My fiction pick of the month: Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. If you want an enlightening and beautiful read, this is it. The author describes her book in detail below, but here’s my rundown: In a sweeping, well-researched tale that spans from 1929 to the present day, two women–both orphans–try to find their way in a harsh world. Expertly woven together, the main characters Niamh (pronounced Neeve) and Molly are fascinating and unique as they complement each other. I adored the history, latched onto the sadness and felt redeemed by resourcefulness and hopefulness. Christina’s writing is lovely, and the pace is perfect. Pick up the book at Target, where it’s an April selection or do what I did: Download it on Audible. The narrator of Orphan Train, Jessica Almasy, does an incredible read. Listening to Almasy’s rendition of this book–so vivid and emotional–was as much fun as getting swept away by an Oscar-winning movie.
But enough from me. Here’s what the talented and lovely author (she lives in my town) has to say about Orphan Train.
KK: In three sentences, how would you describe your book? CBK: Set in present-day Maine and Depression-era Minnesota, Orphan Train highlights the real-life story of the trains that between 1854 and 1929 carried thousands of abandoned children from the East Coast to the Midwest. It’s the story of two women who build an unexpected friendship: a 91-year-old woman with a hidden past as an orphan-train rider and a troubled teen with one last chance at redemption. As they get to know each other, they find unlikely common ground and together are able to undo the emotional knots of their troubled pasts.
KK: What turned you on to the idea of writing about orphans? CBK: Years ago I read an article about my husband’s grandfather, who had been orphaned along with his five siblings and sent on a train to North Dakota. I’d never heard of the orphan trains, and was appalled to learn that the children who rode them were as young as two. As the mother of three young boys, I couldn’t imagine what that would’ve been like! So I began to do the research to find out.
KK: Orphan Train is so beautifully written, and the characters are inspiring. What message would you like your readers to take away from Orphan Train? CBK: Many train riders were ashamed of this part of their past, and carried the secret of it for decades, and sometimes until they died. I think that the main message of my novel is that shame and secrecy can keep us from becoming our full selves. It’s not until we speak up that we can move past the pain and step forward.
KK: What advice do you have for moms who want to take on–and finish–a dream project like a book? CBK: The writer Anne Lamott tells a story about when she was a kid and her little brother was overwhelmed by a school project about birds. Their father’s gentle advice: “Just take it bird by bird, buddy.” That’s useful to remember. You can write a draft of a book in a year if you write a page a day. The secret is not to get overwhelmed by the big picture. Set yourself concrete goals (in my case, four pages a day or 20 pages a week) and try to stick to them. Yes, this is easier said than done!
See how great it is–check out Orphan Train’s book trailer below.
Today, April 2, is a big day for new releases. I wanted to let you know about some cool stuff that just came out and wish the following awesome authors Happy Book Birthday! Really, these are all great reads, and I have reviews and author Q&As coming up on some of them.
Just this morning, I got to meet Nia Vardalos, the writer and star of My Big Fat Greek Wedding. She’s got a sad, helpful and funny new book out about her journey through adoption. I’ll write up my interview on Instant Mom this week. I love her–and her warm and honest book made me adore her all the more.
And Glennon Doyle Melton of Momastery? She’s been all over the talk shows this week–and she’s an amazing person. Props also to my friend Christina Baker Kline who wrote Orphan Train, an Audible and Target pick of the month. Want to laugh? Check out STFU, Parents. You must do so right now.
Happy Book Birthday to:
by Nia Vardalos The gist: Nia goes through 10 IVFs, and then finally her daughter comes to her through adoption.
Carry On, Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton The gist: An extension of her candid, truthful blog that everyone I know adores.
by Christina Baker Kline The gist: Between 1854 and 1929, so-called orphan trains ran regularly from the cities of the East Coast to the farmlands of the Midwest, carrying thousands of abandoned children whose fates would be determined by luck or chance. Word on the street: This book is lovely.
For some reason, after you have kids, it no longer feels like there are 24 hours in a day. Where does the time go? I completely lose mine. A few hours every day sneak away and hop onto a plane to Hawaii. That’s where the new book Minimalist Parentingcomes in. Authors Christine Koh and Asha Dornfest (of Parent Hacks) have identified the areas in our lives that overwhelm us the most and give advice for streamlining our priorities and schedules.
I love the advice about the drug store–it’s so true. How often do I spend 15 minutes reading over the boxes of children’s cold medicine trying to figure out which one is the best and is going to make my sick pumpkin better? The fact is, the different brands are pretty much the same, and if I could just pick on in 3 minutes, how much more time and brain space would I have?
This book is filled with tips and tricks that will help reduce those feelings of overload regarding work, kids, romantic relationships, chores, quality time and more. I asked the authors a few questions to give you a better sense on what their enlightening, much-needed book is all about:
KK: For today’s parent, what’s the biggest hurdle to becoming a Minimalist Parent? Christine and Asha: The overwhelm in processing the deluge of information and options, and the residual self-doubt when faced with the many “shoulds” out there. Parents juggle so much with work, home, school, activities, friends and communities…not to mention lack of sleep and a schedule that inevitably gets thrown off track for any number of reasons! It’s difficult to set aside the attention it takes to prioritize, declutter or simply rest.
KK: What’s your best advice for parents with a baby or very young children? Christine and Asha: When you’re just starting out, it’s hard to grasp just how big a transition parenting is. Responding to a baby’s needs really means giving up control over much of your schedule for a time. So we’d say the best takeaway at that stage is to trust yourselfand to ask for help. You may not feel like it now, but you will figure out how to raise your beautiful baby. And it’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help when you’re feeling depleted; you don’t need to do everything alone.
KK: You talk a lot about getting parents to trust their own decisions and that “course correction beats perfection.” Can you please explain what this means? Christine and Asha: We’ve found that there are few parenting decisions that don’t come with “do overs.” Whether you’re making choices about sleep, diapering, food or extracurricular activities, there’s usually room to adjust or change your mind altogether. And truly, perfection is overrated! Not only do you set yourself up for failure by striving for perfection, but grownups and kids alike (even babies, to an extent) thrive when they stumble then discover they can solve problems on their own.
KK: What are three tips you would give to a parent overwhelmed by after school activities? Christine and Asha: 1. Kids–even those who are gung-ho on lots of activities–benefit from both activity and quiet. They need time and space to process what they’ve learned and experienced, and they also need downtime for rest and unscripted play. At first, that that may feel like “boredom,” but boredom actually can be an amazing catalyst for creativity.
2. You’re driving the bus…literally and figuratively. A kids’ schedule has to work for the entire family, including you. If endless driving and weekend games or performances are throwing the family out of balance, it’s perfectly acceptable to reevaluate.
3. Know that learning never ends. The flute lessons and basketball clinics will always be there next year. Is “falling behind” in competitive activities really a problem before high school or college? Perhaps for passionate or exceptionally talented players. But we don’t think that’s true for the majority of kids.
I owe you a story about Audible. I can’t recommend audio books highly enough. I listen to the most amazing new releases while I run to Costco, the bank, the dry cleaner and while doing dishes and laundry. At the expense of my poor, ignored husband, I can easily blow through a few books a week. Which I just did, so I’m writing these reviews.
The Dinner Who would like it: Anyone who likes dark, twisted, psychological messiness would be fascinated by Herman Koch’s messed up, train wreck of a brilliant book. What it’s about: On a nice summer evening in Amsterdam, Paul Lohman and his wife meet Paul’s brother Serge and his clearly upset spouse for dinner. The story unfolds over the many courses of the evening weaving back story and front story together as the wine glasses and dishes arrive at their table. Paul’s description of the food is manic–he really has a beef with olives–which sets the tone for what’s to come. The point of the book–the big reveal–doesn’t come until halfway through, but the journey is a lively and accurate–if disturbing–depiction of cultural norms and society. What you need to know is that each brother has a 15-year-old boy–and they share one big secret. Grotesqueness unfolds. I loved how I cringed and how I got disgusted and how I compared my wonderful family to his totally screwed up one. Why you should read it: This is a book for people who don’t need a happy ending and but need a lot of food for thought.
Me Before You
by Jojo Moyes Who would like it: Readers who dig offbeat love stories and don’t mind a good weep. What it’s about: Lou Clark is a working class, sensible girl who is content living at home taking care of her parents, sister and grandfather. She has a lackluster boyfriend and future ahead of her. When she loses her job at a cafe, she takes a position caring for the insufferable quadriplegic Will Traynor. All of a sudden, her life gets deep. Will doesn’t want to live, and she realizes that his mother hired her to get him to change his mind. Why you should read it: Lou is so relatable, and you’ll enjoy seeing how her character transforms and unfolds. I just can’t give away any more than that. This book delivers on the issues of class struggles, tragedy, heartbreak and love. I dare you to get through this book without a tissue.
Dear Husband, read this. Here’s why Lauren (these are her illustrations of her girls) thinks we should buy some hens:
“These days it’s harder than ever to pry our kids off of the electronic gadgets and shoo them outside for some fresh air and sunshine. If you’re trying to find a way to get your family back outdoors, chickens might just be your perfect answer.
A few chickens in a backyard coop add far more color and adventure to a backyard than a sandbox or a jump rope can. Chickens are certainly more interactive than a video game, and it’s possible that both you and your kids will find them to be just as addictive.
Chickens are comical characters with a quirky kind of charm. Their distinct personalities make for fun interactions, and they can be quite social with their humans. Children are naturally drawn to these curious creatures, and chickens are often drawn to kids as well.
A small flock is a practical, useful addition to almost any backyard setting. Popular reasons to start a flock include the promise of fresh eggs, an educational opportunity for the kids, or the wonderful compost their manure can provide for your family garden. Once your flock moves in, however, it doesn’t take long for these personable characters to peck their way into your hearts.
From a mom’s point of view, chickens truly are the perfect family pets.
They’re easy to keep: Just five or 10 minutes a day is all they require for general feeding and maintenance. They don’t ask you to take them for a walk, and they don’t hog the sofa at night. Chickens won’t gnaw on the kids’ toys or shred your favorite upholstered chair, and they’re not likely to dig through the trash.
Out in the sunshine, you’ll find that every child has a unique way of interacting with chickens.
And don’t forget the eggs! Most kids enjoy the daily thrill of skipping out to the coop to retrieve fresh clean eggs. There’s a beautiful bit of education that comes along with that, when a child realizes where food comes from.
No matter your approach to backyard chickens, be warned. Your kids might just step outdoors into the sunshine voluntarily…. and those electronic toys are going to collect a bit of dust.”