This month’s Creativebug daily challenge

October 1, 2016 @ 2:56 pm | Filed under: Art, Fun Learning Stuff

Full disclosure: in this post, I’m going to rave about Creativebug. The links are affiliate links, which means if you use them to sign up for a subscription, I’ll get a small commission. This is not, however, a sponsored post—I have not been paid to write it. I’m speaking out of my personal experience with the excellent classes offered by Creativebug. At the bottom, I’ll put an affiliate banner ad that will give you a month’s free trial of the service. 

I’ve posted about Creativebug many times before. Of all the online arts-and-crafts learning sites, Creativebug is the one I use most regularly. (But if you have questions about Skillshare, Big Picture Classes, Craftsy, or my beloved Sketchbook Skool, please feel free to ask. What I really need to do is post notes on all the classes I—or we, because Rilla and I spend a lot of time on these sites together—have taken. Okay. There’s another project to add to my list.) At $4.95/month, I consider Creativebug the best deal around: your subscription buys you unlimited access to the library of over 700 classes in knitting, crocheting, baking, cake decorating, sewing, paper crafts, decorating, painting, drawing, quilting, and jewelrymaking.

The Creativebug classes I enjoy the most are the Daily [drawing/painting/art journaling] Challenges. There’s a new challenge almost every month—but if the current month’s medium doesn’t speak to you, your subscription gives you access to all previous challenges and other classes. This month’s Daily Creativity Challenge is unique in that the 31 short lessons are taught by the behind-the-scenes members of the Creativebug staff, rather than a single artist. Unique, too, is the broader topic: instead of daily drawing or painting challenges, this topic list is an eclectic mix of activities such as: mail art, stenciled t-shirts, scarf tying, paper beads, hand turkeys (LOL), and even “iPhone app re-org,” which is tomorrow’s topic.

How I approach these daily challenge classes:

Do I keep up with every single day’s assignment? Oh heavens no. I’m a fits-and-starts kind of person. A creative binge-er. One might even describe my tendencies as, dare I say, tidal. Ahem. But for this very reason—the way my interest and commitment ebbs and flows—I appreciate the daily-challenge framework. The recurring ping of a new lesson helps bring me back to a creative practice when my attention has wandered. Sure, I might wind up doing a whole week’s worth of drawing challenges in one go—that’s quite all right. In fact, that’s a pretty common way for Rilla and me to spend our Saturday night art dates. The daily videos are short, just a few minutes each. We can work through several in an hour, filling a  page or two in our sketchbooks.

To share or not to share:

A lot of participants post each day’s work on social media, especially on Instagram, where there is a lively, supportive community of artsy folks. I share my own work…not very often. I’m pretty shy about it, to be honest. And it’s much better for me to work under the assumption that no one will see my artwork except me (and Rilla)—or else I’ll feel inhibited and perfectionist. But when I draw something I actually like, I sometimes post it.

Creativebug daily challenge classes I have taken and thoroughly enjoyed:

30 Things to Paint with August Wren ***SUCH A GREAT CLASS! Jennifer Orkin Lewis, aka August Wren, is wonderful.

31 Art Journal Prompts with Dawn DeVries Sokol

31 Things to Draw with Pam Garrison

29 Things to Draw with Molly Hatch and Heather Ross

31 Things to Draw with Lisa Congdon

I’ve (we’ve) taken a lot of other Creativebug classes besides the daily drawing challenges, but I’m tired of pasting in links. 🙂 However, I will say that the watercolor classes taught by Yao Cheng are entirely splendid. Rilla and I have spent many a Saturday night absorbed in Yao’s assignments. Oh, and I quite enjoyed Flora Bowley’s “Intuitive Painting” class, which focused on acrylic paints.

This new Daily Creativity Challenge promises to veer into some territory I’m not spending much time in these days (textiles, for example), but I’ll enjoy watching the videos nonetheless, and I look forward to the sparking of new ideas as we go. It’s all fodder.

Cybils Nominations are Open

October 1, 2016 @ 7:30 am | Filed under: Books, Cybils

It’s time! It’s time! Head over to the Cybils Awards to nominate your favorite children’s and YA books published in the past year (between Oct. 16, 2015 and Oct. 15, 2016). You may nominate one book in each category, including YA Fiction, which I’m chairing this year.

Here’s the link: And… Go! Cybils Nominations are Open | Cybils Awards

All Clear

September 23, 2016 @ 4:50 pm | Filed under: Books

Midmorning. Beanie comes into my room, slams Blackout down on my bed. She’s wild-eyed, almost trembling.

“You were right,” she said. Bursts out with a laugh. “I…I…”

“You need All Clear.” I’m grinning.

“Yes. Immediately.”

“It’s in the library basket.”

She’s been reading Blackout in between other books for weeks now. I had several false starts with it myself, and I’d warned her that it can be slow going at first, while you’re getting a handle on who everyone is and where (when) they are. “But you’ll hit a point,” I’d predicted, “maybe two-thirds of the way through the book, where you won’t be able to put it down.”

And I knew from experience—actually, I think some of you warned me here—that the second she finished Blackout, she’d be desperate to leap into the sequel. It’s really more of a Part Two, and you can’t get that cover cracked open fast enough.

“Enjoy,” I tell her. We both know I won’t be seeing much of her today.

Things we did on a Monday morning in September

September 19, 2016 @ 2:05 pm | Filed under: Art, Books, Fun Learning Stuff, Homeschooling

Lion Man art day

• Earworms German (Rilla and Huck)
• U.S. Presidents song
• 7 times table practice
• Visited a neighbor (Rilla and Huck)
• Read “The Lion Man” chapter in Vincent’s Starry Night and Other Stories: A Children’s History of Art (Rilla and me)
• Scooter and walk (Huck and Rose)
• Did art journal pages inspired by the Lion Man chapter (Rilla, Huck, me)
• Listened to Mozart’s 40th symphony while painting
• Read Frederick by Lio Lionni because it tied in so nicely to the Lion Man text (Rilla, Huck, me)
• Beanie did a lot of her usual Beanie stuff—German, geometry, working on a paper for British lit, reading cool books, taking a Photoshop class, piano practice
• Falconry test prep: studied five questions (Rose, Beanie, me)
• Looked up taxonomy mnemonic (King Philip Came Over For Good Soup)(Rose, Beanie, me)
• Boisterous game involving all Mom and Dad’s pillows (Huck and Rilla)
• Read-aloud: two chapters of A Lion to Guard Us (Rilla, Huck, me)

And then it was time for lunch. 🙂

The art history book landed on our doorstep as an unexpected review copy from Laurence King Publishing—and in a flash Rilla and I had a new history plan for the year. This book was love at first sight for both of us. Of course, it’s early days yet; as you can see above, so far we’ve only read the first chapter. So consider this a first impression, not a review. But I’m loving the format. The art prints and photos are augmented by gorgeous handpainted illustrations, and the text is engaging and fresh. We learned about the Lion Man carving (c. 40,000 BC!) in the context of the daily lives of Paleolithic hunter-gatherers. The depiction of the unknown artist laboring for hundreds of hours on the mammoth-tusk carving reminded me of Lio Lionni’s Frederick the Mouse soaking up sunrays, colors, and words while the other mice bustled to collect food, so of course we had to pull out Frederick afterward.

We decided to make pages in our sketchbooks inspired by the Lion Man. I copied the illustrations in the book; Rilla invented her own mammoth-and-lion scene. Huck painted a happy guy. 🙂 Rilla and I are hoping to fill our art journals with drawings based on our Vincent’s Starry Night readings through the year. I’ll try to post updates here if we stick with the plan.

Lion Man

Our current read-aloud is Clyde Robert Bulla’s chapter book A Lion to Guard Us, the adventures of three English children who travel to Jamestown after their mother’s death to reunite with their father there. Huck expresses less enthusiasm for this book than our last few readalouds—he expresses it, and yet every time I start reading (“You don’t have to listen, buddy, you can go play”) he gets sucked right in and has lots of commentary to add. We were amused to note the book’s similarity to our last readaloud (The Family Under the Bridge, which was a rousing success)—down-on-their-luck kids, big sister, middle brother, little sister.

Scott and I took Jane back to college over the weekend (sniffle), so summer is officially over in Chez Peterson. I’m more than a little freaked out by how deep into the month we are already. Too fast, y’all.

How I entertain myself

September 8, 2016 @ 11:29 am | Filed under: Books, Cybils

Blog Odds and Ends

September 1, 2016 @ 6:56 pm | Filed under: Bloggity, Books

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Several of you have written to ask how to subscribe to my Paper.li newsletter (my curated links, similar to the ones I share in the “Caught My Eye” part of the sidebar here). I had mentioned you could receive it via email, but it turns out that option is no longer available for free Paper.li accounts like mine. Sorry for the misinformation! Best way to follow it is, I guess, to look for the link on my Twitter each Monday. Or just pop over here to peruse the sidebar.

Also in the sidebar, as you know, is my running booklist. This year I’ve broken it into sections: what I’m reading myself; what I’m reading to the kids (well, sort of—I’m only listing the novels because tracking all the picture book and nonfiction readalouds would be a full-time job); and audiobooks.

Every January, I move all the year’s books out of the sidebar onto their own dedicated Booklog page. This year I’m ahead of the game and have set up the page already. If you prefer a more visual approach to booklists (cover photos), here’s that link.

But it, too, is missing the picture books, comics, folk and fairy tale collections, nonfiction, and poetry that make up such a large segment of our literary diet. I’ve been inconsistent at logging those books in a format that others can view. This fall I’m making another stab at tracking our picture-book readalouds via Goodreads. Takes a lot less time than putting together a post! If I can stick with the practice long enough to make it a habit, I’ll think about adding our nonfiction and poetry picks as well.

Cybils Call for Judges

August 22, 2016 @ 6:03 pm | Filed under: Books, Cybils

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I’ve been involved with the Cybils (Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Awards) on and off for the past eleven years, serving multiple stints as a first-round panelist in Young Adult Fiction, Picture Books, Graphic Novels, and Book Apps. This year, after a decade of brilliant service, longtime YA Fic category chair Jackie Parker is stepping down, and I’ve been asked to fill her shoes. That means Cybils season begins early for me this year! The call for judges went out today and I’ll be reviewing applications for my category (realistic and historical YA Fiction; YA SFF is a separate category) as they roll in. I’m honored to be serving in this capacity and look forward to exploring the blogs, vlogs, and podcasts of YA panelist applicants.

There have been a few other changes in the Cybils this year, including the addition of board books to the Fiction Picture Books category; an expansion of Nonfiction into two age groups; and a new Audiobooks category (also with two age groups), which is very exciting! You can read all about these changes on the Cybils website.

Tidying the digital shelves + a bunch of mini-reviews

August 20, 2016 @ 2:25 pm | Filed under: Books

I’m sitting here tidying up my Goodreads and Netgalley accounts—a task long neglected. I’m terrible about submitting Netgalley feedback, in part because so much, so VERY MUCH, of my book recommendations come in the form of casual answers to blog comments, Facebook questions, speaking engagement Q&As, and word of mouth. You can’t always point to a permalink for that stuff.

But still. I’m turning up a lot of gems I’ve talked about in passing but never wrote proper posts about. But to quote Goldie Hawn in Overboard, there’s no time now.

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So let me just share some capsule reviews of books I read during the past couple of years, books that stand out in my mind for one reason or another.

Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando. Read this as a first-round judge for the 2014 CYBIL Awards in YA Fiction. It was a standout for me that year–the story of two incoming college freshmen roommates getting to know each other via letters the summer before they move in together. At first their connection misfires—they come from quite different backgrounds—but gradually as they learn more about each other and grapple with their own doubts and hopes, they forge a friendship. What really struck a chord for me was the roomie who is oldest kid in a large family, ready to launch a more independent life but torn up over leaving her younger siblings behind. Since that was the year my own oldest-of-six was a freshman in college herself, at a school six hours from home, I loved the candid, at times heart-wrenching exploration of what that particular separation might be like.

Blue Gold by Elizabeth Stewart. This one’s a bit harder to write about because the prose is flawed, which is a hard thing for me to say in public. The thing is, my strong feeling the whole time I was devouring this book (also a 2014 Cybils YA Fic nominee) was: EVERYONE SHOULD READ THIS. In three alternating narratives, we see behind the scenes into dramatically different worlds linked by the technology we rely on: a Chinese factory worker struggling to keep the pace of soldering smartphone parts together; a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo trying to keep her family together under threats from a local militia gang; and a North American girl whose imprudent cellphone photo becomes a tool for public shame. Powerful stuff, even if the writing is a bit choppy and inelegant.

Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar. Gorgeous book. Couldn’t put it down and of course I had to go read a ton of Woolf afterward. What a beautifully rendered, respectful portrait of these two women and their circle—Virginia Woolf and her sister Vanessa. Vanessa’s complex, fraught relationship with her challenging sister was masterfully and lovingly wrought. And the gentle glimpse of E.M. Forster—wonderful. Highly recommended.

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. Victorian lady botanist working out a theory of natural selection on her own? Talk about having me at hello. And this was gorgeously written. I loved it and know I’ll return to it again.

Okay, that’s four. Enough for now. Only nine more pages of Netgalley ARCs to click through. 😉

Meanwhile, in Goodreads land, I’ve renamed a bunch of my lists and am attempting (again) to do a better job of logging picture books and incoming review titles. And a new addition: a “didn’t finish” list for books I’ve read at least three chapters of. Most often these are things I mean to return to when time permits, like Wolf Hall and The Buried Giant, both of which expired on Overdrive before I had a chance to finish. Other times it’s just a book (often nonfiction) that I read a significant chunk of but chose not to complete. Those chunks still inform my reading and thinking life, and I want to track them.

Easing into high tide

August 17, 2016 @ 8:14 am | Filed under: Fun Learning Stuff, Homeschooling

Wrote this post yesterday and then didn’t post it.

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We’re swinging back into high tide here, some of us. Wonderboy started seventh grade today (I KNOW, RIGHT?!) and I’ve planned a little block of time where I can do some extra fun stuff with the two littles. It’s so strange this year—with Rose graduated (but still home and planning to remain part of our history studies as long as she lives here) and Jane heading back to college next month, I will have only three students in my little homeschool. Been a long time since that was the case!

And of course you know I don’t do much formal “schooling” with my very smallest fry. Huck is reading very well (thanks in large part to Calvin & Hobbes) and has an uncommonly good head for math. Which means the last thing I want to do is make him DO math and start disliking it. So: his life rolls on with games and read-alouds and mental arithmetic challenges and nature walks (or, these days, spying on the baby mourning doves on our porch) and messy painting sessions. Now and then we do a little writing practice. He likes markerboards and chalkboards. He’ll absorb whatever history and science I’m doing with Rilla. Oh, and they have their Shakespeare passages to learn; this year we’re starting with the “willow cabin” speech from Twelfth Night.

Rilla will get the lion’s share of my Charlotte Mason-flavored attentions this month. And here again we’ll be doing what has worked so well for us before: literature-based history explorations, a lot of art, nature study and (to put a name on it, but not a curriculum) earth science, poetry, composer study. You could probably boil my “method” (it isn’t a method) down to: fill the room with good stuff and see what happens.

I realize this isn’t terribly helpful when you’re a homeschooling parent trying to figure out your own plan. Lists of books we love are probably more practically useful, and this year we’ll be drawing again from that giant booklist in my sidebar—Books to Read With My 9-Year-Old. She’s ten now, but I said last year that it would likely take us several years to read everything on that list. I refreshed her shelf last week with some new treasures and now I have to resist the urge to dive into everything all at once.

Possibly more useful on a practical level is the short routine (if you want to call it that) Huck and Rilla and I enjoy at the start of a high-tide morning.

First, some yoga stretches (this is mostly for me, to get me moving), and during the planks we do some skip-counting. I can just about get through the sixes before I collapse. So right now, we work two planks into the series of stretches, one for sixes and one for sevens. Nothing fancy, just chanting “6, 12, 18, 24” and so on.

Then we sing our memory songs. The Horrible Histories English Monarchs song (thanks again, Penny, for introducing us to that a while back); the U.S. Presidents song from our old Singin’ Smart cassette (we no longer own a cassette player but the older girls and I remember the melody); and sometimes a French children’s song or Scottish folk song. I mean to add the U.S. State Capitals song (also from Singin’ Smart) soon.

And then we finish up with our Shakespeare speeches. One line at a time, a couple of lines a week. Takes but a moment. Huck always insists he can’t “rememberize,” but then Rilla starts reciting and he joins right in. So, yeah.

This routine (if there were more of us, we might call it ‘circle time,’ but we’re more of a triangle now) takes only 10-15 minutes. It happens around 9 in the morning, after breakfast, chores, and (for Rilla) piano practice. I try to keep it mellow—as mellow as anything is going to be with a seven-year-old boy doing planks. What I mean, though, is I try to keep it low-key and low-pressure. Just goofing around together having fun. Most days, it works.