Mothers know the weird duality of being able to sleep at the drop of a blankie combined with the super spidey-sense that allows us to hear four-year-old eyelids popping open at, say, 2:37 a.m. for no discernible reason. I have an interest in sleep which I compare to the interest armchair travelers have in far-off and exotic lands to which they never actually travel. My personal feeling is that parental sleep deprivation is nature's way of attempting to dull or cushion the other body blows children dole out on a daily basis.  

A recent example would be Child the Elder's decision to microwave butter in an orange enameled cast-iron pot. If you're wondering, it takes exactly one minute and thirty-seven seconds to blow a hole through the interior wall of the appliance and this will be accompanied by impressive sound effects and fire. If a younger child is present for the explosion, you will also have much terrified screaming to accompany the wails of "I didn't know it was metal!  It doesn't look like metal!" from the responsible party. The pot itself will emerge completely unscathed--and completely unlike your nerves, despite the sleepiness. A well-rested parent might have noticed the child putting the pot in there in time to intervene, but where's the fun in that?

But enough about parents. James Mollison's book Where Children Sleep is an intriguing photo-essay of the circumstances in which children rest all over the world. A two-page spread is devoted to each individual child with one page containing a portrait and paragraph about the child's life and the other a picture of the place in which that child sleeps. It is a vast and sobering continuum, from the mansion bedroom of a child in New Jersey to a discarded sofa on the streets of Rio de Janeiro. The details in each picture speak volumes and add layers to the spare text. In one paragraph we are told that Alyssa's "shabby house" in Kentucky is "falling apart." Indeed, the photo of Alyssa's bedroom shows a missing ceiling with insulation hanging from the rafters above a once regal angel doll, wings battered and drooping and gray with dirt.

If this sort of photography is your cup of tea, I would also highly recommend Material World: A Global Family Portrait and What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets by Peter Menzel and 1000 Families by Uwe Ommer. All of these titles offer fascinating looks at the eye-opening contrasts in circumstances for humanity around the globe. They are enough to wake a person up--no destruction of small appliances required.

In my life, lucky means snagging the last box of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Valentine's Day cards from the Dollar Tree shelf for the child who will have no other kind. Not even the kind with scratch 'n' sniff stickers. (My mind wonders about combining the two--what does the end of a franchise/era/childhood smell like?)

The Odds by Stewart O'Nan has 67 holds, but I managed to find a copy on the Lucky Day shelf. It was exactly what I wanted for Valentine's Day--the perfect love story to pluck from the twee sea of pink and red plush animals with giant eyes, the cheap boxes of drugstore chocolates, the cards that always fall short of the mark.

Set on a Valentine's Day weekend, the story follows Marion and Art Fowler on the eve of their thirtieth anniversary. Jobless, facing foreclosure and with their marriage set to finally implode, they book a bridal suite at a ritzy Niagara Falls casino for a second honeymoon--and the gamble of their lives with their liquidated savings.

Find a cozy place to sit and break out that heart-shaped box of chocolates. (You know, the battered ones with all the tiny finger-holes in the bottoms from children attempting to locate the caramels. Or maybe that's just my box.) Bet red or black on this game of reading roulette. Either way, you'll win.

The other night during dinner Child the Younger excused himself from the table, walked over to the cat minding her own business by the front door and proceeded to make large and dramatic conjuring motions in her direction (think Mickey the Wizard in Fantasia.) This was accompanied by those weapon sound effects that all small boys seem to perfect. When he was finished he walked calmly back to his chair, sat down and resumed eating with no explanation. I couldn't resist asking.

"What was that you just did?"

"I needed to give the kitty her laser so she can shoot fire out of her fingernails."

"Oh. Okay."

I managed to keep it together during this exchange, but my husband was trying not to look like he was howling with laughter while snorting iced tea through his nose. It's an admirable parenting skill. Why the cat needed her fire-shooting powers at that very moment remains a mystery to all but one of us.

I've read some great graphic novels lately and one of the best is directly from the mind of a five-year-old boy. Axe Cop is the imagined universe of Malachai Nicolle as drawn by his older brother, Ethan. The title character is a policeman who picks up a fireman's axe and never looks back. He uses his weapon of choice and his somewhat violent tendencies on any number of bad guys, but the best parts involve the crazy sidekick characters including a dinosaur soldier who transforms into an avocado with a unicorn horn, a dog named Ralph Wrinkles, and The Best Fairy Ever. If you would like a direct window into the imagination of a five-year-old, here's your ticket. If you are hoping it will explain why you must NEVER MOVE UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES the plastic fireman's axe that currently resides in the drawer with your brushes and combs, you will be sorely disappointed. Not recommended for reading on public transportation or while drinking iced tea, and especially not both at the same time. And remember: only cowboys and warriors can control the magic riding spider.

Smile is Raina Telgemeier's biographical saga about losing her permanent front teeth to an accident in sixth grade and the drama that ensues for the next five years as she simultaneously experiences the horrors of dental reconstruction and adolescence. The combination of compelling story and detailed drawing make it more than the sum of its parts and you will be transported back to middle school (whether you want to go back there or not. And I'm guessing not. But go anyway.)

Kampung Boy by Lat is the luminous story of a boy from birth to boarding school growing up in rural Malaysia on a rubber plantation. The love and humor surrounding this family make the story rise off the page as the tropical environment and Muslim customs and rituals are explored and explained in a down-to-earth manner.

The sunshine is finally here, so park it in a lawn chair and read some comics before Axe Cop comes after you on his transformed Tyrannosaurus Rex-turned-dragon with rocket wings and machine gun arms. Awesome.

If you have ever come home to a preschooler chasing the cat around the house with a tube of Chapstick (because "the kitty wants WIP BALM on her WIPS!") you know that your first task is to confiscate that Chapstick. You also probably know that you will be too late, because by the time you liberate that tube from the greasy little fingers wrapped around it the cat will be staring at you accusingly from under a bed, glistening with fury and emollients.

We all have our monsters. Here are some of my favorites:

The Host
Set in Korea, a dysfunctional but devoted family pays a great price when a nefarious substance is dumped down a drain and winds up in the Han River. This movie is eccentric family comedy, political commentary and kick-ass monster in one compelling package. What is scarier--the thing that lives in the sewer or the self-serving governments that originate and perpetuate misguided terror?

The Abyss
A nuclear sub is sunk in some of the deepest waters on earth, and the only people with the equipment to potentially mitigate impending disaster are a ragtag bunch of civilian, off-shore drilling engineers, including the sparring, married-but-divorcing Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. Love-hate relationship plus undiscovered alien life in the Mariana Trench? I'm there.

The Bad Seed
It doesn't get much scarier for a parent than the realization that your adored little girl is an eight-year-old homicidal sociopath. Patty McCormack is not to be missed as Rhoda Penmark in the title role; piano practice and penmanship will never be the same again. One of the best movie endings ever.

My Neighbor Totoro
Sometimes we need friendly monsters, and Hayao Miyazaki's lush animation is a treat. This is an all-ages movie for the whole family; two sisters discover the title "keepers of the forest" as they cope with moving to a new house and their mother's extended hospital stay. Hop aboard the Catbus and prepare to be delighted.

I don't know about you, but when I'm being pelted with hail under a brilliantly sunny sky my mind tends to think, "Hey, look at that. The apocalypse is here." (This is even without factoring distressing global geological and political current events into the equation, which hold their own private audience with my horrified psyche on what seems like a near-hourly basis.) Extreme maybe, but my default setting is "the sky is falling." If I override that, I can remember it's spring.

I should be reading up on how to outwit slugs in the garden or what to do when a child discovers (shudder!) an entire universe of massively multi-player online gaming. Instead, I've been indulging in some fabulous dystopian fiction. What better way to escape the end of the world hosted by our evil slug overlords?

The Hunger Games trilogy is compulsively readable. The first book wins some sort of award for being the only reading material that has ever made me miss my bus stop. The Capitol controls the twelve districts of Panem, a country which covers territory once known as North America. The primary device for this control is the annual Hunger Games, in which one boy and one girl from each district are chosen by lottery to fight to the death in a manipulated arena on live television until only one remains. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen volunteers herself for the Games when her twelve-year-old sister is chosen. The trilogy is executed in a spare and accessible style with unexpected twists and a powerful ending.   

If you balk at reading teen fiction, now is your chance to get over it. Really. Everyone else has, and you're missing out. The Hunger Games is now part of the Lucky Day collection, so may the odds be ever in your favor.