Quantcast

America the Beautiful: A Story in Photographs

Source: TLC Book Tours

Hardcover, 400 pgs.

I am an Amazon Affiliate

America the Beautiful: A Story in Photographs, published by National Geographic, tells the story of our country in photographs and is broken down by region: the West and Pacific, the East and mid-Atlantic, the South and Caribbean, and the Midwest and central plains. Katharine Lee Bates and her work are the spine holding the volume together from her poem/song “America, the Beautiful” to her 1893 pilgrimage across the United States. Like the divisions in America today politically, Bates saw much the same debates and divisions on her journey, but she saw the merciless beauty in all of it, and documented her journey in a diary. What’s beautiful about the poem and this collection is that it not only praises the beauty of our country but never fails to criticize its flaws and call for evolution/improvement. “America! America!/God mend thine ev’ry flaw.”

The photographs in this collection are stunning. Some state photographs are accompanied by stories from authors, actors, and others who are from those states, including Tara Westover and Maya Rudolph. The glorious gray wolves in their natural habitat and the Zuni women of Arizona in their finery and dresses awaiting a celebration. Imagine yourself flying high in the traditional blanket toss in Alaska during whaling festival. Hear about the glories of Las Vegas beyond the gambling and the Neon lights from Wayne Newton. Even Barack Obama makes an appearance to share his memories of Hawaii, and the celebration of the Harlem Hellfighters in a photograph of a granddaughter holding her grandfather’s portrait, draped in an American flag. Some of my favorites are the portraits in sepia; they are gorgeous and there is so much depth in these American faces.

There is a serene calm of Walden Pond in Massachusetts, contrasted with the crowded beaches of New Jersey (at least before COVID-19). Play hide-and-seek with a young boy in Idaho in his father’s cornfield. So much joy in these photographs and stories told in captions and quotations. Fruit so bountiful and children joyous in the streets of Washington, D.C., as they take the summer heat in stride. Tattoo artists, American flags in a field, gray seals playing in the ocean, the weary faces of coal miners in West Virginia the sleepy faces of Appalachian Trail hikers, the camouflage of an alligator in duckweed, the fields of cabbage in Arkansas provide a snapshot of America and all of its faces and landscapes.

America the Beautiful: A Story in Photographs, published by National Geographic, is a love story for our nation. There is beauty in the harvest of Kansas, as rows of wheat give away to what begins to look like a race track, alongside the children in Illinois sharing the spray of water in Chicago’s Millennium Park. Photographs speak a thousand words, and what this collection tells me is that America may have differences and at times be at war with itself, but we are more similar than we think. We are one nation, something we need to remember.

RATING: Cinquain

National Geographic Little Kids First Big Book of Science by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld

Source: Media Masters Publicity

Hardcover, 128 pgs.

I am an Amazon Affiliate

National Geographic Little Kids First Big Book of Science by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld is so well organized with fact boxes, interactive questions, and tips for parents to use with their kids who are interested in doing more with science. The full-color photographs are gorgeous, and my daughter didn’t want to stop reading this one. It definitely opens kids’ eyes to the world around them, the simple ways in which science can be done, and explains how they too can become scientists.

From what our senses tell us about the world around us to how we can find answers to our questions, this book provides a great foundation for kids. My daughter has already kept a science journal for class in 2nd and 3rd grade when they were studying clouds and the growth of seeds, but this book also goes more into depth about hypotheses and theories and the difference between them. I loved the “Branches of Science” tree included in the book, though the branches of engineering, ecology, and physical science seemed a bit short to me; I’m sure there are more branches coming off of those. There is so much more that this book could cover in each chapter, but as a “first” book of science for kids, it does a wonderful job.

We loved how easy to read this was for my daughter. She read it to us on more than one occasion when she got excited about something she learned. I hope that this is just the first in the series and that there are more of these books about the other branches of science that are not covered in this volume. National Geographic Little Kids First Big Book of Science by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld is a great addition to any library and will be fun for both parents and kids with plenty of activities to share.

RATING: Cinquain

5,000 Awesome Facts (About Everything!)

Source: Media Masters Publicity

Hardcover, 224 pgs.

I am an Amazon Affiliate

5,000 Awesome Facts (About Everything!) from National Geographic Kids packs a lot of information into its little more than 200 pages, and many of these pages have full color photographs. The layout of the pages differs, but they are each packed with some fun and unusual facts from the 15 facts about mysteries throughout history to facts about animals (like penguins and dolphins) and facts about women, transportation, robots, paranormal activity, space junk, the Olympics, swimming, and Antarctica, among others.

We did notice that certain lists of facts are super long and don’t fit well into a fun and engaging bubble or other format, which means they were simply listed with one large photo or two medium photos. For instance, the two pages of sharks were just a list with one photo of a Great White Shark, and the text was a bit small. While my daughter loves watching shark week, this page of facts was not engaging to her. Neither were the two pages about skeletons and muscles, which was similarly arranged.

However, this book is chock full of information that kids can explore at their leisure and share with their parents. We love using these books to quiz each other and share what we found interesting. It’s fun to see our daughter say, “I knew that.” And then she’ll share a fact that she found interesting by first asking, “Mom, did you know…” I love these kids of books for this reason alone. My daughter also loved learning about inventions and some other things that she wouldn’t think to ask about. This book provides her with new thinks to explore on her own and with help.

5,000 Awesome Facts (About Everything!) from National Geographic Kids is a great gift for kids who are curious about the world around us — including the man-made parts of our world. My daughter loves nature, so those parts of the book were most interesting, but we did have some conversations about space junk and other things she had no idea about. We’ll likely turn to this book again and again, especially when we can get back to doing road trips.

RATING: Quatrain

Weird But True: Halloween 300 Spooky Facts to Scare You Silly by Julie Beer

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Paperback, 208 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Weird But True: Halloween 300 Spooky Facts to Scare You Silly by Julie Beer contains all things Halloween, the quirky, the factual, the fun, and the ghoulish. I wanted to review this one on Oct. 13 because it is a mirror for Oct. 31 and because 13 is considered an unlucky number.

My daughter loved the fun facts in this book and was awed by the spectacular displays throughout that people made with carved, lighted pumpkins. These displays are massive and inventive. I was riveted by the unusual: did you know that Halloween was once associated with love and romance? Or that in Scotland, people peeled apples in one long strip and tossed the peel over their shoulder to see what the first letter of their future love would be? Or that people in England used to take the front doors off their neighbors’ homes and hide them? And one I never would have known without reading this book is that the filling of Kit Kats is made from ground up Kit Kats.

Some of the fun facts I knew in here, especially the ones about Macbeth and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, but there wasn’t much about my favorite Halloween reads, but then again, perhaps my personal readings of Edgar Allan Poe are not traditions elsewhere.

There are even some goodies in here that I hope to try with my daughter on Halloween in lieu of Trick or Treating — some mummy wrapping, apple bobbing, and carving challenges. Weird But True: Halloween 300 Spooky Facts to Scare You Silly by Julie Beer is a delightful look at the holiday and all the craziness that it inspires. Definitely a great gift to offer kids when candy and door-to-door stops is ill-advised.

RATING: Quatrain

National Geographic Kids: Beginner’s United States Atlas and United States Atlas

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Paperbacks, 128 pgs and 176 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

National Geographic Kids has a new 2020 edition of both the Beginner’s United States Atlas (3rd edition) and the United States Atlas (6th edition). The Beginner’s atlas includes the basics about what a map is, the land, the people, and the national capital, as well as individual maps and facts about each states. The atlas divides the country into 5 regions designated by different colors, and the back of the book contains a glossary, postal codes, and metric conversion chart. We love the full color topographical maps in this volume and the large text that makes the information easy to read.

My daughter and I will spend a great deal of time learning about maps and what features on the map signify, as well as the importance of the scale and compass. The full color photos in the atlas are gorgeous and vivid. They include natural features and animals, historical elements, and the state birds and flowers, among other things. The beginner’s atlas is a great place to start with elementary school students to help them learn about the different states in our country. We’ve already checked out our home state of Maryland.

The United States Atlas is a smaller paperback atlas that also includes full color photos and is chock full of information. This atlas includes information about the physical aspects of our country, including its climate and natural hazards, and information about our population, energy, the national capital, and people on the move. Again the atlas is broken up into 6 regions (one of which includes the U.S. Territories) that are color coded. There are facts and figures, postal abbreviations, map abbreviations, place names in an index, and more. This one has more in-depth information than the beginner’s atlas.

We love that both of these provide text and facts, but that they also provide photos that bring each state to life. National Geographic Kids’s new 2020 edition of both the Beginner’s United States Atlas and the United States Atlas will be a great addition to homeschooling and virtual schooling this year. With the topsy-turvy COVID-19 pandemic still underway, this will give us a needed break from Zoom classes and allow her to explore the country — at least in a book.

RATING: Cinquain

You Need a Budget by Jesse Mecham (audio)

Source: Audible
Audiobook, 5 hrs
I am an Amazon Affiliate

You Need a Budget by Jesse Mecham, narrated by the author, is a hard and fast look at budgeting. The first big takeaway for me was that budgets are not rigid tools, but are meant to be flexible. You can visit the website and signup for the software and more too.

Here are your four rules for budgeting:

  • Rule One: Give Every Dollar a Job.
  • Rule Two: Embrace Your True Expenses.
  • Rule Three: Roll With The Punches.
  • Rule Four: Age Your Money.

For couples, this means you have to also embrace the goals and expenses of yourself and your spouse and some goals and expenses may belong to both people in the relationship. No one goal or expense (that are necessary or desired expenses) supersede another.

The biggest rule for me that made me rethink budgeting is rule two because it shouldn’t just include the mortgage or the utilities and food, but also large, less-frequent expenses like holiday gifts, car repairs, etc. I need to break them into manageable, monthly “bills” that we assign dollars to — giving them a job.

One of the hardest lessons will be this: commit to the process of planning. You can stop timing bills to a specific paycheck — this is probably a foreign concept for many people, especially those not taught about finances. Much of what I’ve learned about finance is on the fly and with many failures. For couples, the biggest lesson will be communicating about spending on a regular basis, which can mean a monthly meeting.

One of the best parts of the book is the chapter on teaching children about money and how to talk to them about money without freaking them out. My one issue is that it talks about how he plans to not save for his kids’ college education and that he expects them not to take out student loans. I found this section a bit “pie in the sky” given the high cost of tuition in America. I did like the allowance portion of the book, however, because it enables kids to be kids and spend their money how they want and learn that they might have wanted to save that money they spent for something else. This turns into practical lessons.

You Need a Budget by Jesse Mecham is an intriguing listen with real-world examples of people paying off debts, learning how to budget as a couple, and more. But I think I would have preferred a print version that I could mark up. It’ hard to mark up and audio. Good thing there’s a website with free tools and more.

Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 224 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey is an emotional roller coaster that I read in a couple of days. I’ve read much of Trethewey’s poetry in the past, so I was aware that her memoir would be well written. Growing up the daughter of a white father and a Black mother in the south was hard for her parents, but for the most part, they tried to shelter her from the darkness of bigotry and the still segregated south (Yes, the laws had changed, but attitudes and operations definitely had not). But this memoir is not about the fight for equality so much as a mystery slowly unraveled by Trethewey herself. She’s avoided parts of her past surrounding the murder of her mother by her stepfather. In many ways, the memoir reads like an intimate look at her own unraveling of the past and a stitching of herself into a whole being after splicing herself into the girl she was before she saw the apartment where her mother was slain and the woman she became afterward.

“‘Do you know what it means to have a wound that never heals?'” (Prologue)

“I chose to mark the calendar year just after my mother and I left Mississippi as ending, and the moment of loss — her death — as beginning.” (pg. 51)

Trethewey will take readers on a very emotional journey, and I rarely cry at memoirs. This was a tough read from beginning to end, as Trethewey came to terms with her biracial heritage, the divorce of her parents, and the fateful entrance of her stepfather. When she and her mother move to Atlanta, founded as “Terminus” or the end of the line, their perspectives on the move are very different. A child missing her close-knit family life in Mississippi and her mother reaching for a new life. When Big Joe comes into their lives, there’s an immediate sense of dread and fear as he takes her on long rides on the 285 as punishment (mostly for things she didn’t do). But Trethewey still blames her silence for what happened to her mother, even if it is less pronounced than it must have been years ago. Silence is a conundrum for her. “…I can’t help asking myself whether her death was the price of my inexplicable silence.” (pg. 83) When she returns to Atlanta after fleeing the place, she avoids the past and takes any roads that are not 285.

“The truth, however, was waiting for me in my body and on the map I consulted to navigate my way around: how the outline of 285 bears the shape of an anatomical heart imprinted on the landscape, a wound where Memorial intersects it.” (pg. 86)

Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey is a gripping tale of healing and reconciling the past. Trethewey relies not only on her memory but on her mother’s own writing, testimony, and recorded phone conversations. I was emotionally wrecked by this memoir. The love she had as a child from both her parents provided her with the strong foundation she needed to revisit this tragic part of her past and to heal herself (at least I’m hopeful that she’s healing).

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Natasha Trethewey is an American poet who was appointed United States Poet Laureate in 2012 and again in 2013. She won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for her 2006 collection Native Guard, and she is a former Poet Laureate of Mississippi.

Other Reviews:

Pounce! a How to Speak Cat Training Guide

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Paperback, 176 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Pounce! a How to Speak Cat Training Guide by Dr. Gary Weitzman and Tracey West is a comprehensive look at cat behavior, full magazine-quality images, and so much more. Kids ages 8 and up can learn not only how to gauge when a cat is anxious or angry, but they can also learn about what it means when cats purr. There’s even a quiz about cats that kids can do to learn not only about their diets but also whether cats do have nine lives. Cats can be trained, which is true if you think about how they have to be trained to use a litter box — why wouldn’t you be able to train them to do other things?

We don’t own a cat, but my daughter’s best buddy in the neighborhood has several and she loves playing with them (when we’re not in a pandemic). I think this book would help her friend learn more about cat behavior and how to recognize when the cats have had enough. Beyond training cats to use the litter box and putting on a color, kids and parents can learn to train their cats to come when called, go into a carrier for the vet visit, and using a cat door, as well has how to play with a ball. We learned that much like dogs, cats can be trained to sit, stay, and beg, as well as shake paws.

There are even tips to help with destructive behavior and so much more. Pounce! a How to Speak Cat Training Guide by Dr. Gary Weitzman and Tracey West demonstrates that many animals can be taught tricks. Cats are likely candidates, and kids can be kept safer by learning how to read cat behavior.

RATING: Quatrain

Fetch! A How to Speak Dog Training Guide

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Paperback, 176 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Fetch! A How to Speak Dog Training Guide by Dr. Gary Weitzman and Aubre Andrus is another fact-filled guide from National Geographic Kids for kids ages 8 and up. The book provides practical guidance on how to train a dog to sit, stay, and so much more. Our dog already knows some tricks, so our daughter wants to work with her on the harder activities and I’m hoping to train her how to catch a Frisbee. Our live-in dog, who belongs to my parents, has zero tricks. My first trick will be to teach him how to hush. He barks way too much for my liking. Wish me luck, since he’s a notoriously stubborn dog.

There are activities like ringing a bell, jumping through a hoop, and so much more. Maybe we’ll train these dogs for the circus? Not likely, but it will be a good idea for her to try and train her own dog and learn how to be responsible for her pets. The book has some vivid color images of different dogs, which was another fun topic of conversation. She’ll know more about different dog breeds than I did as a kid.

Inside, kids can learn not only how to train their own dogs, but learn from other dog owners who’ve tried to train their own pooches. There are other fun activities for kids to where they can make their own dog toys or learn what type of dog they are. My daughter was happy to learn that she’s at least part Siberian Husky like her own dog. There are even vet tips and information on how to read your dog’s body language. The back of the book also offers resources for further information.

Fetch! A How to Speak Dog Training Guide by Dr. Gary Weitzman and Aubre Andrus provides a lot of activities for kids to learn how to interact with their dog and teach them good behaviors, but it also can become an interactive activity for dogs to enjoy — especially since many of the tricks require rewards in treats.

RATING: Quatrain

Build a Castle: 64 Slot-Together Cards for Creative Fun by Paul Farrel

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Card set
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Build a Castle: 64 Slot-Together Cards for Creative Fun by Pail Farrel is a box set of full color cards that you can interlock to create castles of traditional architecture or even something a little bit different. This set is for ages 3-5 years old, but I suspect younger kids would need help from their parents. I would venture to say this collection of cards is more for 5-8 year olds. There are 64 cards in the box with different architectural elements, which are explained in the pamphlet. The hefty card stock is useful in building sturdy structures, but the instructions are very minimal, which is why I would recommend this activity for older kids or as an activity for parents and kids to do together.

My one quibble would be the directions are not very clear for younger kids, so I definitely needed to show her what some of the photos were referring to — think IKEA directions. But my daughter and I had a great time, as you’ll see from the pictures below:

Build a Castle: 64 Slot-Together Cards for Creative Fun by Pail Farrel was a fun afternoon activity amid COVID-19 quarantine. We had a good time building castles and towers for princesses with long hair. We’ll likely build again, but for now, the castles are disassembled and returned to the box. You need a new kind of activity for kids, this one could be the right one. Make sure you build on a stable surface!

RATING: Quatrain

Resistance: A Songwriter’s Story of Hope, Change, and Courage by Tori Amos (audio)

Source: Audible
Audiobook, 8+ hrs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Resistance: A Songwriter’s Story of Hope, Change, and Courage by Tori Amos, a memoir of creativity read by the author, explores a variety of political climates through the lens of an adult. When Amos was playing piano bars in Washington, D.C., the hotbed of political machinations, at age 11 in the 1970s, she was likely not aware of the political situation as much as she is as an adult. She brings her knowledge of now when she looks back on those experiences, but what sticks with her was how a marginalized group took a chance on her young talent as a pianist to provide entertainment for the political elite. Growing up in music bars throughout the city and in hotels where lobbyists made their deals with politicians provided Amos with a window into the truth of our Republic. Young people learning about our government and its structure often have a naive view of how our country is run, and I can tell you from experience that it is devastating when you learn how deals are struck and powerful men always seem to have the upper hand even if the side they are on is clearly wrong and devastating.

I love the structure of this memoir and how Amos uses her song lyrics to discuss her inspiration, the process of creativity, and what aspects of the wider world helped fuel her muses. While some of the songs may seem only tangentially connected to the world affairs she connects with them, that’s the beauty of art. It grows beyond the original intent or words to paint a wider experience of the world around us and help us to see our part in that world.

While Amos’ creative process will not be something that everyone can ascribe to or understand, it is an intriguing journey that she’s made with her family and alone. She speaks about the death of her mother briefly, which must have been particularly devastating. But it is clear that her strength as an artist and women comes from her mother and the inspiration and direction she received from her.

Resistance: A Songwriter’s Story of Hope, Change, and Courage by Tori Amos is a memoir that I’ll remember for a very long time, and is definitely a step above compared to her first, Tori Amos: Piece by Piece. Each artist comes to their work in a different way, and while some may be excellent performers, there is a richness that comes with artists’ like Amos who create work that deeply affects their own soul, as well as those around them. Her memoir is even more relevant today that it was when it was written — before the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the COVID-19 pandemic and ignorance of society about public health protections and so much more.

RATING: Quatrain

Magnolia Table, Volume 2: A Collection of Recipes for Gathering by Joanna Gaines

Source: Publisher
Hardcover, 352 pgs.
I am an Amazon affiliate

Magnolia Table (Vol. 2): A Collection of Recipes for Gathering by Joanna Gaines is the second volume of recipes from Gaines, and this one was more thought out and planned than her previous volume, according to the introduction. Her previous volume focused on family favorites that she makes all the time, while this one chronicles her journey to learn about new foods, ingredients, and more. I really loved the substitutions chart because that will help me a great deal when I don’t have certain ingredients. I never know what to substitute. There are some great full-color photos in the book, but given the pandemic, there are some things that I couldn’t do at all, especially recipes requiring yeast (this has been non-existent for months).

The first recipe I tried was for Roasted Rosemary Sweet Potatoes. We had just gotten some delivered from the local farmer’s market, so I was eager to try this recipe. One drawback is that there were not pictures for this recipe, but we assumed that Gaines cut the potatoes into french fry form, which is what we went with. It was pretty easy to follow, though for my family, I would definitely cut back on some of the rosemary and black pepper — several people said it was too spicy (my daughter included). The other thing I found was that 40 minutes was too long at 450 degrees. My over charred some of these fries, so I think next time I’ll just cook them for 30 minutes or keep a closer eye on them. But they still were tasty.

Gaines recommends serving these with Rib Eye Steaks, but we didn’t have any of that. We had meatloaf with beans.

The next recipe I tried was for French Silk Pie, which had some really easy to follow steps. I really enjoyed this recipe and will be making it again, since it was a big hit even if there was a problem with my crust. I think pre-made crust is best for me. This recipe does have a full-color picture that helped me determine if my ingredients were working together as they should.

Everyone ignored the terrible crust and said the pie itself was delicious. I really enjoyed making this one, and I’ll be happy to make it again. I already have plans to try making it with a graham cracker crust.

While I didn’t get to make the pizzas I wanted to because of the lack of yeast, I plan to make those when things are more available in the stores. Some of the recipes in this book, however, we probably won’t make unless my kiddo and mom become more adventurous in their eating. I do want to check out the first volume of recipes in the first book, because I suspect those recipes will be better for my family.

Magnolia Table (Vol. 2): A Collection of Recipes for Gathering by Joanna Gaines is a good cookbook with a ton of information for budding chefs at home. While not everything suited my family’s taste, I’m sure that it will be a big hit with others. I do wish there were more pictures in the cookbook, but that’s because I love full-page photos of food. It helps me see how delicious it will look when I’m done cooking.

RATING: Quatrain