Best Books for Babies

Hey, guys! I’m at The Learning Basket today with an article about Best Books for Babies! 🙂 Hope you can check it out! You know very well that I’m a reading advocate and in this blog I shared the kinds of books that your little ones can enjoy. Start the reading habit early! Read to them 20 minutes a day (can be spread out; I recommend reading longer!) and introduce your babes to the wonderful world of books. 🙂 I started reading to Timmy on his first month and now he’s a voracious toddler reader. 🙂 We allowed him to do anything with his books so he grew up not being intimidated by it. Here are some snapshots of my little guy reading and exploring his books. 🙂

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The Writer Tag

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I was tagged by my good friend Tina of Life’s a Beach and boy, was I so glad she did! 🙂 My blogging backlog is too shameful I can’t even remember how many drafts I have. I have all these topics floating around inside my head like jellyfish waiting to sting if I don’t let them out. So this writer tag is really timely because it forces me to take a break from my usual writing projects and do some leisurely writing. YAY! 🙂 Let’s roll!
1. What type of writing do you do?
I’m a copywriter and most of my writing assignments involve content writing such as blogs and web articles. I basically do the same for other freelance writing jobs I take on. I also write book reviews in my book blog although I need to be more consistent in doing that. 🙂
2. What genres and/or topics do you write about?

Everything non-fiction so that covers anything that’s real and experiential. I like writing about things that people can relate to. I love writing about my family, faith, and personal interests. I also like the writing I do at work—the blogs and all that research-rich articles—mainly because I learn a lot from it, too!

3. How long have you been writing?

Oh, wow. I don’t know. Probably since 6th grade. I was into poetry, believe it or not, when I was in high school. Haha! I have all my poems compiled in a notebook. Looking back, I think my poems would’ve worked out well if I used them as lyrics. I think those were a bit Taylor Swift-ish. Haha!

In college, I did some creative writing in my Literature course. Right after graduation I started doing freelance writing jobs alongside my full-time job. Now, it has become my main job and I’m extremely happy about it. 🙂

4. Are you published?

The blogs I write for my company are published in our site. Although the most recent ones have been changed to the company name already for SEO purposes. In terms of print, my haiku was published in an anthology when I was in college.

5. What was the first story you ever wrote?

I wrote it during my freshman year in college and it was a fictional retelling of my own life story about having Lupus. I remember getting an A for that in my English class. 🙂 I also sent a copy of that story to my doctor who now lives in the US.

6. Why do you write?

I write because it’s the best way I can express myself. 🙂 The words I verbalize sometimes fall short of what I really want to say. Writing gives me the freedom to chronicle my thoughts and emotions without any form of censorship whatsoever. 🙂

7. How do you find time to write?

Wow, that’s a tough question. Since I got married and had a baby, I’m not able to do personal/leisure writing as much as I used to. Lately, the writing I’ve been doing has been all work related. If ever I do get to find some time, it’s usually in the morning while the boys are still asleep or in the afternoon when the boys are asleep again. Haha! 🙂

8. When and where are the best times to write?

I’m a morning person so I would have to go with that as the best time to write. Place is not an issue for me when it comes to writing. 🙂

9. Favorite food/drinks while writing?

Not really particular with what I eat or drink  when I write. I’m more concerned with crumbs that will fall on my laptop’s keyboard. Haha!

10. Your writing playlist?

Don’t have any. 🙂 I can write in silence or with loud music or with the TV on. My husband will often tell me that I have the ability to completely tune out and focus on my writing. And yes, that includes people! Sometimes I don’t even hear him talking!

11. What do family/friends/loved ones think of you writing?

I’m so grateful that they love what I do. My parents didn’t need much convincing when I told them that I want to take up Literature. They knew I wanted to write and that course would help me become a better writer. 🙂 They’re so supportive!

I could say the same with my husband who really encourages me to write more. He praises and critiques my work. 🙂 Whenever he says that it’s good, I’m pretty sure what I wrote was badass good. 🙂

12. Parts of writing you enjoy the most?

I love staring at a blank page and the thrill of writing that first sentence. When I get that first line right, it’s easy for me to get rollin’. 🙂

13. Parts of writing you find challenging?

I guess this is more on a topical basis. By that I mean turning a dead boring topic into something interesting and exciting. I must admit, though, that accomplishing this is very fulfilling. 🙂

14. What do you write with and on?

I often use my laptop. I also write regularly on my journal and I use colored pens. It has to be multi-colored all the time. 🙂

15. How do you overcome writers block?

I step away from my laptop and do something else. It could be anything from reading to watching TV, eating, or playing with my baby. 🙂

16. How do you motivate yourself to write?

I just write. I think it’s pretty much the same with other disciplines. Artists paint or doodle even if they’re not inspired. Athletes practice even if they don’t have a game. I write because I need to write.

I also pray before I write especially when I’m running out of ideas. 🙂 I acknowledge that God is the giver of all wisdom. He’s the most creative being there is and He never runs out of brilliant ideas. 🙂

17. Authors who inspire you as a writer?

Top of mind would be Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo. I’m sure there’s more but their works have the most impact in my writing career. 🙂

18. Books that inspire you as a writer?

“One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and “Recuerdo” by Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo. 🙂

19. Best advice you’ve gotten as a writer?

“Read more so you can write more.” This advice was given to me by my Literature professor. 🙂 I wanted to take up journalism but he said that technical writing is easy. Writing with substance is difficult. He said that building that substance is more important if I want to have a career in writing.

20. Writing goals this year?

To blog more and get that children’s book done for my baby. 🙂

I tag:

Anyone who loves to write! 🙂

Timmy Learns to Read

Timmy is officially a reader! I want to share his reading journey to other moms out there who want to get their babies started on this reading habit. 🙂 My husband and I are both avid readers. So when Timmy was born we knew that the perfect toy for him would be books! Haha! So geeky! Anyway, he had a cloth book, bath book, foam books, board books, and anything with pages on them. 🙂

Exposure

We would read to him a lot. I would use different voices to make it livelier. 🙂 I’m the more animated storyteller between my hubby and me. Haha! We also encouraged him to do whatever he wants with his books from biting them to sometimes ripping the pages accidentally. We would just tape his books so he could use it again. Usually, the more battered the book is, the more frequent Timmy uses it. We also make sure that Timmy sees us read. He knows where daddy and mommy’s books are. We have different shelves so that he knows which ones belong to him and which ones are classified as untouchables. Haha!

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He also developed an early liking for letters so we bought letter toys and blocks and exposed him to colorful letter flash cards. By the time he’s around 16 months old, he already knew the alphabet. Just like any new mom, I really don’t know how to teach reading. All I know is that consistent exposure to books and letters would be helpful. This approach is time consuming because it’s guided teaching. I needed to really spend time reading to him and teaching him about the alphabet. Unlike with gadgets, you can leave your kid and he’ll be fine with educational games. But with reading, you need to sit down and be extra animated to lengthen their five-second attention span. 🙂

Phonics

So I did what other modern moms do, I googled. Haha! Yup, I googled “how to teach your child to read.” Tadaaaah! Phonics! Of course, it’s phonics! I realized that as adults, reading comes so naturally to us that we tend to forget how challenging it was when we were starting. I honestly don’t remember how I learned to read. All I have are images of our bookshelf and the hardbound story books that my mom completed (and repaired) for us over the years. I remember reading them repeatedly, too!

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One of the things we noticed about Timmy is that he learns better and faster with songs. So, I did again what other 21st century moms do, I went to YouTube! Haha! I typed, “phonics songs for kids” and voila! A buffet of phonics videos appeared on my screen! The key now is choosing the right videos. What better way to test a video’s effectiveness than by letting Timmy watch them. I initially picked three videos and observed his response. He ended up liking the videos from KidsTV123. 🙂 We downloaded the phonics videos that he liked and sang them together wherever we go (even without the actual video)! 🙂

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In a few months, our little boy already mastered phonics through phonics songs! We also had an alphabet video customized for Timmy. 🙂 When we’re out, we try to look for things that begin with A along with the rest of the letters. At 24 months, we we’re ready to combine phonics sounds. 🙂 I searched and tried different sites and copied their techniques. Some were really good but Timmy couldn’t seem to grasp the idea of combining phonics sounds just yet. He was even honest enough to say if he didn’t like the phonics technique I was using and I won’t mention where I got it because it’s actually a good site!

Bottom line, I didn’t force it. I allowed him to just practice and master his phonics sounds and alphabets. We sang and read together until finally God gave me a brilliant idea. 🙂

Making it personal

Over the past three years, I’ve learned to understand my son’s learning preferences. He likes to learn when it’s personal and when you do it together. So, I channelled my former corporate girl self and made Powerpoint presentations for him! The first slide for each presentation says TIMMY LEARNS TO READ. 🙂 That alone made him excited and giddy. And yes, if you want a copy of the Powerpoint I can email them to you. 🙂 We started to read them together and combine the sounds together and I was surprised that he got it almost immediately!

I guess it helped that he mastered the individual sounds first and used it in different words. 🙂 Since he already understood the concept of using the “A” (ah) sound, it became easy for him to combine the rest of the vowels with consonants (e.g. ba, be, bi, bo, bu). We mastered it for three months before moving to three-letter words. 🙂 Here’s a video of Timmy reading them. I’ve also learned that repetition is always good because it makes it easy for your child to transition from one stage to another once there’s already mastery of the concept. 🙂

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To make reading even more enjoyable for him, I also made letter pops and reading cards for him. I got the letter pops idea from Pinterest while the reading cards were mine. 🙂 It’s heartwarming that Timmy looks for them and actually uses them! My letter pops actually became puppet pops because he likes it when I hide the letters first and make them come out slowly before he reads the word. 🙂 Haha! Soon we’ll be moving to four-letter and multi-syllabic words and I have a pending customized project for him. 🙂

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Humbling the mommy

Teaching Timmy is a very humbling experience. I had to set aside the way I want to do things so I can observe him and see what makes learning easy and enjoyable for him. God has been teaching me that it’s all about Him and His work in our child and I’m just but an instrument. If a certain technique doesn’t work then I need to look for something else and not force the “seemingly effective” one on him. I have so many fears with homeschooling—the greatest being Timmy not learning anything from me. My husband is a teacher so I’m sure he can teach Timmy anything. I don’t have those trainings and qualifications which make me feel unqualified.

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In the end, God has taught me to be totally dependent on Him. He made me realize that being Timmy’s mom is my qualification. Knowing his character, temperaments, interests, and inclinations is my advantage over teachers in regular schools. Homeschooling allows me to tailor fit Timmy’s education so that he will always find learning fun and enjoyable. God also gave me a wonderful husband whose expertise helps me manage which tools is just right or too advanced for Timmy. I can’t believe I’m getting teary-eyed writing this! I guess relinquishing control to God over anything will always be an emotional thing. 🙂 And seeing our son’s first academic achievement (i.e. reading) is a milestone I’m privileged to be involved with. 🙂 Knowing that I have Him as Timmy’s principal keeps me grounded. He allows me to charge every mistake to experience and every triumph to a testimony so I can help other young moms like me. 🙂

Read on, Timmy

I know there are more things that we need to teach Timmy. Reading is just one of them. Soon he will read the Bible on his own and know more about the God who loves him. 🙂 Deuteronomy 11:19 says, “Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” I’m excited to learn with my little man. And I know that God will teach me a lot of things in the process. 🙂 Meanwhile, read on, Timmy! Enjoy every word and every page. I’m pretty sure you’ll even be a better a storyteller than mommy when the time comes. 🙂

Book Resolutions

Reading is a very flexible hobby. It doesn’t involve rigid training that sports requires or the regular practice that the arts demand. Reading is more self-indulgent. You can overdo it without experiencing alarming repercussions. You can procrastinate while mulling over the last book you’ve read. You can start with multiple books, finish which ones you like, stop midway when you get bored or settle for browsing if you’re merely killing time.

I have literally so many books that I want to read. In my mind, I classify them as:

  • Urgent
  • Can wait but must read
  • Interesting but can wait until curiosity compels
  • Worth repeating
  • For classics’ sake
  • Must finish but still lazy to do so
  • For regular reading (genre-focused)
  • Trending thus must know why

So, I decided to come up with my book resolutions, hoping that by doing so I’ll get to catch up on my reading. Here they are:

  • Finish at least one of the books under the above classifications
  • Blog about it (both the recently read and the good old ones for “personal memory gap” purposes)
  • Allot a specific time for reading
  • Just read

I’ve also decided to place all my reviews in one blog! Yay! It’s at www.thebookvineyard.wordpress.com 🙂 Please add my other site to your blogroll, too! What you will see there for now are just the ones I reviewed here (I just moved them). All the forthcoming reviews will be posted there. Next in line for my review are “Before Ever After”, “Game of Thrones”, “Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them”, and “The Rising”. Watch out for that! 🙂

It just dawned on me that the current bed weather is perfect for book lounging. 🙂 On that note, I bid you goodbye as I give in to the pull of the pages and the plot that thickens. 🙂 Ciao!

Wolves of Mercy trilogy

Maggie Stiefvater created a world of wolves that draws readers deep into the lives of the wild and the resilient bond that tie them together.

The trilogy starts with “Shiver” where we are introduced to the character of Grace Brisbane and Sam Roth. Grace was attacked by a pack of wolves when she was a child. She was saved right on time before the wolves can do further damage to her. She distinctly remembered seeing a wolf with golden-yellow eyes who snarled at the pack to back off. Since then, she has been watching the wolf that saved her from her bedside window. For years, she tried to communicate and draw near to her wolf but she can only go so far.

Little did she know that the wolf that rescued her is also human and he is Sam Roth. On one hunting spree, Sam was shot and he turned human. The house closest to where he was shot was Grace’s house. Upon seeing him and looking at his eyes, Grace knew that Sam was the wolf who saved her. It was then revealed how wolves turn into humans during summer and they turn back to being wolves when winter breaks. The cold weather triggers the change. The struggle to keep Sam human to be with her and the unrelenting love of the two characters consumed most of the story.

I must admit, when I was reading half way through the novel my mind was screaming “Twilight!!!” The love story between Grace and Sam is sooooo “Twilight”!  The stubbornness of youth mixed with their impulsive love is like reading Bella and Edward all over again. But this time, it’s the wolf version. I was at the brink of giving up when the novel amazingly started to pick up! By the time I was down to the last 70 pages, I was so eager to know what will happen—if the cure for Sam will work or not. So there, the ending saved the novel. The science behind the paranormal gave a new twist to this growing genre. The end was so good that I decided to immediately read the sequel, “Linger”.

In “Linger”, a cruel reversal of fates happened. Grace is starting to show signs of being a wolf through the deterioration of her health. While Sam is struggling to find out how he can help her. An interesting character also enters in this novel, Cole, front man of the famous band Narkotika. Cole is a new wolf trying to find his way in this new world of wolves. Linger begins with a gripping plot and ends with unexpected changes in the characters. For me, this sequel saved the trilogy. It kept my interest (and perhaps the interest of the other readers) and compelled me to open the pages of “Forever”.

“Forever” is the final part of the Wolves of Mercy trilogy. In this novel, lives are threatened, a complete annihilation of wolves is at bay, and humans are showing no mercy. As I was reading the book, the image of the dogs in the movie “Eight Below” came to mind. The way the wolves communicated with each other to save the pack felt so real and believable.  I love the way the story ended, the maturity of each character along the way, and the unconventional resolution of conflicts. It took a few days before I was able to part with the characters of Sam and Grace. After reading the trilogy for 4 days, it felt like I was living in Mercy Falls, too, and they were my friends. It also made me want to have a wolf as a pet. Well, come to think of it, I already have my own wolf (canis lupus) all these years. Now, that’s interesting. 🙂

Never Let Me Go: Beautifully Disturbing

It’s hard to talk about this novel without giving spoilers. I’ll try not to spill the beans too much but even if I do I’m sure that you will still be compelled to read the book. Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, “Never Let Me Go” is beautifully disturbing. Set in England around the late 1990s, the novel takes place in Hailsham—a special boarding school where students are raised for a sickening reason.

Kathy H. is the voice of the novel. It is from her memories and point of view that the plot develops. The way she tells her story keeps you wanting for more. Kazuo Ishiguro is one of the rare authors who know the craft of leaving inconclusive details without pissing off the reader. He gives you an insatiable discontent for the unknown, which can only be satisfied as you keep turning the page. From the very first chapter, Kathy’s job as a “carer” is not described at length, which begs the question “What does a carer really do and who do they care for?” Donors and donations were also mentioned in casual terms as if implying that the reader ought to know what those taboo words mean.

As Kathy drives along a familiar road, she starts to narrate her life at Hailsham and the story of two significant people who became her closest friends—Ruth and Tommy. Kathy describes in detail the almost impeccable education system they receive from Hailsham. They were even substantially provided for their needs and even wants. But since nobody lives in a perfect world, certain clues emerge here and there implying that there is something terribly wrong in this boarding school. At one point, a teacher resigns for reasons that the so-called principal cannot disclose; a certain character called “madame” gets the best art work of the students; and “donations” are mentioned in crucial moments in the story. Slowly, the innocence of these students is shattered as they gradually discover why they’re there in the first place.

Here’s the spoiler I’m not supposed to say but I can’t help but divulge. Kathy, along with her friends Ruth and Tommy, are all created to be organ donors. They are raised well so that when the time comes that they have to give their donations they are perfectly fit to do so. Not only are they organ donors, they are also clones. Sickening, right? You raise a human person—not a machine—then end his life regardless if he wants to or not. Even if he is a clone, that person has life and he has the right to decide what he wants to do with it.

My heart went wild as I was reading this. I felt pity for the characters, I felt rage for the cruel people behind this sinister project, I felt sorrow for the lives that were lost and the hearts that were broken. Although this novel is fictional, it shows the reality that men are capable of the most depraved things when push comes to shove. Never is deception portrayed ever so delicately yet menacingly the way Kazuo Ishiguro did in this masterpiece. This is one novel worth shelf keeping. 🙂

Note to self: Must watch the movie in DVD. 🙂 (I missed it last year)

Must Read: The Help

I like reading first-time novelists. There’s something about fresh raw talent that produces exceptional piece of literature. Some of my favourite debut novels are Aravind Adiga’s “White Tiger” and Audrey Niffeneger’s “Time Traveller’s Wife”. These novels were unique in all aspects and Kathryn Stockett’s “The Help” is no exception. I think I’ve done my fair share in recommending this book to my friends but I guess doing a review will even encourage more readers to pick up this good read.

When I found out recently that DreamWorks produced the movie adaptation of this book, my heart literally jumped! I couldn’t wipe the big smile on my face just thinking about these women characters coming to life in the big screen. So before you go and check out “The Help” this August in your local theatres, allow me to share with you why the USA Today named it “Book of the Year”, why Oprah picked this for her book club, why it’s been in the New York Times bestseller list for the longest time (since it was published in 2009), and why I’m raving about this excellent book.

I won’t spill the beans for those of you who plan to read this book. I’ll just share the reasons why I LOVED it and what’s pretty challenging about it. To start off, “The Help” is a novel about the poignant intertwined lives of Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter. Set during the early 1960’s in Jackson, Mississippi, this book gave a voice to the silent cries of black maids during that time. Aibileen, a middle-aged black maid, is probably the noblest help in the community. Raising her 17th white child, she is compassionate and devoted to the kids entrusted to her. It was at Aibileen’s voice that the novel began and ended. She is not your typical black help, Aibileen is wise and in her own way, regal. Minny is not your typical tongue-tied black maid. In fact, she has the biggest mouth in the neighbourhood. Her humour stands out in the novel yet it is her strong outspoken character that differentiates her from the rest. Skeeter is a 22-year-old aspiring writer, who is expected by her mother and everybody else to be married at that time. She is white but that did not stop her from exposing the debilitating situations of black maids in their town. Skeeter was also raised by a lovely black help named Constantine who apparently left their household and no one would tell why. It is in this process of discovery and brave exposition that these three women uphold each other to free themselves and the rest of the black maids from the prevalent social injustice.

Kathryn Stockett wanted to preserve the voice of the black maids by using their language when they are the one’s narrating the story. With that, I found it very challenging when I read the first page of the book, hearing it from Aibileen’s voice. Here’s an example of one of her dialogues,

And how I told him don’t drink coffee or he gone turn colored. He say he still ain’t drunk a cup of coffee and he twenty-one years old. It’s always nice seeing the kids grown up fine.

I find myself going slow on those parts where it is either Aibileen or Minny’s narrative. This is what I specifically like about the book; it is true to its origin and very organic. Never mind going slow, it is the raw voice that you will actually hear as you do that.

A true page-turner, this book piqued me in a way that it opened my eyes. It also made me laugh and pleasantly surprised me in many ways. The story line was seamless. The characters were distinctly memorable. The language was prolific regardless of the point of view. The author’s bravery in writing this piece is purely exceptional. “The Help” is BOLD, MOVING, and for a fiction read, it is ironically REAL.

If you will allow me to implore you, read the book then watch the flick. If in case the film fails, you’ll find comfort in having a great book in your hands. 🙂