Sep 19, 2014

From Caterpillar to Butterfly: Stripey's Off to Mexico

A few weeks ago, I introduced you to our little monarch caterpillar, Stripey. Have you been wondering how he's doing? See for yourself:

We fed him milkweed leaves for a little over a week. One morning he began pacing back and forth across the top of his jar. That evening, he hung upside down in a J shape. The next morning, he was still hanging, but sometime between getting the kids dressed and making Aaron's lunch, he shed his last skin and revealed a beautiful chrysalis.

After that, things were a little boring for about 10 days. Then on Sunday evening, we could see that the chrysalis was getting darker. Early the next morning, it looked about the same, but about two hours later, I walked into the kitchen and found a beautiful butterfly hanging from his chrysalis shell. It was so exciting. That evening, we took Stripey outside and let him fly away. He took to the skies beautifully.

Being an eyewitness to Stripey's transformation was incredible. If you ever have the opportunity to raise a caterpillar, do it.

When my sister-in-law found the caterpillar and offered him to us, I was nervous. I was sure I'd do something wrong and he would die and we'd all be heartbroken. But I went ahead with it because I thought my kids would love it. They did, of course, but I was surprised how much I enjoyed the entire process as well. And you know what? It was so much easier than I was expecting.

If you want to try this but, like me, are a little scared, here are some tips to allay your fears:

He doesn't need a fancy home

At first, I stressed about what to put him in. We finally decided on a large mason jar. My sister-in-law had some screen netting she let us cut a piece of, and we just rubber banded it over the top. We crisscrossed a couple of sticks in the jar, but really, the only thing Stripey was interested in was food. I think we really could have put him anywhere, and as long as he had food and water (and air), he would have been happy.

A milkweed leaf is a milkweed leaf

One thing you do need is a milkweed crop. Luckily, my sister-in-law knew where some was by her house and also by Aaron's school. Every morning, we picked a new leaf and put it in Stripey's jar. After he crawled onto it, I took out the remains of the old leaf (and dumped out all his poop). I was continually amazed by how much that little guy could eat. And he wasn't picky. When it came to leaves, a milkweed leaf was a milkweed leaf. Small, medium, or large, it was all the same to him.

If he isn't moving, he isn't dead

Sometimes Stripey wouldn't move for several hours or even a whole day. At those points, I always thought we must have killed him. But no, he was just molting his skin. Sometimes we could see the skin left behind on a leaf, and sometimes he ate it before we saw it, but he always started moving again.

Give him space

After he came out of his chrysalis, I transferred him to a mesh laundry basket so he could practice flying around a little before we let him go. From the time he came out at 8:30 in the morning until we let him go at 6:00 in the evening, I didn't feed him anything. I read online that they don't need anything for the first 18-24 hours, so we just let him go before then.

He's not as fragile as you think

Through the whole process, I kept telling myself, "Most caterpillars do this outside where the temperature fluctuates and it's windy and rainy and there are predators. He can handle having his jar moved around by a four-year-old." If we do it again, I think I won't be so nervous about having my kids help me feed him or move him around.

Blink and you might miss it

One thing that surprised me was how quickly the transformation from caterpillar to chrysalis and chrysalis to butterfly happened. There were definitely some warning signs (hanging in the J shape, the chrysalis changing color), but it seemed like the actual change happened in a matter of minutes. We missed both changes, and if we do it again, I think we'll definitely spend more time around the jar during those critical moments, so we don't miss it.

Farewell, Stripey! May Mexico live up to all your hopes and dreams . . .

I can't find Stripey in this picture, but I know he's there somewhere.

Sep 17, 2014

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick

This was the selection for my book club way back in June. I listened to it, but when it came time for the meeting, Clark was less than three weeks old and my mom was visiting from Colorado, so I decided not to go.

But . . . I had found it such an eye-opening read that I still wanted to have a discussion about it. So I suggested it for the book club during my family reunion last month. I think my mom and I had at least two phone conversations and probably two more face-to-face discussions about the book before the whole family officially convened around the campfire on a Thursday evening. There was just a lot to talk about.

In Nothing to Envy, Barbara Demick (a journalist for the Los Angeles Times) tells the story of six North Korean defectors. There's Mi-ran, the youngest of four daughters who works hard to become a teacher; Jun-Sang, the eldest son in a privileged North Korean family (and Mi-ran's boyfriend); Mrs. Song, a middle-aged woman whose loyalty to Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il is flawless (up until she decides to defect, that is); Oak-hee, one of Mrs. Song's grown children who initially defects to escape a bad marriage; Dr. Kim, a medical doctor who is expected to perform miracles with the barest of supplies (and in the end, she can't even save her own father from starvation); and Kim Hyuck, a "wandering swallow," whose family had died and left him to care for himself. Through the eyes of these different, but very ordinary, citizens, we catch a glimpse of what it's like within that darkened country.

The book begins with that famous aerial image of a dark spot in the middle of a sea of lights. My younger sister recently had the opportunity to visit South Korea. (When she was seven months old, my family adopted her from South Korea. She is now fifteen, and my parents wanted her to have the experience of visiting the country of her ancestry and birth). Before her trip, she and a friend were looking at a map of South Korea, and, without knowing anything about North Korea, asked why the spot next to it was so dark. I don't think the complete contrast between those two countries could be any more striking than looking at the map. The difference is literally black and white.

I originally assumed the book's title was in reference to the world's view: when it comes to North Korea, we have nothing to envy. And, in part, I'm sure this meaning was intended. However, what I didn't know was that these were actually words taken from a North Korean propaganda sign (and song), "We have nothing to envy in the world." One of the most haunting moments from the entire book is when a little 7-or-8-year old homeless boy in a too-big workers party uniform is singing those words on a train platform. How absolutely tragic that he, of all people, could be singing that he has "nothing to envy."

Since I finished it several months ago, many of the details are already fading, but I think I will always remember the account of Dr. Kim's defection. Just after she crosses the border into China, she comes upon a small farmhouse with an unlocked gate. She is confused to see a bowl of white rice with chunks of meat in it just sitting on the ground. She hasn't seen such food in years. Then she realizes it is waiting there for the owner's pet dog. And then this statement, which I can't get out of my head even months later: "Dogs in China ate better than doctors in North Korea." (Even after she escapes, Dr. Kim's troubles are far from over, as her medical license isn't recognized in South Korea, and she has to completely start over with her education.)

I think what is so unbelievable to me is that there could be such a disconnect between one nation and the rest of the world in this day and age. To think that this kind of brainwashing, starvation, and depravity happened during my lifetime--I can easily remember exactly what I was doing in 1997, totally oblivious to events on the other side of the world. And of course, I sadly realize there are many other nations experiencing similar oppression and poverty (I Am Malala was eye-opening in a similar way.)

However, I think the thing that surprised me the most about these stories is that the isolation of the North Koreans could be so thorough and complete that they have absolutely no idea what life is like just a few miles away in South Korea. It kind of gives me the creeps. Do you know what I mean? Like, what if what is being presented to myself as truth is actually one enormous lie? Because essentially, that's what is happening to North Koreans.

This isn't the kind of book you'll read if you want to feel good about the world we live in (in the words of my brother, "this is a depressing book"). Even for the Koreans who escape the regime, life is far from happy (many of them had to leave family behind, and in the case of Mi-ran, the ones still in North Korea suffered grave consequences). But it is one of those books that will open your eyes just a little bit more and help you remember your blessings and inspire you to help the people you can.

Sep 15, 2014

Daily Time Off-line

For a long time now, I've been feeling guilty about all the time I waste on the internet. I'm talking about the unintentional ten minutes here and fifteen minutes there where I'm doing absolutely nothing except mindlessly clicking and scrolling and watching and reading.

The key word here is unintentional (I've been thinking about this word (and its counterpart) a lot since finishing Notes From a Blue Bike). It's one thing to say, "I'm going to look on Pinterest for some dinner ideas" or "I'm going to read all the new posts on my favorite blogs" or even, "I just need to unwind for fifteen minutes and check facebook" and quite another to have my house and my children calling my name and still succumb to the magnetic pull of the virtual world.

My guilt was associated with the amount of time I was wasting on the internet and also the purposeless clicking I found myself doing (how many times do I really need to check my email?).

I decided I needed a set time of day that was strictly off-limits to online. In our house, we are most productive in the morning, so it's imperative that I am present and available during the hours of 8am to 1pm. I decided that those five hours should be completely internet free.

Now, I have to say, I've tried this kind of limiting before without more than a day or two of success. But I did four specific things this time, and they made all the difference:

1. No Internet Meant No Internet

That meant that if we decided to go to the library in the morning and I hadn't added our latest picture book favorites to Goodreads, well, I would just have to keep those books another week or write down the titles with pen and paper to be added later. Or, if we decided at 11:03 that we wanted to make a batch of play dough, but we didn't have the recipe, I'd have to call my mom and have her give it to me over the phone.

This might seem a little excessive, but I had learned from my past failures that it was those little "necessities" during the day that invariably sent me down the rabbit hole. So I decided that if I was going to make a "no internet rule," I wouldn't allow any exceptions.

The added bonus of this was that I planned ahead a little bit more. I thought about our plans for the morning before 8:00 so I could look up or print off anything I might need during those hours when the internet would be inaccessible.

2. Three Weeks or Bust

I've heard before that it takes three weeks to form a habit. So I decided that I would try this idea for three weeks and then reevaluate at the end of that time period. If it wasn't working, I could change some of my regulations, but I had to give it an honest, three-week effort first.

3. I Offered Myself a Reward

Yes, I really did. If I could go three weeks without losing my willpower, then I could buy myself a new pair of earrings. Yep, a $5 pair from Old Navy. That's how nice I am. (I can be a little tight-fisted when it comes to money.)

4. I Told Mike About My Plan

This ended up being the critical key for success. If I hadn't laid it all out for Mike (the 8:00-1:00 time frame, the three weeks, the reward), I probably would have cheated or given up. But knowing that he knew and that at any time he might ask, "So how's your goal coming?" made me push through the tough moments and earn my check mark every day.

And now . . . I'm five weeks on the other side, and I have no desire to ever go back to my old internet ways. I feel so good about using my time with greater intention and purpose.

Now lest you think 1:00 comes and I spend the rest of the afternoon and evening glued to the screen, I don't. I'm just more relaxed about letting myself look things up. Also, as of this writing, I do not own a smart phone, so when I am away from my house, I'm also away from all things virtual, which in most cases is really nice.

Oh, and I'm sure you're dying to know . . . did I really go out and buy myself a new $5 pair of earrings? Why, yes. Yes, I did.

How have you made the use of your time more intentional and less wasteful? Please share in the comments! 

Sep 12, 2014

Notes From a Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World by Tsh Oxenreider

Before I started this book, I'd never read anything on the blog, The Art of Simple.

But somewhere between the prologue and the epilogue, I became addicted to it.

That's because Tsh Oxenreider won me over almost immediately, and I was eager, even while still in the midst of this book, to read more of her words. And now that I've finished? Well, I wish she posted multiple times a day.

It's funny because even though Tsh and I are different in a lot of ways (you're not going to see me packing up my family for an entire year in order to go gallivanting around the world), something about her life goals resonated deep within me. Yes, I thought over and over and over again. Yes. Once again I realized that people don't have to live identical lives or have identical interests in order to connect over an identical purpose.

And the purpose is this: take the important components of your life (for Tsh, those areas were food, work, education, travel, and entertainment) and make them meaningful. Be intentional with your time and effort, and give those pieces the attention they deserve.

The book is part self-help and part memoir and feels somewhat similar to The Happiness Project. In other words, it's exactly the kind of book I love.

Breaking it down into Tsh's five key groups, here is why I liked it so much:


Favorite Quote: "I've decided that the aim for my family is 80/20. If 80 percent of my family's food consumption involves whole, seasonal food made with care, then we're doing all right. The 20 percent is the sprinkles on top of the ice cream. Literally."

Why it resonated with me: I am not good about making myself (or my family) eat healthy foods . . . but I want to be. And this is exactly the kind of balance that, in a perfect world where I plan ahead and don't grab three bags of Goldfish as we rush out the door, I would go for. Reading this section actually inspired me to try out our local food co-op, and even though it was a disappointing first week (just not the variety or out-of-the-ordinary produce I was hoping for), I have high hopes for the future.


Favorite Quote: " . . . my ability to do something and my available time to achieve it don't oblige me to say yes."

Why it resonated with me: Because I'm a stay-at-home mom, my time is fairly flexible. I also belong to a church that emphasizes the value of service. Consequently, I often run into the problem of saying yes to everything that comes my way. I'm not saying it's not worth it to make the sacrifice and help others (I have certainly been blessed on countless occasions for doing the inconvenient thing), but it's not always the best (or even the most selfless) choice. I feel like I need to make the above quote my mantra and post it in strategic places so that when I'm on the phone with someone and they're asking me to do something, I can remember that "my ability to do something and my available time to achieve it don't oblige me to say yes."


Favorite Quote:  ". . . it was important to be intentional with our family's decisions--because no one but us could decide what was best for our family. Even if it meant us sitting squarely in the middle of both camps, where we were a traditional schooling family who loved homeschool, or a homeschooling family totally open to using our local schools . . . We'd just evaluate the best educational route for each of our kids each year, not assuming any path was best simply because it was easiest."

Why it resonated with me: It's probably fairly obvious from some of the books I read and some of the posts I write that I am passionate about education. I don't believe in boxing myself into only one option or in putting all my eggs entirely in one basket. I research, I evaluate, I decide, and then I do it all over again. It's an ongoing process, and I don't expect or intend to ever be finished with it.


Favorite Quote: "As much as our family loves passport stamps, we can find the same answers to our questions about life . . . without leaving our motherland . . . It doesn't require a lot of gas in our car or a backpack stuffed with plane tickets. But it does require bravery, and a willingness to let your kids leap onto slippery stones and investigate life up close, with dirty fingernails."

Why it resonated with me: Mike and I are not terribly ambitious when it comes to traveling (although we do have a big trip coming up in a couple of months that I'm excited to tell you about soon). However, all of my experiences with traveling, whether it be near or far for short or long, have been overwhelmingly positive. I think it's wonderful to see new parts of the country or the world, but I also know there are hundreds (yes, hundreds) of new things we could do within a four-hour radius of our home. That's why we went to the aquarium and Saturday's Waffle and the mountains this summer. Each new experience (even the really small ones) enriched our lives, expanded our vision, and brought us closer together as a family.


Favorite Quote: "I wanted us to make daily choices with hearts that were sensitive to the real world, not with spirits that demanded another show, another episode of pretend people living pretend lives. One small way for us to cultivate that sensitivity was to cut back on TV."

Why it resonated with me: Did you know I watch almost no TV (unless, of course, the Olympics are going on)? If you ask me about a popular show, don't be surprised if I've never even heard of it. I'd like to say it's because I never waste time, but that's not true. No, I have a bunch of other ways I relax and unwind. I actually just don't like TV, it's as simple as that. But reading this section made me realize that whether or not I'm spending my free time with TV or blogs or books, I can be more intentional about what I do to be entertained.

Tsh didn't have a section for religion or spirituality, which I thought was interesting until I realized it was sprinkled through all the other sections. That is exactly as it should be. In my own life, my faith is embedded in all other aspects of my life, influencing my choices and aiding my actions.

If I had to think up one complaint with the book, it would just be the title--all of the references to her blue bike felt contrived and forced to me. But other than that, I loved it. I intend on buying my own copy since I can tell it's going to be a book I will continue to think about and reread.

Sep 10, 2014

Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child: The Heart of Parenting by John Gottman

Sometimes I read a book with the hopes that it will help me understand my children and consequently make me a better mom. In the process of analyzing my kids, I begin to analyze myself, and I make discoveries in places I was not expecting.

This is exactly what happened as I read this book. And it's exactly what happened to my friends who also read it for our education principles meeting.

In the first ten minutes of our discussion, we talked about strained relationships with family members, due in large part to repressing feelings and lacking emotional connections. I think we all could tell it was going to turn into a night of group therapy.

The book takes an unbiased, scientific look at feelings and emotions and the appropriate way to handle and express them. In many ways, it's very idealistic: in the third chapter, he lays out the "five key steps for emotion coaching," which are "limit setting, identifying goals, thinking of possible solutions, evaluating proposed solutions based on your family's values, and helping your child choose a solution." As with most parenting books, I was a little skeptical: It sounds so simple and easy; if I do A, he'll do B. If I say C, he'll say D. In my experience, the little scripts are nice, but add in the very things this book is about (i.e., volatile human emotions), and real-life scenarios play out in very unexpected ways.

However, if you can't approach emotions in a practical, idealistic way, how will you ever possibly get a grip on them? Which is why I decided to set aside my skepticism and just learn and apply all I could from this book.

As I went into it with an open mind, I discovered a lot of things about my children and the ways they handle their emotions but also about myself and the way I handle my emotions.

Early in the book, Dr. Gottman has the reader take a couple of quizzes, which are meant to highlight the reader's parenting style but also reveal how the reader perceives and reacts to various emotions. Although somewhat tedious, I decided to answer all of the questions as honestly as possible (which was very difficult for me, since I knew what the "right" answer was and that my truthful answer was not going to result in a very good score). And what I discovered was this:

I am more empathetic to feelings of sadness than to feelings of anger. I believe sometimes you need to let yourself have a good cry, but you should never give voice to your anger. Both emotions are subordinate to happiness. Happiness is the ultimate feeling, the one we should all strive for.

The more I read, the more I realized my opinions were a little (or a lot) messed up. And it wasn't just that I was believing what Dr. Gottman was telling me but that I could see the truth of it reflected in my own life.

Without meaning to, my life became the perfect object lesson. I happened to read this book while I was at my family reunion a few weeks ago. It could not have been more timely. As often happens when you get a large group of people together who share common blood, there were some moments of tension. At the beginning of the week, my brother and I decided we would both try our hardest not to be the cause of any fights or hurt feelings. We even put a plate of cookies on the line to give us a little more incentive.

This little competition worked like a charm for the first two days. Anytime, someone would say something I didn't agree with, I would just bite my tongue or leave the room. But as the week went on, it became more and more difficult for me to keep my mouth shut. I felt a physical pressure building inside of me, and at one point I even told Mike, "I think we might need to go home early" because I didn't know how I could possibly last another couple of days without letting some of that pressure escape, and I knew the result would be something I'd definitely regret.

(I realize this makes it sound like the reunion was full of tension, which it wasn't at all. I'm just giving you a small glimpse of the unpleasant parts for the sake of this book. Overall, it was one of the most fun family reunions I've been to.)

Anyway, all this was happening while I was reading about the benefits of not suppressing your anger but dealing with it immediately in a constructive and healthy way. On our drive home (not two days early, by the way), I realized that I hadn't handled my feelings well at all. I had felt so proud of myself for not yelling at anybody (which I still believe was a good thing), but I hadn't dealt with any of my frustration, anger, or annoyance. I kept it all inside of me until it physically hurt. In retrospect, it's totally clear what I should have done: address the problem quietly and respectfully before it got to the point that it would have exploded out of my mouth if I'd said anything. For example, when another family member bossed around my children (even when I was sitting in the same room), I could have said, "I know you're trying to be helpful, but if I'm in the room, please let me handle it." My problem is, it's hard for me to picture myself saying such a thing calmly and rationally because I generally wait to say anything until it's too late.

All of this is to say that since reading this book, I'm viewing anger in a much more positive light. There are still healthy and unhealthy ways to express it. Of course there are. But if I'm feeling angry, it's because something is wrong and something needs to be addressed. I now believe that anger, if handled correctly, can be an avenue for positive change.

Now that I've looked at my own emotions more realistically and openly, I've been more empathetic towards my kids' emotions. At the beginning of the book, Dr. Gottman said, ". . . we have inherited a tradition of discounting children's feelings simply because children are smaller, less rational, less experienced, and less powerful than the adults around them. Taking children's emotions seriously requires empathy, keen listening skills, and a willingness to see things from their perspective." I admit that I was definitely the mom that would send her tantrum-ing children to their rooms until they could come out with happy faces.

At the very least, this book has helped me validate their feelings. I no longer try to end the unpleasant emotions as quickly as possible. Instead, I use his suggestions in the book and reflect their feelings back to them: "I can see you're feeling really upset about this. I know it can be hard not to have things go your way." But in the midst of being more empathetic, I try to set really clear boundaries: "But even when you're feeling really upset, it is not okay to hit your brother. You may take a little break in your room or outside."

I've also tried to be more in tune with where the problem might be stemming from, and to be honest, it almost always comes from the same place: lack of food. When my kids are hungry, they tend to take everything very personally. A little snack goes a long way, and then, even if we're dealing with a slightly bigger problem, we can do just that: deal with it, like rational human beings.

Now is this book the perfect solution? Of course not. Many of his conversations are stilted and unrealistic. Many of his personal examples are very one dimensional (probably because he only has one child who, at the time he wrote it, was still under the age of ten). And I would have really loved less script and more real life examples.

However, I've read enough parenting books to know I will never find the perfect one. And that's what makes them so fabulous. I take what I want, laugh at some parts, and throw away the rest. And slowly, veeerrrry sloooowwwly, my parenting is becoming what I want it to be.

How do YOU view anger, sadness, and other emotions? Do you have a favorite parenting book that teaches about people's feelings? Please share in the comments.

Sep 8, 2014

"It's Like You're Drowning, and Someone Hands You a Baby"

This is how Jim Gaffigan describes what it's like having four children.

Before I had four children of my own, I thought it was funny. Hilarious even.

Now I know there's nothing funny about it, but it's spot on, 100%, absolutely true.

It runs through my head multiple times a day.

Like when I'm scrambling to get lunch for three hungry kiddos. I'm rushing around, whipping out bread, slicing up fruit, wiping up milk, and then . . . Clark realizes he hasn't eaten in three hours. If he doesn't get something in him right this second, he will surely die of starvation. And he screams and cries and wails because he knows it's true.

Or like when Aaron needs help with math homework, Max needs help making his bed, and Bradley needs help in the bathroom, all at the same time. No one will be patient. No one will be satisfied unless I'm at their side right now. And then . . . Clark realizes he's the only one not receiving any attention, and he cries twice as loud as everyone else to make up for it.

Or like when Bradley is playing with a toy, and Max decides it would be great fun to tease him by stealing said toy. Bradley begins screaming and chasing Max. Then Aaron, using his six-year-old authority, decides to take control of the situation and begins bossing them both around, while joining in the chase, of course. I'm trying to separate the three of them into separate rooms . . . and then, the whole commotion wakes up Clark, and he didn't really want to wake up yet, so he wails in protest, and nothing will satisfy him until he's rocked back to sleep.

Or like when I'm finally getting some work done. I'm washing the dishes while rocking Clark's car seat with one foot. The boys are, somewhat miraculously, playing quietly together, and I'm afraid to even breathe for fear of disrupting this precarious balance. I work for a blessed half hour before I decide to check on them. I walk into the backyard where I can see they've been quite busy with dirt, sand, water, sticks, and bugs. I wish I hadn't looked . . . and then Clark realizes he's no longer being rocked and decides to make his displeasure known.

Or like when I'm trying to write a blog post, and Bradley says he needs breakfast. I get him breakfast and go back to writing. Then Aaron says he can't find the shirt he wants to wear. I find him his shirt and go back to writing. Then Maxwell needs my full attention in order to tell me all about lemon sharks. I listen and then go back to writing. . . . Then Clark wakes up for the day with a soggy diaper and a bright-eyed smile, and I decide to give up in favor of kissing his soft cheeks.

I have lots of people ask me, "So . . . how's it going with four kids?" Some of them ask this tentatively--they only have three kids but are thinking of having a fourth, and they're scared of the answer. Some of them ask it with a smirk--they have two older kids and no intention of having any more, and they seem to realize their life must look pretty good. Some of them ask it with an empathetic hug--they're the empty nesters with four or five . . . or nine children who well remember what it's like being in the trenches.

To all of them, I give the one description that seems to perfectly describe my situation:

"Well, it's like I'm drowning . . . and someone hands me a baby."

Sep 5, 2014

KidPages: The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee

If I was lost on a deserted island and I could only have the books of one picture book author with me, there's a good chance I'd choose Marla Frazee. (Say what? If I was on a deserted island, I'd have more important things to worry about than picture books? Pshaw, that's what you think . . . ) She'd be in the running with several other favorite authors, so it's a decision I hope I never have to make.

When I saw she had a new book coming out this fall, I was thrilled. Of course. But I have to admit, at first glance, the title worried me a little; could she really pull off a book about a farmer and a clown and not have it be creepy/weird?

Good news! She could, and she did.

Without words, she tells the story of a lonely and grumpy old farmer (lonely, because he's all by himself in a wide, expansive field; grumpy, because he has a scowl on his face; old, because he has a long white beard). As he's going about his work, a circus train breaks the stillness. He watches it pass by and is surprised to see a little clown go tumbling off the caboose. Unaware that it's lost a passenger, the train rumbles on. So the farmer takes the little clown home and discovers a scared, sad little child under the painted-on smile.

But with a little effort (and skills he didn't know he possessed), the farmer helps the little guy feel more comfortable. They spend the day sharing work and play and are just settling down for a picnic when they see the circus train chugging back along the horizon. They make a run for it and find the clown family anxiously waiting for the safe return of their littlest member.

The farmer, having not known what it could be like to have someone to look out for and take care of, is sad to say good-bye to his little friend. But don't worry, there's a little surprise at the end that lets the reader know the farmer is going to be all right . . .

I think it's that the plot is so unlikely that makes this book so delightful. Who would ever think to pair a little clown and a grumpy farmer together? But it works.

The illustrations are up to the standard I've come to expect from Marla Frazee. They showcase her signature texture and perceptive details. One thing I love about this story in particular is the wide expanse of open prairie space where the house, the tree, the farmer, and the clown all stand out in striking contrast. My very favorite picture is the title page: the house is on the left side, the farmer is trudging off to work on the right, and in the middle is the brilliant sun rising over the horizon, its rays stretching out and linking the page together.

It wasn't just me that liked this book. My kids absolutely loved it too. I didn't know if they would since we received an unbound ARC from the publisher, so it was difficult for them to look through. But I only had to read it once to them before they were requesting it again and again. They know a good book when they see one whether it's in a traditional binding or not.

If you like clowns or farmers or neither or both, you'll definitely want to check out this book.

P.S. If you were stuck on a deserted island, which picture books would you want for company?

P.P.S. Many thanks to Simon & Schuster for the review copy. All opinions are 100% my own.
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