppose it’s a very good one.”