2020 Favorite Books for Young Readers

It’s that wonderful time of the year again When I get to look back at my year of reading and  take my favorites — also hurry and cram a whole bunch of  titles that I missed into the months of December and January. This is also the first year that,  Owing to my ongoing hand illness/healing, I get to create this list entirely with voice-to-text software (yay?)  so please forgive any run-on sentences or  disjointed thinking.

2020 Trends: The middle grade fiction game this year was strong!  After the last few years of “meh” writing for this age group, I’m really excited about this year’s contenders. I will be totally happy with any of them winning the Newbery Award tomorrow morning. 

On the other side of things, it looks like young adult fiction has had something of decline? I know that publishing houses are severely cutting back their YA imprints — so perhaps that explains things? Much of the best writing for young adults this year was in the graphic novel format, which is fine by me. I loves me a good graphic novel.  

Meanwhile, the picture book and nonfiction titles continue unabated with fabulous quality work. We’re truly in a Golden Age of nonfiction for kids. 

THE USUAL CAVEATS: This list is long but still nothing close to a comprehensive survey of 2020 publishing. “Where’s ______?” you may ask. “That book was awesome!” Well, I can’t read everything, folks. No matter how hard I try.

Also, not every book on this list is for you. Please do not come at me with complaints about how you didn’t like Book X or Y. (Although I’m more than happy to hear about the stuff you enjoyed, and more than willing to send similar books your way).

Books with a ** contain material that might not be suitable for all ages. Parents, please read it first if you have sensitive kids.

With all that in mind, fire up yer library cards and let ‘em rip! There be some mighty good reads here!


Pretty Much All Your Childhood Camping Nostalgia in One Book: The Camping Trip by Jennifer K. Mann

Best Magical Elevator Since Charlie’s Great Glass One: Lift by Minh Lê, illus. Dan Santat

Sweetest Friendship Story: My Best Friend by Julie Fogliano, illus. Jillian Tamaki

Probably the Best (Unintentional) Book About the 2020 Quarantine: Outside In by Deborah Underwood, illus. Cindy Derby

The Great Migration, Told in Powerful Poetry: Overground Railroad by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illus. James E. Ransome

Most Shimmering Watercolors, Most Prescient Message: We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom, illus. Michaela Goade

This is on the list because I just love me a good maple sugaring-off story: Bear Goes Sugaring by Maxwell Eaton III

Whimsy, Dialed to 11: In a Jar by Deborah Marcero

World cultures are best taught with gorgeous illustration: Desert Girl, Monsoon Boy by Tara Dairman, illus. Archana Sreenivasan

Luscious Language, and Best use of Die-Cut Illustration: My Friend Earth by Patricia MacLachlan, illus. Francesca Sanna

Most Necessary: I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes, illus. Gordon C. James

I’m Not Crying, You’re Crying! Evelyn Del Rey is Moving Away by Meg Medina

Best Book for Finding Tiny Details: If You Come to Earth by Sophie Blackall

Masterclass in fine-detailed illustration: In the Woods by David Elliott, illus. Rob Dunlavey

This would have been my favorite book if it existed when I was a kid: Margaret’s Unicorn by Briony May Smith

Best Reprint from My Childhood: I’ll Fix Anthony by Judith Viorst, illus. Arnold Lobel

Yummy Food as Community Builder: Our Little Kitchen by Jillian Tamaki

Funniest Picture Book: Unstoppable by Adam Rex, illus. Laura Park

The one with the pictures your kids won’t stop looking at: Sandcastle by Einat Tsarfati

Best book about gentrification and the housing crisis (also Best Dad in a Picture Book): The Blue House by Phoebe Wahl 

Best Book for Preschoolers: A New Green Day by Antoinette Portis 

Best Original Ghost Story: The Haunted Lake by P.J. Lynch

Best Reboot/Fanfic Fix of a Fairy Tale: The Little Mermaid by Jerry Pinkney

I just want to swim and sunbathe in these illustrations: Prairie Days by Patricia MacLachlan, illus. Micha Archer

Best Book for Peacemaking: You Matter by Christian Robinson

Illustrations So Vibrant, You Need Sunglasses to See ‘Em: Don’t Worry, Little Crab by Chris Haughton

Like Dropping into a Mug of Sunshine: Magnificent Homespun Brown: A Celebration by Samara Cole Doyon, illus. Kaylani Juanita

Most Empowering: A Girl Like Me by Angela Johnson, illus. Nina Crews


The One EVERYONE In My Family Read. Yeah, it’s that good: Dragon Hoops by Gene Yuen Lang

**Bring a Box of Tissues and an Armful of Hope: When Stars are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

Best Immigration Story: Almost American Girl by Robin Ha

Witches and Cute Animals and Car Racing and Family Secrets and WOW: Snapdragon by Kat Leyh

The Book Everyone in America Needs to Read, Part 1: Drawing the Vote: An Illustrated Guide to Voting in America by Tommy Jenkins

**Powerful History, Masterfully Told: Blades of Freedom by Nathan Hale

Best Sibling Story: Twins by Varian Johnson, illus. Sharon Wright

**The Voice that Needs to be Heard: Flamer by Mike Curato

It’s Both a Tribute to and Parody of the Fantasy Genre, and it’s Laugh-out-loud funny (also Katie’s favorite book of 2020): Dungeon Critters by Natalie Riess 

Sometimes Fairytales are the best way to talk about Hard Things: The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen

Do You Really Need to Know Anything Else Beyond the Title? Superman Smashes the Klan by Gene Yuen Lang

Sweetest Fantasy, Beautiful Design: Beetle and the Hollowbones by Aliza Layne

**Best Book on a Topic That Shouldn’t Be Taboo: Go With the Flow by Lily Williams, illus. by Karen Schneemann

Most Powerful Memoir: Chance: Escape from the Holocaust by Uri Schulevitz


The Book Everyone In America Needs to Read, Part 2 (also my personal most-favorite of 2020): The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh by Candace Fleming

Eye-Popping Illustrations of Beautiful Bees: Honeybee by Candace Fleming, illus. Eric Rohmann (yep, same author as the Lindbergh biography)

Most Awwww-Inspiring: Hello, Neighbor! The Kind and Caring World of Mister Rogers by Matthew Cordell

Most Awe-Inspiring: The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read by Rita Lorraine Hubbard, illus. Oge Mora

Remember When U.S. Civics Could Be Fun? The Next President:The Unexpected Beginnings and Unwritten Future of America’s Presidents by Kate Messner, illus. Adam Rex

Best Autobiography — written by a rock-climbing prodigy: How to Solve a Problem: The Rise (and Falls) of a Rock-Climbing Champion by Ashima Shirashi, illus. Yao Xiao 

I Still Can’t Believe How Absorbing This Story Was (even when I knew the ending!): All Thirteen: the Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team by Christina Soorntornvat

Most Incredible Nature Illustration: How to Find a Bird by Jennifer Ward, illus. Diana Sudyka

Totally Cosmic, Man: Your Place in the Universe by Jason Chin

Truth & Beauty, Unparalleled: Exquisite: the Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks by Suzanne Slade, illus. Cozbi A. Cabrera

Best Animal Illustration: Packs: Strength in Numbers by Hannah Salyer 

Most Intimate Look at the life of a famous person: Night Walk to the Sea: A Story About Rachel Carson, Earth’s Protector by Deborah Wiles, illus. Daniel Miyares


Best example of the worth of therapy for kids: The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead

If you grew up loving the “Little House” books, this tribute to/reimagining of them will make you squeeeeeee: Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park

Again, Sometimes folklore is the best way to talk about hard things (even if it means a grouchy Korean tiger comes at you): When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller

Southern Gothic, but truly tender story: King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callander

Dysfunctional Families, 1980s-style: We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly

There’s some credibility-stretching coincidences in the plot, but I liked it anyway (also Best Crossover for Adults, Part 1): Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk

Most heart-wrenching immigration story: Efren Divided by Ernesto Cisneros

A part of American history I admit I knew nothing about: Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte

Sexism Happens to Kids, Too: Chirp by Kate Messner

Best Abuse Survivor Story/Jumanji Mashup: A Game of Fox & Squirrels by Jenn Reese

As An Introvert, I Felt Seen: Here in the Real World by Sara Pennypacker

Best Family Saga: Loretta Little Looks Back: Three Voices Go Tell It by Andrea Davis Pinkney 

Best Sports Story: Becoming Muhammad Ali by James Patterson and Kwame Alexander

**Probably My Favorite Novel of the Year (fave protagonist, certainly): Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Best Crossover for Adults, Part 2: Everything Sad is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri

Has the Feel of a “Classic” Read-Alous: Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake, illus. Jon Klassen

Best Mystery/Fantasy Mashup: Time of Green Magic by Hilary McKay


**This one left me gob-smacked impressed by the authorial talent on display: Kent State by Deobrah Wiles

**Is there such a thing as a Teen Celibacy Comedy? Not So Pure and Simple by Lamar Giles

**Family secrets, and the devastation left in their wake: Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

I’ve been waiting 20 years for this author to finish this series, and I’m kind of bereft that it’s finally over: The Return of the Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

80s Brit Punk-meets-High Fantasy: The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix

Compression Time

A puzzle on a puzzle on a puzzle

Brian and I often remark to each other that our perception of time is changing during the quarantine. Intellectually, I know that several months have gone by since the schools closed down, but it still feels as if it just began.

In the meanwhile, the weeks seem to drag, with a serious case of fatigue that sets in on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

It’s likely that each of our days has such sameness, with little novelty, that our brains simply aren’t recording as many long-term memories anymore.

Having my right hand in a brace isn’t helping anything; I’m unable to create any kind of long-lasting work (such as writing) which makes my days even more free-form and floating than otherwise created by the pandemic.

I finally met with an orthopedist this past Wednesday, and it was dissatisfying. A pulled muscle, nothing more, and it would have resolved faster weeks ago if I’d known to use a brace and isolate my hand right at the beginning. (Parallels to the pandemic are not lost on me.) As it currently stands, I’m looking at using a brace for another 6-8 weeks. I’ll be lucky to play piano by the end of summer.

The one good outcome was a prescription for a tube for an anti-inflammatory gel (kinda like “super Ben-Gay”) and it’s done wonders for easing the pain. I have my first visit with a hand therapist this Tuesday.

In the meanwhile, we’re taking Eleanor out to lunch every day (it’s the only way we can get her to eat) and continuing with the Shakespeare 2020 project. There are so many arts organizations streaming live recordings of plays (Shakespeare or otherwise) that it’s actually kind of a treat. I’ve been able to see productions of plays that rarely get performed, like The Two Noble Kinsmen, which was adorable, or  Timon of Athens, which is interesting to discuss and boring to read/watch (Timon is a reverse Scrooge, essentially). Eleanor has watched all of them with me, which is really fun. Yesterday we watched the Globe Theater’s production of The Winter’s Tale, and it was adorable.

I also took time to watch the National Theater’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire, (on my own, since it isn’t exactly kid-friendly) and found it electrifying.

We’ve also continued our musical-watching with Into the Woods, The Phantom of the Opera, Moulin Rouge, and Hairspray. I prefer to watch films of stage productions instead of film adaptations of musicals (with exceptions for musicals that were created as films, like Moulin Rouge.) I have no idea if this is something that Eleanor is excited about, but she shows up for them, and anything I can do to get her out of bed is a-okay with me.

We went on another stairway hike last week, through the Madrona/Leschi neighborhood. The gardens were beautiful and the views of the lake were gorgeous! Here’s what I wrote about it on Instagram:

We embarked on Seattle Stairway hike #2 yesterday, this time with the boys coming along for the adventure. Our itinerary took us through the Madrona and Leschi neighborhoods along the western shore of Lake Washington. Our “secret passage” stairways went through forests and between vine-covered gardens that felt just a teeny bit like something from an Indiana Jones movie. Best of all were the spectacular views of the lake, as well as the general good cheer of William and Jeff, who happily went up and down roughly 670 stairs over 1.7 miles. (Well, with the exception of one stairway that was so steep the boys nicknamed it “The Wall.”)

Almost every picture Brian took had his finger in it


“The Wall”

Brian finger!


I was really sad that it rained hard yesterday and we couldn’t do another one. Hopefully next week the weather will be fine.

In other news, William was tasked with building a Rube Goldberg device for his engineering class. He made a contraption that turns off the overhead light in his room, something that I remember fantasizing about building in my own childhood bedroom. It took him about ten hours of building, testing and tinkering to find success. Now when Brian and I are reading in the evening, we’ll hear a thump-bump-clunk from the direction of William’s bedroom, and know that he’s switched off the lights and gone to sleep.

We also enjoyed a much-needed respite from the tyranny of homeschool on Memorial Day. Despite the damp weather, we went out to Hillwood Park for a game of cross-country bocce, then followed it up with a huge meal of barbecue ribs and baked beans, and a game of Codenames via a Shirtsfam zoom.


Only nineteen more days until this torturous school year is finally over!

From our Friday date on the Burke-Gilman Trail. We saw three juvenile bald eagles sitting in a tree together!

We watched the SpaceX rocket launch and Katie was very excited


Coping Strategies

Yup, I’m still typing all of this entirely with my left hand. Still sucks. Only ten more days until my appointment at the hand clinic.

But let’s not focus on that. To tell the truth, other than my hand pain and Eleanor’s ongoing depression/eating thing, my family’s situation is fairly ideal for weathering this storm. We’ve managed to do quite a few fun things since shelter-in-place began.

We’ve been on quite a few hikes and interesting walks. Thanks to my collection of hiking books, it’s easy to find trails that are less visited (research always wins the war).

Meadowdale Beach (during the very first week of lockdown, back in early March). The cold weather worked inour favor; there weren’t any people on the water. (Because they have better self-preservation instincts, I suppose)


Padilla Bay. Eleanor wasn’t feeling well, so I sat with her on a bench and watched birds.


Robe Canyon. I had done this hike years ago, when Katie was three. It was nice to do it with Brian this time. We got rained on (I slipped and fell in the mud twice, ugh) but that simply made our photos all the more colorful.


20200328_12162720200328_12440720200328_12415320200328_121412The kids have their ups and downs with homeschooling. Katie at one point spent a morning writing me a letter about how much she hates the Saxon Math program. I decided to count it as “language arts” and move on.


Katie and William did a lot of hands-on chemistry experiments with me, via a website called Mystery Science. We learned how to use old pennies and vinegar to coat steel nails with copper, among other things (this experiment failed, owing to me not using old enough pennies).


One of the more engaging activities for Eleanor was creating entries for the Edible Book Festival in early April. She made two entries, for “Griddle Women” and “The Chiliad,” and won both 1st and 2nd place in the “Most Punderful” category. Woo-hoo, $25 gift card to Third Place Books!


(Alas, I got no recognition for my entries, “Food the Obscured” and “The Count of Monte Crisco”)

Around that same time, I begin filming Primary Singing Time videos for the families in our ward. Friends and family on Facebook enjoy them, too. Katie and the other children sing with me, and it’s a lot of fun.

William finally finished cutting up the foam for his big bean bag chair. He and Jeff have moved into separate rooms, and it’s a great addition to his new space.


We made “Mormon Food” for General Conference, and had to borrow jello from church friends when I realized I had forgotten to put it on the shopping list.

Hot cross buns for Easter. I watched “Amazing Grace,” the Aretha Franklin music documentary, as well as the St. Matthew’s Passion, and made a most excellent carrot cake with pecan frosting. The girls sang “Gethsemane” for the week’s Singing Time video, and Brian hid an Easter basket in the oven and the attic crawlspace.

Eleanor turned fifteen, and I asked friends and family to send video birthday greetings, which I put together into a surprise montage for her. Kristen made her a coronavirus-shaped pinata, which she gleefully smashed with a stick. Flourless chocolate cake afterwards.



We kicked things off with blanket tents for The Great Washington Camp In (sponsored by the state parks system) and perfected our homemade pizza recipe (overnight rise makes all the dough difference).


Brian and I made a trip down to Olympia for one last visit to The Back Door Bakery, which closed for good on 4/30. Our stimulus check from the government arrived ($83, ha) and we spent all of it on pie and cake and lunch from the Salvadorian place across the street.


Then came our DIY Disney at Home, to commemorate our now-indefinitely postponed trip to Disneyland. Each day was devoted to one of the different “lands” of the park. Here’s how I described them on Instagram:

Today was Fantasyland day, so we watched “Alice in Wonderland” and had a mad tea party. We attempted to bake replicas of the Matterhorn Macaroons you can get from the Jolly Holiday Bakery, but they spread out in the oven and became Polar Ice Cap Macaroons (they were delicious anyway). Later on we watched “Sleeping Beauty” and made mini fairy dolls and paper flower garlands (Katie is modeling the crown Eleanor made). The evening was rounded out with a few garage swordfighting duels. Best part of the day: sending my kids into impressed shock by reciting every single line of “Sleeping Beauty” along with the film.


Spring Break 2020, Day 3: Yee-haw! We saddled up for Frontierland today. After a belly-fillin’ breakfast of baked oatmeal, we spent the morning building our own version of the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. There was a lot of nostalgia in this for me; we haven’t played with the wooden train set in years, and I was pleased to see the teenagers get as absorbed into building and running the trains as the little kids. The afternoon was dedicated to tacos and a screening of “Maverick” (how have I never realized that the screenplay was by William Goldman??). Finally, for dinner we had a hot dog and s’mores cookout, for which Katie has been begging for weeks. Plus, it gave me an excuse to make my mom’s baked beans, which are the best even if they take three hours to make.

(I found youtube videos with full versions of the music that is played over the loudspeakers at Disneyland, and we all agree that the Frontierland one is the best. Great country-western classics!)


Spring Break 2020, Day 4: We had a tropical trip to Adventureland today! Everyone was excited to try out the package of authentic Dole Whip soft serve mix that Eleanor got for her birthday. We froze it in our ice cream maker, and whoa: it tasted just like the real thing. Besides the sugar rush, we had a fun morning playing the Island games on Wii Party U, and watched “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” which none of us had seen and proved to be a fun surprise.


Spring Break 2020, Day 5: Beep-boop, we celebrated all things robot-y and science fiction-y with our tribute to Tomorrowland! Brian started us off with a family Lego Masters competition. Challenge #1 involved creating towers with a limited selection of bricks — and they had to support the weight of a baseball. Challenge #2 was about creating a battle scene between two minifigs (can you tell which one William made?). After a break from “Pizza Planet” (aka Little Caesar’s) we settled down to watch “Flight of the Navigator,” which was great, although I now regret missing the chance to show my kids the epic pile of bananas that is “Space Camp.” After all that, the future took a backseat to the past as we celebrated Shakespeare’s birthday with delicious “gingerbard” cookies. Aren’t they adorable?

(Not pictured: Katie’s epic meltdown during the Legomaster competition. Poor girl! She really misses school.)


Spring Break 2020, Day 6: our indefinitely- delayed trip to California also included a visit to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, so we decided to spend a day doing all things Hogwarts, with each of us taking turns teaching a class. William hid stuffed animals around the house for Care of Magical Creatures, which we then used for a blanket-toss game (this was a huge hit). Eleanor showed us how to make fizzy love juice in Potions, and Katie taught how to turn poisonous plants (asparagus) edible in Herbology. Lastly, I taught Transfiguration and we turned origami paper into Golden Snitches. After a lunch of burgers & butterbeer, we settled in for a screening of the first Harry Potter movie, which we hadn’t watched in years (during which I predictably fell asleep 🙄). Whew, throwing my kids five themed parties in a row has been a lot of fun, but also a lot of work. I hope they remember the good times during a period in which so much seemed so scary.

(FYI, the potions tasted totally gross)


Our last day of spring break was spent on a drive to the Skagit Valley to sort-of see tulip fields and get cookies from Breadfarm. Eleanor actually came along for this, which was a big deal.


Spring was well and truly sprung after the break. The school district started providing a more robust online school program. Katie and William discovered a meadowy daisy patch next to the water towers in our neighborhood.


During the first week of May, the seniors at the high school got their caps and gowns, and some parents organized a loosely organized parade to celebrate them. The grads put on their newly acquired caps and gowns and stood (6 ft. apart) near their local elementary or middle school. Then a caravan of 50+ decorated cars drove past all of them along a designated route. It was such a blast — lots of sign waving and horn honking. Jeff and I blasted the school fight song whenever we passed another group of kids. Jeff was especially happy to have a chance to say goodbye to all his senior friends. Probably one of the most uplifting things I’ve done so far.


We also observed May the Fourth, aka Star Wars Day. After hurrying through our schoolwork, we ordered Chinese take-out for Orange Mandolorian Chicken, Brocco-Leia Beef, Kung Poe Chicken, Won Taun-Tauns, and Fortune Wookies. Then we cozied up for a screening of “The Last Jedi” (because my kids love porgs) and finished the evening with lightsaber duels and blue milk with whipped-strawberry topping.


Is that a tiny fairy door on my cardigan? Yes.


For most of the pandemic, we’ve been holding weekly contests with Brian’s family. Whoever wins gets to choose and judge the next week’s competition. Caitlin challenged us all to make historical-figure costumes out of household objects. Kathryn then instigated a book-spine poetry contest. Peter’s contest was to create fairy doors with a variety of materials and locations (Kristen made a stunning patchwork fabric one; Brian made an origami one; William’s had two doorknobs because fairies.) Anderson was the winner, however, and he started a house-building contest.


Although Eleanor tried her hardest to pander to Anderson’s tastes with a Disney house, the winner was Katie and William’s fairy castle. Which led us to this week’s crazy dance contest.

Mother’s Day weekend came and went. Brian and I spent Saturday doing the Fremont hike in “Seattle Stairway Walks.” Following the trail guide is part hike, part treasure map as we went up and down about a dozen public stairways hidden between houses and leafy alleyways. There were so many beautiful gardens! Fremont is especially fun because there is a lot of public art created by neighborhood residents, from an inspirational poem posted at the bottom of a stairway, to a mirror on a street sign labeled “You’re Brilliant!,” to a little bench next to a telephone pole labeled “Accidental Park.” (A play on the name of Seattle’s Occidental Park.)


Brian then spent the rest of the day on my present: cleaning up our overgrown rose garden and installing a new birdbath. I love it SO SO much!

On Mother’s Day proper, Katie knocked on my bedroom door. “Mom, are you still in your pajamas?” No, I had already showered and dressed. “But Mom,” she wailed, “you have to still be in bed, or it ruins the magic!” Very well, then. If that is what it takes to get breakfast.


I also made the Cherry Shortcake Bars from Midwest Made, because it seems like springtimey “mom-food,” and the kids cooked sushi for dinner.


Annnnnd I think we’re all caught up!


Brooke of the Broken Hand

I only gave this post that title because it sounds like the name of a terrible martial arts epic.

But in truth, my right hand is well and truly busted. I did …. something to it while I was learning a Rachmaninoff prelude during January and February. By the time we went to Mexico, the big joint on my middle finger hurt and could not close into a fist.  The injury had happened so gradually, I didn’t even realize it was happening.

I had a strong suspicion as to what caused it — the fast, free-form section of the Rach. I decide to stop playing that one section.

It did not help. I began to wake up at night, my finger aching.

I have to tell my teacher, Jensina, that I should probably stop the Rach altogether. We are both very upset. So much work for nothing.

The quarter ends, the pandemic begins. I’ll take a break from piano between quarters, I think. No practicing, no advanced repertoire at all. Just easy stuff, church music on weekends. I can do this for a week or two.

It does not help. Suddenly all church meetings are cancelled. I order a finger splint off Amazon. It made the joint ache more, pulled into a stiff, unnatural position. I put the splint away.

Rest, rest. Surely this will all end soon. The kids are home from school. I begin a new knitting project to relax; in the middle of a row, my hand suddenly cramps and seizes up. No more knitting, then. Very little piano. A few hymns on Sunday. But even this causes the tendons to ache, that buzzy pain that feels like a touched nerve.

I begin to Google “left hand piano repertoire.” It leads to a lot of boring waltzes.

I talk to Jensina on the phone. She thinks I should rest the hand until at least April 15 — six weeks! She also recommends a Scriabin etude that can be played with left hand only. I begin to learn it, my right hand curled uselessly in my lap, like a bird that flew into a glass window and stunned itself.

All the stores are closed.  During General Conference, I attempt to take notes, writing by hand in a notebook, and a dull ache takes over, shooting pain up to my elbow. I bury my hand in ice. More rest. Rest. Can’t go to the doctor now, I’ll get sick. Brian begins working from home. I order special little ice packs that can Velcro around my fingers.

A week later, we take a drive to a favorite bakery, and when I go to write the check, sharp shooting pains run down my fingers. I flinch and try not to show any discomfort as I quickly sign the check and pass it through the window to a cashier sitting behind a pane of protective Plexiglass. We are all wearing masks.

No more handwriting, then. How will I do my music theory homework?

First Zoom lesson with Jensina. The Scriabin is coming together. What a great opportunity — every pianist wants to be ambidextrous! Have I tried taping my fingers together? I buy reams of medical tape.

Eleanor, depressed from the school closures and cancellations, begins to refuse food, staying in her room during breakfast and lunch.

Some time later, the same sharp pain occurs when I type. When I scratch my leg. When I casually flick my fingers over a touchpad.

My right hand should do nothing, then. No music, no writing, no knitting, no art. No kneading bread or pruning roses. My right hand is quarantined.

Brian offers to be my scribe for music theory but I find this impossible and write it myself anyway. More ice. Brian researches tendonitis and discovers that ibuprofin inhibits collagen repair. No more painkillers. I buy a big bottle of collagen supplements and swallow them down, one horse-choking pill at a time.

Eleanor does not eat for three days straight. I make panicked calls to the pediatrician and set up appointments with a therapist and a nutritionist.

I also, finally, set up a telehealth appointment for me.

“What was the piece that hurt your hand, anyway?” my PCP asks.

“A Rachmaninoff prelude,” I reply. Her eyes widen. At least the one saving grace in all this is that it at least sounds impressive.

She sent me off with a referral for a hand specialist. I make the call right away.

I need to wait three weeks until my appointment.

The left-hand Scriabin is joined by a left-hand Gliere and a left-hand Czerny. I’m playing full-throated music with only my left hand. My family says they wouldn’t be able to tell if they didn’t already know. William hums quietly along while he does his homeschool assignments. But the music doesn’t satisfy me. It feels like a parlor trick. Not art.

I miss my repertoire. Playing inspirational music on Sunday. Church hymns on the organ. Jazz standards after dinner in the evening. Disney and showtunes for my kids to sing along with. Choral pieces with Brian.

A few weeks ago, I accidentally flipped my music bag open, revealing the Hayden and Bach and Chopin that used to be my meat and bread. How big my sounds were, how tender and passionate. I immediately remembered playing these pieces in the college practice rooms, in my teacher’s office, on the baby grand in the performance space. Impossibilities. All of it. It felt like a bag of ghosts had fallen into my arms. And truly, isn’t that what music from 200 years ago is, anyway? Something gone, that doesn’t exist until we think about it, from a time long, long ago. And also from the time of Before. And there’s no point in running your tired, overwashed, taped-up fingers over the things you simply cannot have.

I slowly put the music back and zip the bag firmly closed.



Granolavirus, Week Two

Almost every night, Eleanor asks me to “tuck her in,” aka sit on her bed and talk with her. It’s something I enjoy. But my heart sinks whenever she repeats the question: “So what do we have planned for tomorrow?”

I don’t know what she’s expecting me to say. I suggest a few fun ideas, but none of them entice her. I’m not a cruise director. Eleanor turns her face to the wall.

We’ve snuggled tight into our little routine, here. In the morning, I expect the kids to meet me around the kitchen table by at least 9:00 a.m. for “scripture power” time. (9:00 a.m. may seem like a late wake-up call to you, but it’s a challenge for the teenagers.)

After scripture power, everyone goes their separate ways for homeschool. I supervise William and Katie on their schoolwork while I practice piano (I’ve found some left-hand etudes by Bach, Saint-Saens, and Scriabin to work on while my right hand heals). Usually the littles manage to finish almost all their schoolwork before lunchtime, which is how most homeschool curricula is supposed to go (only 2-3 hours a day).

Meanwhile, Jeff pesters me for internet access, which I deny him until he’s done all his “analog” tasks, such as read for an hour, practice his piano assignment, work on the math assignment Brian gave him, and go for a walk. He’s … okay at doing all of these, and then spends the afternoon doing “homework,” which is whatever his teachers are emailing him. It’s almost impossible to know how much of this homework he’s actually doing.

And where is Eleanor during the morning hours? Usually back in bed. Most days, I usually haul her out of bed around noon, which is when we drive to the school for lunch. The school district runs a drive-through lunch program for ages 18 and under, and it’s a great excuse for getting out of the house.

Is it progress that Eleanor is at least coming with us to lunch? Last week she refused.

Afternoons are spent finishing up any remaining homeschool: reading our history chapter aloud, doing hands-on science experiments, playing outside, building with LEGO, etc. Eleanor spends her afternoons in her room, working on the math assignments Brian gives her. Jeff often takes advantage of my distracted state to vanish upstairs with a computer.

One would think I’d spend this afternoon block to get some writing done, but it’s hard. Having all the kids around is sucking the energy out of me. Interruptions happen about every 15-20 minutes. It’s difficult to focus on anything knowing that my teenage daughter is dissolving into the bedsheets down the hall.

A few times I’ve gotten up early to write before the kids wake, but when faced with that quiet space to myself, I found that all I wanted to do was nothing. “Pure nothing, in the middle of the day,” like the line from the Rita Dove poem.

Besides, most of my early morning hours are already devoted to my own sanity-saving exercise routine.

I don’t even want to think how things are going to shift when my music theory class resumes in another week.

Yet my brain can’t let go of writing: it is constantly, constantly working on the novel in the background, formulating scenes, plot points, reams of dialogue, descriptive paragraphs, character arcs. After a few days, I feel pent up and congested inside, and panicked that I’ll never get around to finishing the project.

So to state that I’m feeling frustrated with myself is an understatement. Am I really too busy for this? Or am I using my kids as an excuse?

Around 3:30 p.m. we still gather for kuchenzeit. This week in Panic Baking: Caramel Apple Dapple Cake (not as good as my mom’s apple cake), Wednesday Night Brownies (of course), Chocolate Chip Cookie Brittle (similar but vastly improved version of a recipe I already have) and Next Level Krispy Treats (they have double the butter and 4 ounces of white chocolate).

Brian’s been returning home from the hospital at odd early times, which can be frustrating, especially if he has more office work to do at home: I get all excited about having another adult to take a turn with the child labor, only to hear that I’m not getting a break after all.

On Friday, Brian worked entirely from home. I asked him to create his office space on the third floor, where I won’t be able to hear him. It’s disheartening to be constantly reminded that he’s able to accomplish his adult intellectual work when I cannot. I don’t blame him; this is the arrangement and partnership that we knew would work best for our family. And I’m kind of relieved that it’s possible for him to be home instead of going into the hospital, where he’s at risk for getting sick. But still — stay away where I can’t hear you, Other Adult.

Worst of all, because the kids don’t have any early-morning wake-up times, then bedtime tends to slide later and later into the evening. More nights than I’d prefer, the kids aren’t in bed until ten or ten-thirty, all of them needy for their mom, for the kind of stability I can provide them, since their lives are all upside-down. And I love that I can do that for them, and I love how our relationships are all deepening and improving as a result.

BUT — I am going a little crazy without having much alone time these days. I love my big boisterous family, but I’m someone who has always thrived on having “the gift of solitude” to recharge. Last night, a reasonable 8pm start time for the bedtime routine was upended by a Harry Potter board game. None of the children went to sleep until 11p.m. I tried to close myself up in my room with a book, but children kept popping in. It was great to get those extra cuddle times (Jeff came and talked to me! Voluntarily!) but afterwards I felt ragged, and furious.

The teenagers are starting to feel the negative results of their messed-up sleep schedules and sedentary lifestyle. Eleanor and Jeff complain that they are restless in bed and unable to sleep until one or two in the morning. Jeff seems amenable to making the lifestyle changes required to fix this, but Eleanor shuts down whenever I bring up the solution of basic exercise and earlier wake-up times, retreating into her shell of “I’m fine” and a quelling glare.

Last night was a breakthrough — Eleanor said she would like to spend some time walking on the treadmill, but when would she have the time? I pointed out that she might have to spend less time in bed in the morning, only to be burned alive with the Quelling Glare once more.

Ugh, the worst is knowing that I likely would have behaved in the exact same way at her age. What does it say that your mini teenage clone-self is occasionally intolerable?

So anyway isolation’s going fine.

Granolavirus, Week One

“Granolavirus” is apparently what Eleanor and her friends were calling COVID-19 outbreak before everything got turned upside down.

William’s social studies teacher sent out an email encouraging all his students to keep a diary of this odd, uncertain time. The idea went over like a lead balloon with the kids, but reminded me that I really out to come out of hiatus for this one.


Days since schools closed: 10 (although it feels much longer)

Episodes of Panic Baking: 3 (all from the Midwest Made: Big Bold Baking from the Heartland). I tell myself that I’m doing this so the kids and I can enjoy “kuchenziet” (aka German teatime, but literally translated as “cake time” which I think we can all agree is superior). I’ve made the “Donut Loaf,” (which also describes my current lifestyle), “Wednesday Night Brownies” (which I am totally making every Wednesday from now on) and “Potato Chip-Chip Shortbread,” (which are made with potato chips and chocolate chips, and were the kids’ favorite so far)

Days Eleanor Spent in Bed Not Talking to Anybody: 3. With bonus Refusing to Eat or Bathe or Go to Bed at a Reasonable Time Action!

Yes, it was kind of scary with Eleanor for a while. She took it very hard when everything in her life got cancelled. School musical, robotics competition, choir concerts, our family’s Disneyland trip — poof. Gone. I’ve been doing my best to not freak out on her and be gentle, but it’s hard. She still occasionally regresses and becomes Surly Silent Girl who insists that she’s “fine.”

[insert beleaguered sigh here]

Homeschool Charts Getting Checked Off: 2. William is the most checklist-oriented person I’ve ever met, and Katie generally follows his lead. Fortunately, I still have our stash of homeschool workbooks left over from when I was tutoring Jeff in math and writing — enough for both Wim and Katie. “History” time is when I read a chapter out loud from The Story of the World, and  twice a week we do a hands-on science experiment. It’s fun, although I fear the honeymoon will be over soon.

Homeschool Charts Getting Kinda Checked Off: 1. Getting Jeff to do anything besides watch YouTube is an uphill battle. He’s doing some math … ish, and reading books … ish.

Homeschool Charts Being Pointedly Ignored: 1 (See Eleanor’s Couch of Despair, above). Eleanor declared that “she wants to learn Latin,” so her “homeschool” is endless Latin language games on Duolingo. Things began to improve when her Geometry textbook arrived in the mail. She now spends a few hours a day taking meticulous notes in a math notebook and solving the problem sets Brian picks out for her. For the first few days, she also refused to read anything (I had to go do some Panic Baking in response) but now I’ve got her hooked on The Wee Free Men. That’ll have to do for the humanities.

Fights Over Internet Access: too many to account for

Nights We’ve Been Woken By Jeff Walking Around the House at 1:00am: 2 (Which, admittedly, sounds like something I’d do at age seventeen, but HONESTLY)

Things I Can’t Do Right Now: Practice piano, knit, or type for more than few minutes. This is because I’ve given myself a repetitive-stress injury with the Rachmaninoff prelude I spent all of last quarter working through. (It’s such a beautiful piece of music! I am heartbroken that I cannot continue mastering it!)

Having all my stress-relief activities taken away at the onset of this crisis is doing nobody any favors. I ordered a finger splint from Amazon.com, and it arrived on Friday night, and it seems to be helping (it allows me to knit a little, too).

And yep — my hand is aching right now, so it looks like I’ve hit my limit. Sigh. Tune in for more granolavirus updates in the future …


2019 Favorite Books for Young Readers

Greetings and salutations, fellow readers!

To you, 2019 may feel like super-old yesterday’s news, but for my brain and eyes, it’s still very much happening. Which is my roundabout way of saying that I’ve spent the last three weeks cramming my To Be Read pile with as many of the lauded and buzz-worthy books from 2019, all in pursuit of my definitely comprehensive (ha, that is impossible) and definitely unbiased (also impossible) list of Favorite Reads for Young people.

Tomorrow the Youth Media Awards are announced at 8am EST (which means a 5am wake up call for me, yaaaaaay) and we’ll see if all my cramming has lead to a triumphant fist-pumping round of “I knew it!” or a shameful head-shaking “never heard of that one” or an even worse “uggggh, what was the committee thinking with that one?!?” Only time shall tell!

Again, the standard caveats:

  • I can’t put every “good” book on this list because it would be a million miles long(er). Also, not every book here is for you. Like most librarians, I like to read pretty much every genre of literature so it’s all in the mix.
  • I don’t read a lot of YA novels, so that category is skimpy (although I do include other YA books in nonfiction, poetry, graphic novels, etc.)
  • Books with troubling, dark, or mature content get a double asterisk (**). Parents might want to take a gander first if they have sensitive kids.
  • Rev up those library cards and have FUN!

Also: here’s a link to a handy Google Doc of the list for your print-at-home pleasure.



Featuring the World’s Trippiest Shopping Trip: ¡Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market! by Raúl the Third

Best Father-Daughter Book: My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero, illus. Zeke Peña

Holy Cow, a Celebrity Finally Wrote a Decent Picture Book (and it’s lovely!): The Proudest Blue by Muhammad, Ibtihaj with S.K. Ali, illus. Aly, Hatem

Best Book About Cooking (as opposed to a cookbook, which is, y’know, different):  Fry Bread by Kevin Noble Maillard, illus. Juana Martinez-Neal

Somehow it’s about nature, perspective, history, and ecology all at the SAME TIME:  A Stone Sat Still by Brendan Wenzel

Funniest, Sweetest Book About Death in a Long While: The End of Something Wonderful: A Practical Guide to a Backyard Funeral by Stephanie V. W. Lucianovic; illus. George Ermos

So Weird, but Made Me Laugh SO Hard: Mr. Nogginbody Gets a Hammer by David Shannon

I Think We All Feel This Way From Time to Time: The Very Impatient Caterpillar by Ross Burach

FINALLY, a Good Picture Book about Gender Identity: When Aidan Became a Brother by Kyle Lukoff, illus. Kaylani Juanita

I Know this book is basically pandering to Librarians but I Don’t Care: How to Read a Book by Kwame Alexander, illus. Melissa Sweet

Best Seasonal Holiday Book: The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper, illus. Carson Ellis

I suppose you could call this a Valentine Book, but it’s really about selfless giving in all times and places: What Is Given From the Heart by Patricia C. McKissack, illus. April Harrison

If You Don’t This is Fundamentally Funny, You Shouldn’t Be Around Kids: Who Wet My Pants? by Bob Shea, illus. Zachariah O’Hora

In Which We Remeber How Beautiful This Country Is: You Are Home: An Ode to the National Parks by Evan Turk

Snuggly Wuggly Critters, Oh My! Bear Came Along by Richard T. Morris, illus. LeUyen Pham

Best Family History (also Katie’s personal favorite of 2019): Home in the Woods by Eliza Wheeler

The Title Says Everything: Llama Destroys the World by Jonathan Stutzman, illus. Heather Fox

Best (Living) Pet Story: Truman by Jean Reidy, illus. Lucy Ruth Cummins

Best Bedtime Book: Just Because by Mac Barnett, illus. Isabelle Arsenault

Probably the Funniest Book on Here if it weren’t for that odd Nogginbody Book: The Happy Book by Andy Rash

Best Interactive Book [slaps page]: High Five! by Adam Rubin, illus. Daniel Salmieri


In Which the Elephant & Piggie Reads Series Gets Metafictional: Harold & Hog Pretend for Real! by Dan Santat

Cynthia Rylant Proves Once Again That She’s A Master of This Genre: Motor Mouse by Cynthia Rylant, illus. Arthur Howard

Just Cannot Get Enough of This Series: Noodleheads Fortress of Doom by Tedd Arnold, Martha Hamilton and Mitch Weiss; illus. Tedd Arnold


**Best Breakup With the Toxic Relationship Story: Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki

Probably The Best Overall Children’s Book of 2019: New Kid by Jerry Craft

Best Historical(ish) Fiction of 2019: Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis

Best Friendship Story: Stargazing by Jen Wang

Being Popular Ain’t as Easy as it Appears: Best Friends by Shannon Hale, illus. LeUyen Pham

How? How Does EVERY Part of this Series Manage to Be SO GOOD? Major Impossible by Nathan Hale


Okay, first off — you should know that kids today are SO lucky that we happen to be living in this stunning Golden Age of nonfiction for young readers. Which means that if I could, this would be the longest category with so many titles your eyeballs would pop out of their sockets and go “a-woo-ga!” OBVIOUSLY, I’m not going to torture you all that way, but in case you want more, go see librarian-blogger Betsy Bird’s list of nonfiction picture books. Pretty much everything that’s there should be here, too.

**Best Memoir-in-Verse (well, best memoir overall, really): Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson

Most Powerful Picture Book/Poetry of 2019: The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander; illus. Kadir Nelson

Cutest Poetry Anthology of 2019 (it’s here pretty much because William loves it): The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog by Paul B. Janeczko (ed.), illustrated Richard Jones

Most Awwwww-inducing Picture Book Biography: The Important Thing about Margaret Wise Brown by Mac Barnett

One of My Favorite Childhood Illustrators Gets a Biography — and her life was FRIGGING AMAZING: It Began With a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way by Kyo Maclear, illus. Julie Morstad

Greek Myth Cartoons are the bomb: I Am Hermes! Mischief-Making Messenger of the Gods by Mordicai Gerstein

You Probably Didn’t Realize You Needed a Recommendation for a Book About Crocodiles, But Believe Me, You Do: Beware of the Crocodile by Martin Jenkins, illus. Satoshi Kitamura

Stunning-est Nature Photography: Bloom Boom! by April Pulley Sayre

**Holy COW this story is fascinating and SO well written and researched: The Miracle & Tragedy of the Dionne Quintuplets by Sarah Miller

Most Tummy-Rumbling Food Origin Story: Magic Ramen: the Story of Momofuku Ando by Andrea Wang; illus. Kana Urbanowicz


I just barely started it and haven’t finished but I’m putting it on here anyway because it’s just that good: Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds

Best Immigration Story: Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga

Why Hello there, 21st Century Update of the Mary Poppins Story: Pay Attention, Carter Jones by Gary D. Schmidt

I’ve got a serious soft spot for novels about kids with autism-spectrum disorder: Because of the Rabbit by Cynthia Lord

I’M NOT CRYING, YOU’RE CRYING: Beverly, Right Here by Kate DiCamillo

Basically “The Good Place” crossed with “The Giver”: Eventown by Kate McGovern

A standard middle grade friendship drama story intersects with the Black Lives Matter movement — and somehow it works: A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée

Probably My Personal Favorite Book of 2019: Scary Stories for Young Foxes by Christian Heidicker

ALSO: I’d like to put in a collective shout-out for the “Rick Riordan Presents” editorial imprint, which is producing Percy Jackson-ish novels about world mythology, written by authors from that culture. They are all selling like hotcakes and getting all the starred reviews BUUUUUUT because of this, I haven’t been able to get my hands on any of them (darn you, long library waitlists!). But if you’ve a notion (and a good sense of delayed gratification) go check out Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia; Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee; Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez; and Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Choksi


The One Your Teen Has Probably Already Read: On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

My Personal Favorite of 2019: Lovely War by Julie Berry

Most Delicious and Heart-wrenching Novel of the Year: With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

Best Conclusion to a Trilogy: The Wicked King and The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black

I Know it’s 100% Channeling “Howl’s Moving Castle,” but DANGIT I LOVED IT ANYWAY: Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson








Late Autumn Roundup

We had some of our Pittsburgh friends visit us this fall, a delightful surprise!

Eric and Abby were among the friends we reconnected with during our trip to Boston this spring, so it was lovely to continue that rekindling with a second visit. (Funny to not see each other for a decade, and then twice in one year! How very much our families have changed…)

Eric’s request was to see as much of the outdoors as possible, so we spent one day trekking up to Deception Pass State Park. The kids had a lot of fun climbing on all the boulders, but we also saw an incredible selection of wildlife. This was the first time I ever saw porpoises in Puget Sound — most likely a group of them. William recognized them by the dorsal fins (I initially assumed they were harbor seals — there were seals in the bay as well).


Day 2 of the visit was spent traveling out to Snoqualmie Falls. It was a great hike down to the bottom of the waterfall — until we found that the bottom of the trail was closed off for the winter. Bummer! At least we got to see the top of the falls. And the hike is always rather lovely.


This time of year is also our annual plunge into Academic Conference Season. We were a bit lucky this season — only three conferences, and they all finished up before Brian’s birthday! I made him a British style gingerbread cake (unlike the American kind, it has no molasses, and more citrus flavor). The cookbook said it could be baked in a 9″ round pan, but it overflowed in the oven. So much for that.


A friend suggested that it’s a metaphor for Brian’s life: overflowing with sweetness. Aww.

Other small adventures: we took the kids skating on Veteran’s Day (something of a tradition, since the local rink often has free skating that day).


It’s also Fall Theater Season for Jeff at the high school (doing lights for a British farce called “One Man Two Guvnors”) and the elementary school (Katie was in the chorus of a production of “The Lion King Jr.”).

The carpooling levels have been extremely high as a result, and I’m soooooo happy it’s over. Waiting for your high school student to come home from cast parties multiple nights in a row is no fun. (Not that I get grumpy when I’m sleep deprived or anything …)

Jeff is very happy to have found his tribe with the Thespian Society. Silly goings-on all around.


Part of the production included volunteers from the audience. William got to carry a trunk across the stage.


The theater kids have a habit of going to WinCo after performances and buying large quantities of random things from the bulk food section. In the past, Jeff came home with pounds of peach gummy rings, but this year he came home with 10 lbs. of flour.

“Great!” said Brian. “Jeff and I can bake bread, and he can take it to the next performance to share with the rest of the cast and crew!”

This went over enthusiastically well, as you can imagine. The teenagers devoured every speck of that bread.

WELL — cue Jeff coming home from the next performance with twenty two pounds of flour.

[cue scene from Anne of Green Gables when Marilla sees Matthew haul in 22 lbs. of brown sugar and rolls her eyes forever]

Brian and Jeff hatched a scheme to bake the largest loaves of bread possible in our standard-sized oven. I’m sorry I didn’t get a picture of the result, but each loaf was about three feet long and 1 1/2 feet wide. Like the Baguettes That Time Forgot.

That was yesterday; today we’re still making/baking bread. Our flour tubs in the pantry are still full to the brim. Geez.


Katie loved being in “The Lion King.” Initially, she was slated to be the back half of a hippo in the animal chorus (which she wasn’t too pleased about because she thought the other kids were laughing at her). At the last minute she got switched to being a rhino, so happiness was restored.


I’m just happy it’s over and I don’t have to chaperone any more rehearsals. Those suckers were brutal. They wanted the kids to be absolutely silent offstage, which is an exhausting task. I shushed so often that I began to hyperventilate.

Theater season is over! Onwards to music performance season!

(And in case you’re wondering why Eleanor wasn’t in the crazy theater mix — she wanted to. But there were hardly any parts in the high school play . . . and then 65 kids signed up to do tech crew when they only needed 25. So she couldn’t even do that.

Later she signed up to simply pass out programs as an usher, but it turns out that 70 kids signed up for that, too. She ended up being freaking grateful to pass out programs ONE time for ONE performance. (They had to make a spreadsheet to ensure that as many kids got to have usher duties as possible. Usher duties!!!)

Apparently the 9th graders are over enthusiastic like this about everything. As Eleanor puts it “I kind hate the freshman class right now.”

Halloween Haunts

Sometime this summer Katie decided that she wanted to be a chimney sweep for Halloween.

I admit to being taken a little off guard by this request. Was she absolutely sure she didn’t want to be a witch or a fairy or a pirate?

“No, I like being a chimneysweep because it something both boys and girls can be.”

Okay, fair enough. And with a wave of my Amazon wand, we procured a newsboy cap and a bristle brush-thing, and — hey! Why not get everyone in the family to be Mary Poppins characters?

Eleanor could be Mary, William still had his penguin costume from a few years ago, and Brian and I could be Mr. and Mrs. Banks!

Alas, we could not convince Jeff to join in and be Bert. Instead, he wanted to be Jeff Goldblum’s character from “Jurassic Park.” (It’s a meme. Just go with it.)

While I was slightly disappointed, you have to admit that Jeff pulled off the studly Ian rather well:


Meanwhile, the rest of us were all ready to go with our Jolly Holiday at the ward Halloween party . . . and then Eleanor was invited to hang out with her friend that night. So this was our group costume: Mary Poppins sans Mary.



lot of people thought Brian was supposed to be Charlie Chaplin. (Kudos to Mr. Chaplin, I guess, for staying culturally relevant in 2019.) I was assumed to just be A Suffragette, which I’m totally fine with (I looked nothing like Glynis John’s character at all).

Katie used her chimney brush to carry her candy bucket!

We did convince Eleanor to make an appearance as Mary for the Halloween piano recital.


On Halloween proper, William decided to wear his Totoro costume from last year, since the penguin suit was a little on the small side. So much for thematic coherence.



Eleanor went trick-or-treating with friends this year, and Brian took everyone else around the neighborhood. I stayed home and got some knitting done while watching “Hocus Pocus.” (It was freezing outside, okay?)

William came home with a collective 10.5 lbs. of candy. Which is patently nuts.


Katie decided to walk through a mini “spook alley” made by a family in the neighborhood, and came home rather spooked indeed.

Brian, on the other hand, kept himself entertained by sending me pictures of fake spider decorations he saw while walking around (a reference to a Jenny Nicholson YouTube video that’s all about funny online reviews of fake spider decorations). So I’d get a text with a black fuzzy blob in the middle of some fake spider webs, with the message “adequate enough for a spider.”

Sums up Halloween for me!

(Oh, yeah and we carved pumpkins. William made a fox, Jeff a stormtrooper, Katie a kitty, and Eleanor made a rather amazing Cinderella coach. Brian also went to the elementary school pumpkin carving night and gathered 4 gallons of pumpkin seeds for roasting, so we had a super-abundance of seeds this year. Hoooo boy.)


In which we are just like Humpty Dumpty

. . . because Humpty Dumpty had a great Fall!

Har har har!

But we’ve had a few fun autumnal adventures the past several days.

First off was a trip to BrickCon, the LEGO conference that happens in Seattle every fall. It’s been about five years or so since we took our children. When I realized that none of the kids remembered anything about our previous visit, I decided it was time to go again.


I’m still on the fence a bit about whether or not it was worth it.

I mean, the builds were cool. Incredible creativity going on here — although I admit there were no giant showstoppers like the Hogwarts Castle and Rivendell builds we saw previously (each one was roughly the size of a minivan).


And it was also very, very crowded. My kids could hardly see any of the exhibits because there were so many people shuffling by the tables. Katie got overwhelmed, so I took her upstairs to the children’s area while Brian continued to look at builds with the big kids.


There were several tables where kids could simply build and play. This cheered Katie right up. (And I got to read a book while she worked! Win-win!)

She says this is a portrait of me. Yay?

The following week, we got a lovely visit from the Shirts grandparents. Randy and Kathryn recently returned home after serving as missionaries in North Carolina. It had been over a year since the kids had seen them. Predictably, we spent the entire week pointing out in minute detail all the ways the children changed and grew during that year.

Regrettably, because of my music theory class, I couldn’t tour them around the city. So we just went out to lunch every afternoon instead. It was nice to have an excuse to visit one of Kathryn’s favorite haunts, the Scandinavian Specialties cafe in Ballard.

Best of all, on Friday we went to visit Kristen at her new job as the . . . .okay, I’ve forgotten the official title, but she’s like the Cutting Room Manager or something at a small local apparel company called Crescent Down Works. They make beautiful bespoke down-filled snow parkas. (We even got to go into the down-stuffing room and put our hands in a box of down! Which was even more insanely soft than I expected!)


On Friday night, we had a special treat: a members-only preview of the new Burke Museum of Natural History. I’ve been excited to see this new exhibit space. The overall focus is on “transparency” — that is, they have lots of glass walls and doors so museum visitors can see what projects all the scientists and archaeologists are working on.

Jeff asked great questions and we had some interesting conversations about how to tell when ancient animal bones were eaten by humans instead of other animals. (The secret: humans are the only animals who twist bones to break them.)

The following day we had even more fun with a trip to a pumpkin patch for some autumnal delights. Kathryn and I spent probably far more time than was necessary researching pumpkin patches and farms and chose to go to the Jubilee Farm.

We had hot cider, and a hay bale ride out to the pumpkin field.

Everyone picked a pumpkin, which in retrospect may not have been the wisest idea (we are now the proud owners of 70+ pounds of pumpkins).

We also watched the farm launch a pumpkin trebuchet:


Ran around a hay bale maze in the barn:


Saw some sheep (not pictured, but William found them “so adorable” that he immediately began to quietly hum “Baa Baa Black Sheep” Dang, I hope that kid never grows up).

We also helped grind some apples for cider:


Eleanor found a dahlia garden (which is one of her favorite flowers, which I did not know):


Then, while the big kids went to watch Trebuchet Launch #2, I stood with Katie to wait for a pony ride. Awww.


The grandparents went home on the same day that Brian left for the annual ASHG conference. In other words, we switched overnight from Family Fun Time to Lonely Time, and that was kind of a bummer.

I kept my cool by making sure we had lots of freezer meals ready to go, by skipping Katie’s evening swim classes for the week (it was the end of class anyway) and in general trying to keep things perky. But I admit I was exhausted as usual by the end of the week.

In the meantime, all three big kids went to the homecoming assembly at the high school (William was there because he’s part of the student government at the middle school), Jeff went to his first Homecoming football game (they lost), Eleanor went on her first backpacking trip (skipping the homecoming dance to do so):


. . . and William went to his first opera. (Rossini’s “La Cenerentola,” aka Cinderella, which he found fast-paced, engaging, and really fun.)

But Brian’s back again, hooray! SO GLAD HE’S HOME.