Archives for category: Children’s books

Yesterday was a two-birthday-party day, a day with both a brightly colored confetti-esque cake and chocolate cupcakes laid out in the shape of a horse on green grass. Yesterday’s parties involved a stint at a paint-your-own-pottery place and at Amy’s farm, with lots of kids (both human and goat) and pony rides and – best of all for Boy and, perhaps, all of the boys there and a girl or two as well – a big, big dirt pile to dig in.

Yesterday was Girl’s seventh birthday.

Neither of these celebrations was for her.

Instead, we celebrated her at home tonight. To be fair, her celebration began early with both sets of grandparents, and yesterday, we gave her some presents, too – including All-of-a-Kind Family, which she’s well into and loves (“I love it!”) and Cool Circuits Jr., a puzzle sort of game to create closed circuits (challenging but, we hope, not too challenging). We also began to watch Disney’s Mary Poppins, a favorite from my own childhood; on the way home from the pony party, we had finished listening to P.L. Travers’s book, and I thought they might enjoy the film after the book. I was right; they were rapt.

Tonight, though, we celebrated more fully with her other presents, including Break Your Own Geodes (she opened it, read through all the directions, and read aloud that “Geodes were once gas bubbles trapped in lava!”), plus a meal of her choice and the dessert from the Smithsonian Maker Lab book which she’s been wanting to try for a long time now: Baked Alaska.

Slightly adapted for our taste, there were homemade brownies on the bottom, cookies-and-cream ice cream on top of that, and meringue all around – and a sprinkle of pink decorating sugar on top for good measure. The warm-cool-warmness of it was delicious, an unexpected combination.

And that’s how it is. What’s the surprise hidden beneath the surface? Tonight, it wasn’t pie – or even just vanilla ice cream. What will be inside the geodes? Will they just be hollow rocks, or will they have crystals? As Girl read through the directions, she told me than an amethyst is “very rare.” Will there be a hidden gem?

Now that Girl’s seven and Boy’s four, what will we discover about them? What will time reveal? A bit of magic, like Mary Poppins? Secret powers, like the rodents in Emmy and the Home for Troubled Girls (our current bedtime reading and a sequel to Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat, which we greatly enjoyed)? Maybe their revelations don’t need to be as exciting as that – and their gem status isn’t hidden. To me, they already sparkle and shine and are multi-layered, exquisite in their own right.

BOY

Monday, February 27th. Yesterday.

It is lunchtime. Boy and I sit across the table from one another; Girl is at school. On my plate, a sandwich; on his, a quesadilla. I look forward to mine, toasted with mayonnaise, with blueberry jam, spinach, and ham, at the intersection of sweet and savory.

“Let’s toast!” I say. To his left sits his water glass, which I left on the table from breakfast in the hopes he’d return and drink it; to his right sits his glass of milk. He reaches for his milk and, in slow motion, I see his water glass tipping, and I reach to stop the inevitable. As I do, I nudge my own glass,  and the more-viscous nut milk spills thickly, more milkshake than milk, pooling with his water, here clear, here opaque. We look at the spill. We look at each other.

“Guess we’d better clean it up!” I say cheerfully, trying to put into practice my remain-calm life goal.

With much blotting, dabbing, wiping, and removing sodden placemats and napkins, we return to lunch, one glass each left on the table – mine far emptier than when we’d first begun. I put our plates in front of us again.

“Let’s try this again – cheers!” I say, successfully lifting my glass. He reaches for his glass and fumbles, his fingers not quite fully encompassing the jelly-jar-turned-drinking glass, and the cup goes down, the slow spread of his nut milk making a mockery of our still-slower reaction time.

What is there to do but clean it up?

So I do. We drink what remains of our milk, we eat our lunch, and we go on to do letter work and play camping and argue about playing Super Grover games on sesamestreet.org. It’s just a regular day, after all.

GIRL

Tuesday, February 28. Today. Fat Tuesday.

For Read Across America Day/Week, Girl’s first grade teacher has parents coming in to read. Boy and I go in, reading the Dr. Seuss book of Girl’s choice. We end up staying, and Boy gets to go to recess with the big kids. He races around, an elementary student in miniature. First grade girls talk to me, and I hear about one girl’s mother’s pregnancy, her sister’s vision, the age of her father, her own blurriness when reading sometimes.

School ends, and we leave together, heading down the mountain. “I don’t like to go down the mountain!” Boy protests. We go anyhow.

We arrive at the eye clinic, and without fanfare, without whistles or bells or snacks in celebration – or even instructions to the first grader – she receives her first pair of glasses. The frames look red, now purple, now pink, and the shape seems oh-so-much more pleasing and adorable than the glasses I first got at the age of four. Her future self may judge her past self more harshly, but these are some adorable glasses! “I love them!” she says.

She wears them as we stop in the grocery store. She takes them off for the ride home; Boy does not complain about the trip up the mountain. We are listening to The Wizard of Oz on CD, and Dorothy is being left behind as the Wizard of Oz’s balloon takes off without her; they are rapt. (At home later, Boy will be heard repeating lines of the story to himself: “I am Oz, the great and terrible. Why do you seek me?”)

She does not wear her glasses at home, even as she reads The Boxcar Children and The Bobbsey Twins. Astigmatism. Farsightedness. Reading is the targeted activity for the new spectacles, but they sit next to her, across the room, in a different room. “I’ll wear them tomorrow,” she says. “They hurt my ears.”

Another day ends, and they sleep.

“Tell me a Mitzi,” said Martha.
     “Later I will,” said her mother. “Now I’ve got a headache.”
     In a little while Martha asked her mother, “Mommy, now is it later?”
     “No,” said her mother. “It’s still now.”
     In a little while Martha asked her mother if she had a headache.
     “No,” said her mother, “Why?”
     “Tell me a Mitzi,” said Martha.

tell

So begins the second of three stories in Lore Segal’s* Tell Me a Mitzi, a picture book with a frame story (in italics) about a family with a daughter named Martha (as seen in the story intro above) plus three stories (in regular font) about the heroine, Mitzi, and her little brother, Jacob.

Mitzi is an independent girl with independent ideas, so while she depends on her mama to help her when she’s sick (like in the second story, “Mitzi Sneezes”), she also dresses herself and her little brother in the first story, “Mitzi Takes a Taxi,” in order to set off into a New York morning to head to her grandparents’ home. Not much taller than the stroller herself, she’s bold and gutsy and not afraid. In her world, adults help children, and children try and do things that they might not ordinarily do, like say hello to the President.

Martha, the frame-story girl, wants attention and focus from her parents, and she gets it in the form of three stories: “Mitzi Takes a Taxi,” “Mitzi Sneezes,” and “Mitzi and the President.” The first and last highlight the independent Mitzi, perhaps to nudge Martha towards independence herself; the middle one shows the Mitzi who needs love and attention and comfort to get through a cold, just as any child like Martha does. Families provide for their children’s needs in these stories, whether it’s in the form of a story, orange juice and soup when sick, or gum and a parade. Who doesn’t love a parade?

No matter which Mitzi you get, your children will be delighted. Mine were. Girl and Boy both relish the stories, and they especially enjoy “Mitzi Sneezes,” with its twist on what happens when the caretakers need care themselves. The stories are accompanied by Harriet Pincus’s charmingly weird illustrations, which are reminiscent of Maurice Sendak’s: the children are like small adults with grown-up faces who populate a brightly-colored world filled with kindness. You receive the help you need, even if it’s not always the help you want. You get a story when you need it.

When it’s done, you may find that you want to be told another Mitzi, too.

**********
Segal, Lore. Tell Me a Mitzi. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux: 1970.

* For more on Lore Segal and her interesting history (plus more on the history of the book and the illustrator), check out this article by Marjorie Ingall.

School’s out, and the days yawn, tantalize, or drag on, depending on whether they’re filled with packing and errands or play and pleasure.

For the pleasure-filled ones, however, we are most grateful. Here are our greatest pleasures, of late:

  1. Picking blackberries. The patch down the road is in the slow-rolling ripening stage. We’ve been checking for weeks, smelling the white-blossomed flowers, watching the blossoms transform into green berries, then noticing the green-to-pink development. This week, we walked down and found that, in a few cases, the transformation was complete: blackberries! (Never mind that they’re really a deep purple and not really black.) Weeds and flowers rise among the brambles, and the snags on clothes and hands (or hair, arms, legs…) are just part of the price of picking. Girl enjoys picking them perhaps more than eating them, but Boy eats all that he picks, and when I put a handful into his cup, he upends it, and the berries roll down into his mouth, warm, plump, and sun-warmed, making the eating-berries-in-the-berry-patch experience at least twice as good as eating the same berries at home. It is completely glorious.
  2. Sitting on the front porch. Shaded from the near-summer’s heat, we do all sorts of things: Trim nails. Draw with chalk. Listen to – and watch for birds (especially pileated woodpeckers – those that Woody Woodpecker was based on. I think our local pair had babies!). Eat popsicles (homemade from grape juice, most recently). Eat blackberries. Snuggle on the bench. Read books. We finished Edward Eager’s Half Magic, a book I remember loving from my own childhood. Even after an adult read, I love it still. The possibilities in a world of magic! Something I appreciated, too: Jane remembers her father, who died, and while the book is about adventures and misadventures with a magic charm, the family matters add a little weight, bringing the book down from airy fluff to something more solid and earth-bound. Girl was engrossed, and we’re eager to continue reading his books.
  3. Playing with water. It’s hard to beat the joy a pool brings, whether we enjoy a friend’s pool or go to a public pool with friends (or make new friends while there). Girl’s swim lessons/swim team practices aren’t a chore but a treat. A puddle, real naturally running water – we should get out and enjoy more of that, too. Goodness knows Boy enjoys having his shoes off as much as possible! The hose at the Bluestone House is a big draw, too: arcing it to see rainbows, splashing water on the cars, watering the clover so it will grow – until they use up the water, of course (the ease of the plumbing manifold system – we can turn off the water supply to the outdoor faucet when needed!). I’ve even gotten them to paint with water on the driveway a bit, like Emily and I did when we were kids.

What are your greatest summer joys? For now, we’re looking forward to more blackberries!

October 6th, Tuesday. Boy had his first car ride (and out-of-the-house trip) in underwear. He stayed dry, which the car, the Piggly Wiggly, and I all appreciated. Woo hoo! Within two or three weeks, he had fully transitioned to underwear during the day. Celebration!

October 6th, Tuesday (same day). Boy had his first real experience throwing up. There was a lot of orange food involved: cooked carrots, raw carrots, goldfish – so as you can imagine, this was quite the first. Sadness.

This was also Girl’s full week of fall break, her first real break from kindergarten (excluding Labor Day). She, too, spent it sick. Pretty much the whole week, between them. We each had a turn. Not the most fun we’ve ever had.

November 13, Friday. Yes, that’s Friday the 13th. No, we wouldn’t have picked it that way. Today, the house that Boy and Girl have dubbed “The Bluestone House” finally became ours. Their very own home – it will be Girl’s fourth home of residence but only Boy’s second.

November 30, Monday. Girl first tried and subsequently succeeded at tying shoelaces. Hooray! (And did you know that one method involves making two loops, not one? And apparently, it’s easier??) At school, beginning on December 1st, kindergarteners could get into the Jingle Bell Club. Once they showed their teacher that they could tie their shoes, they got to wear a jingle bell necklace every day at school for the rest of the month. Her entry into the club didn’t come until roughly two weeks later, but she’s now a confident shoe tie-er – not bad for someone who still has no shoes with laces.

December 9, Wednesday. Girl, Boy, and I all got haircuts. For Girl, it was her first time donating hair (two of the cutest little braids). She was delighted to have chin-length hair and never once thought she’d made the wrong choice. I donated mine, too (yea!). For Boy, it was his first not-at-home haircut. All the same, I think I’ll be cutting his again next time, which should really be today!

December 22, Tuesday. After going to the public library for an ornament-making craft, Girl got her first library card and checked out her first book: William & the Missing Masterpiece by Helen Hancocks. She was so proud of herself!

December 25, Friday (Christmas at the grandparents’ house). Boy was given his first pack of gum – Glee Gum, just like Girl got for Christmas when she was two – and chewed up a storm. Glee covered how he felt about it. (Sure, he swallowed a good bit, too…maybe we should call it “swallowing gum” instead of “chewing gum”!)

December 27, Sunday (our bonus Christmas at home). Girl received her own mug, “I (heart) Cupcakes!”, and was delighted. Sometimes, it’s the funny little things that are your own that become special.

January 2, Saturday. Girl read two books all by herself. I think she just holed up, snuggled in, and lost track of time. (What a great way to spend a day!) She read a Magic School Bus Chapter Book, Rocky Road Trip, and a Geronimo Stilton book, A Cheese-Colored Camper.

January 9, Saturday. Boy and Girl got to make pasta with their Auntie Lou. This was a first, and they enjoyed cranking the machine and helping to pull the pasta out. Family visit: yea!

After Matthew came home from a conference in Seattle (his return is always like a gift for the kids, whether it’s after a trip or just a morning at work), he unpacked his sack, Santa-style. (He should have laughed “ho-ho-ho,” too!) Among the goodies was a gift rolled in newspaper for Boy. He unrolled and unwrapped then said in high-pitched delight, “My very own mug!” His says “Seattle” and has one scene with a blue sky, clouds, and folks covered by umbrellas and another scene with a grey sky, clouds, and folks covered by umbrellas!

January 10, Sunday. Our first snow of the season that stuck. There was a little snow in December, the kind that decorates the air but not the ground, but this was enough to make a heavy powdered-sugar showing. Delight again! “I bet the house is wearing snow!” said Boy, upon seeing the snow on the ground, trees, and playset.

January 11, Monday. My first blog post in too long, my first reminder of the year of the many kinds of things that happen and pass all too quickly (or, in the case of stomach bugs, not quickly enough!) in the lives of small children.

Happy New Year, 2016!

On a whim (and for the bargain price of ten cents), I picked up Madeleine L’Engle’s Everyday Prayers at our local thrift shop a couple of years ago.

EverydayPrayers

I love it. Yes, I’d prefer it if it only used “God” instead of “Lord,” but even as is, with its 70s illustrations (by Lucile Butel) and orange cover, it’s worth a read (both for its intended audience – children – and the grown folks who love them). It’s a reminder that prayer can be like an informal conversation, full of observation and wonder and whimsy.

“My Bath”

My bath is the ocean
and I am a continent
with hills and valleys
and earthquakes and storms.
I put the two mountain peaks of my knees
under water and bring them up again.

Our earth was like that-
great churnings and splashings,
and continents appearing and disappearing.

Only you, O God, know about it all,
and understand, and take care
of all your creation.

Tonight, Boy decided that he’d take on the role of the creator or perhaps that of the earth, one who creates the churnings and splashings. He picked up the book (it’s one he goes to again and again – he also loves to pick up Sophie’s World!) and, instead of turning to a page, he flung it into the tub. The tub which was full of water, ready for a Boy, not a book. For a brief moment, it was an island, a quiet place of prayer in a stormy sea. I quickly rescued it from the tempest. He did not seem sorry.

Boy is sweet at night, adding prayers for everything from the grandparents to the clock to lots of things in between.

from “Bedtime”:

Good night, God.
Take care of us while we sleep,
and you have a good night, too.
Amen.

Everyday Prayers now sits beneath a heavier book, drying back into what I hope will be something close to its previous form. The boy sleeps, and I have to hope that God understands the nature of little boys – and is, as Madeleine L’Engle wrote, having a good night, too.

*****
L’Engle, Madeleine. Everyday Prayers. New York: Morehouse-Barlow Co., 1974. Print.

We’ve arrived here, at New Year’s Eve, just like we’ve done every year of our lives. Of course, when you’re 4 1/2, that means it’s only been (and yet, it’s already been!) five years’ worth of New Year’s Eves. When you’re 1 1/2, there’s only been one other. So much seems new! (And there are so many new words…)

After some party time, they both fell asleep after ten o’clock, Boy snuggled in my arms, Girl snuggled face-to-face with me. “Don’t go, stay here and keep me warm,” she murmured drowsily as I shifted to cover her up. Their warmth still lingers with me, even as I sit here.

We didn’t have time to linger over reading, though. Tonight, we read – but barely! – from Kathryn Jackson’s The Around-the-Year Storybook, with pictures by J.P. Miller. With stories, poems, and songs (covering the seasons, constellations, and holidays, among other things) for each month of the year, it’s a good one to pick up regularly. The animals in the stories, like Mathilda Mouse, Little Bear, and Grandfather Groundhog, are generally charming. It seemed appropriate. The book ends with “And So the Year’s Over -” and goes like this:

The year is like a rolling wheel
That never makes a sound,
But changes seasons as it goes
A-rolling, rolling round.

And when the year has rolled around
The old year ends, and then–
That rolling wheel of changing days
Starts rolling round again.

Tonight, Boy rolled from my arms onto the bed – and onto his belly – and Girl rolled onto her side, a snuggle personified. And, with another hour or so, our year, too, will roll around, and we can roll back to the beginning of the book as we start a year anew. May it be a happy new year!

********************
Jackson, Kathryn. The Around-the-Year Storybook. New York: Golden Press, 1971.

 

Dan Yaccarino’s Five Little Pumpkins isn’t my favorite work of his – the drawings don’t match the charm of Every Friday, and the rhyme, new to me, doesn’t bring up any feelings of nostalgia. Girl doesn’t know it, either, so our first reading was her first exposure to it, too.

And therein lies what made our first reading interesting, what makes me love Five Little Pumpkins so much more than I expected to love it:

She read it to me.

She. Read. It. To. Me.

She read it to me!

She needed help with a few words, like “there” and “are” – we talked about the silent “e” at the end of words, and how that makes the vowel long (as in “five”), so she figured out “late” and “gate,” but “there” didn’t work that way – although she knew to make the “th” sound. “Night” proved difficult, too – no ghost of a “g” sound slips in there. She patiently sounded out what she could, trying out sounds until the word settled into place, like finally getting a chord right when sight-reading difficult sheet music. The ear knows.. “G-ah-t-uh…g-ah-t…g-a-t-uh…g-a-t…gate!”

For this four-and-a-half (plus one week!) year old, the gate is open. She’s known words like “the” and “and” for a year, at least, thanks to her daddy’s patient work, and now, she knows more. What she doesn’t know, she can often figure out – and that’s reading. Reading!

And maybe I love Five Little Pumpkins more than it deserves to be loved, but really, isn’t that what love is all about?

“Is there going to be a tornado tonight?”

This question as part of our bedtime routine for nearly two weeks.  Two weeks ago today, there were serious storms here. A tornado touched down in the valley below us. The Weather Channel said a tornado was headed our way. The four of us spent time in our windowless hallway, but then we headed to campus and went to the basement of a stone building. This, of course, was around bedtime, and there’s really no way to wholly cover your fears when faced with the possibility of a tornado. (Why are we hurrying out the door into the green-skyed night and carrying a bagful of things with us to campus when we should be putting you calmly and quietly to bed? Well, hmmm….) When we entered the basement hallway of a building on campus, we found that we were not the only ones with that idea. After tracking the weather online for a while, we deemed it safe to go home – and headed out into a major downpour. Well, it was better than a tornado.

The next day looked dicey, too, but nothing came close, and if there was rain, there wasn’t even too terribly much of that.

But every night until the 9th, last Friday, our girl would ask, as we were putting her to bed, “Is there going to be a tornado tonight?” She asked this in the same way that she asks, “What do I have tomorrow?” or “Can I watch Diego?”, like it was an everyday question, like it was something that might be on the horizon at any moment. When would we be rushing out the door next, trying to avoid the whims of the weather, its violent vicissitudes? How prepared did she need to be? How prepared DO we need to be? It’s a different matter, looking out for yourselves, just adults, during a storm. It’s another thing entirely to know that your decisions could – and do, and will – affect these small people who are under our care, who make our world seem fuller and brighter and sharper. Scarier, too, sometimes, when we look through their eyes.

Since then, we’ve watched a little about tornadoes and talked about how they don’t happen all the time. We talked about their color. “Tornadoes are red,” she said definitively, “in Chewandswallow.” She pulled out Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and sure enough, she was right! (It might have had to do with tomato sauce. I don’t think most tornadoes involve kitchen staples, however.) Tornadoes are not red in real life, I had to tell her. She talked about a tornado picking up Farmer Ben in her big book with the Berenstein Bears, and she’s right on that count, too – The Berenstein Bears’ Big Book of Science and Nature DOES include tornadoes in its section on wind. And it picks up Farmer Ben! “That’s when the big wind lifts poor Farmer Ben. It lifts him, cow and all, and then…It whirls him round and round again” (35). How does she remember these details from books, books we may not have read in months?

The bedtime question has dropped away. Now I’ve been wondering, though, what other storms we should watch for, what tempests of nature’s or our own making? I hope that we will always have a basement at the ready, the comfort of cement block walls surrounding us, of stone rising above.

*******
Berenstein, Stan and Jan. The Berenstein Bears’ Big Book of Science and Nature. New York: Random House, 1997.

Last night, life went back to normal when Matthew returned home after 3 1/2 weeks of slightly crazy European travel. “I still think about him,” my toddler girl said at one point while he was gone. I’m glad.

Here’s a quick list of what’s happened in the interim, since last writing, in a way that is functional but sadly lacking in style:

Baby Boy actually has TWO bottom teeth, not just the one we thought. He saw his first snow. He began to crawl then pull up and he seems to like food now (he’s tried everything from lima beans and garbanzo beans to puffs and other cereal – wheat-free – and fruits and peas). Last weigh-in, December 4th, he was at 21 lbs., 6.2 oz. He wears 12-month-old clothing, and with his cloth diaper bum, that is sometimes a stretch!

Toddler Girl discovered the letter “l” with no fanfare a’tall. From the library, we checked out Liesel Moak Skorpen’s All the Lassies, a book about a boy who wants a dog but instead gets a lot of other small pets along the way. It ends with a nice surprise and is a fun book to read aloud. “And what does he name the turtle?” I asked, as we read it a second time through. With an exaggerated curve of her tongue to her top teeth, she enunciated, “Llllassie.” And one more little girl thing was gone. She still says “dezhen” for “seven,” among other things, so there is still plenty of little girl charm. “Magnificent!” as she said when she heard her brother had fallen asleep the other night.

Life does seem pretty magnificent now, in fact.

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