Thursday, July 24, 2008

Haiku Number Two

Jack and the Beanstalk
We read it one night this week.
Great illustrations!

This haiku was inspired by the wonderful picture book Jack and the Beanstalk by Steven Kellogg. I'm going to have to go back to prose. The haiku experiment is fun, but there is so much more I want to write about this book. Or maybe I just like the sound of my own voice, or is it the look of my own typing?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Last Post in 17 Syllables

Not all of our family reading is off paper. We get much of our news and entertainment online. Recently, I was reading Jen Singer's blog about tweens (and much more) at, and she mentioned some blogs she enjoys. One is The Haiku Diaries at How fun! The haiku diarists blog about all manner of everyday things in the five-seven-five syllable poetic form. I decided to try my hand at it. Here is the new version of my Monday, July 21 post:

Felt joy and wonder
As well as shock in New York
A family day.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Our Visit to the New York Public Library or How I Nearly Died of Disbelief in a Public Landmark

Our family spent a perfect (albeit blisteringly hot) day in Manhattan this past Saturday. We started the day at the famous toy store FAO Schwartz with the kids' grandma. They left there with feet that had danced on the big piano, faces that had been painted, and hands holding new toys. We could have happily gone home at that point, but we decided to leave a trail of sweat around the Big Apple. The kids pretended to be knights and a princess in Central Park's Belvedere Castle. We toured the garment district, stopping at Mood Fabrics to add to Hayden's button collection and to add to my love of all things Project Runway. This was followed by a nice lunch in midtown. Actually, I could have eaten gruel and boiled bugs. Who cared? The restaurant was air conditioned. Finally, we stopped in at the New York Public Library and I almost died. We've been there many times before, eating snacks on its steps and posing for pictures with Patience and Fortitude, its famous marble lions. Saturday we went in. Four of us walked around the huge beautiful lobby in awe. One of us, in a very loud voice said, "What a waste of space!" To my shocked "Excuse me?" he repeated that this was the biggest waste of space he had ever seen. While my husband patted his pockets for the smelling salts I was about to surely need, I launched into a speech on the importance of books and research and knowledge. At the end my son said he agreed, so much so that he thought the cavernous lobby could be used for more bookshelves. Oh, okay. Crisis averted. On the ride back to New Jersey, Hayden read Mary Poppins, Aaron read a Boxcar Children book, and Bill, Ethan and I just enjoyed resting our feet and feeling the air conditioning.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

I'm No Ma Ingalls

We've been so busy with swim meets, evening walks, playing outside, and other reading that we took a break from our nightly reading of Little House in the Big Woods, but we are back to it. One night this week after a day spent at our local lake, we all met on my bed for a bit of the big woods. It was harvest time and ever-industrious Ma used the straw left over from the oat harvest to braid straw hats, for church and everyday use, for the Ingalls family. My eight year old daughter gave me a pointed look and said, "So she made her straw hat. Interesting." I believe she was trying to say something about the fact that I received half a dozen compliments on my new pink straw hat at the lake that day and told all complimenters that it came from a sale at the Sports Authority. Listen, I bake from scratch (usually); I'm not braiding hats too.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever

No, the title of this post is not another attempt to use the word best to trick websurfers into checking out my blog. It is the title of a funny and big hearted new picture book by Marla Frazee. In it, a little boy named Eamon stays at the beach house of his grandparents, Bill and Pam. Eamon's friend James comes to stay so the boys can attend a week of Nature Camp together. Bill, a lover of penguins (the penguins are following us!) attempts to get the boys interested in penguins and Antarctica with proposed museum trips and maps and charts. James and Eamon prefer to stay indoors, playing video games, eating banana waffles, and enjoying the air mattress. How I could relate to that as our AeroBed is probably on my sons' list of "Top Three Things You Would Save in a Fire." Ethan laughed in self recognition when he saw the illustration of James and Eamon on the air mattress surrounded by stuffed animals. Readers don't actually see much of the boys at Nature Camp but can enjoy their droll and sarcastic comments about it as Frazee does show the trip to and from camp in Bill's car. Lest you think it is all eye rolling and boys avoiding nature, the end of the book and the end of the boys' week is pure magic. The magic of friendship and imagination and discovery. A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever is a fun summertime read with much of the humor delivered in the illustrations and speech bubbles. It made me listen much closer to my children and their friends as I drove the carpool home from summer recreation camp yesterday afternoon. Frazee got her campers; comments and observations pitch perfect.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Best Books for a Nine Year Old Boy (This Week)

That title may be a bit misleading. I am going to tell you about the books my son enjoyed this week, not necessarily the best in his whole life. My husband recently posited a theory that I would get more readers if my posts had the word "best" in the titles. I titled this one to humor him, but if I really wanted to use the titles to gain readers, you would now be reading a post entitled "Banish Cellulite Forever" or "Easy, Delicious Meals in Ten Minutes or Less." As I am clearly unqualified to write about either of those topics, let me tell you about J.C. Greenburg's Andrew Lost books instead.
My son Aaron spent this past week enjoying the first three books in this series. He is a very strong reader and the reading level, probably about second grade, was not challenging for him, but he loved the subject matter. In the first book, Andrew Lost On the Dog, Andrew builds a shrinking machine which accidentally shrinks Andrew, his cousin Judy, and his robot Thudd down to tiny specks. The specks end up in the nose of the neighbor's dog. So begins a race against time to get back to normal. Aaron loved the plot, the gross details, and the four pages of related facts (about dogs and fleas) at the back of the book. Each book has a cliffhanger ending leading to the next, a style to which Aaron is unaccustomed. He's not sure if he likes it or not, saying that it is good if you have the next book, but "it stinks" if you don't. Luckily we had the next two books, Andrew Lost In the Bathroom and Andrew Lost In the Kitchen to keep him occupied in his downtime this week. We'll have to see if the library has more in the series. These are a good choice for readers who enjoy science and adventure.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Story of Ferdinand

Several weeks ago, my brother and sister-in-law gave my family a copy of The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson. When my brother handed it to me, I recognized its distinctive red cover with a bull and flowers on it from bookstore and library trips, but I had never read it. My brother told me it's a nice story about a bull and pacifism. He's right, it is, but if he had not said that, after reading it, I would have first described it as a book about being true to who you are, in Ferdinand's case, a pacifist bull. I guess that is because accepting my children as they are is sometimes a struggle. I try to bite my tongue to avoid sentences that begin, "Why don't you.." and end with suggestions about better ways to spend their time and energy. Ferdinand's mother is a good role model for me. You see Ferdinand grows up in the countryside of Spain and he does not want to butt heads with the other bulls. He does not want to be picked for the bullfights in Madrid as the other bulls do. Ferdinand just wants to sit under his favorite cork tree smelling the flowers. His mother worried that he would be lonesome and asked why he didn't run and play with the other bulls. Ferdinand explains that he prefers sitting quietly smelling the flowers. Here is the sentence that spoke to my heart, "His mother saw that he was not lonesome, and because she was an understanding mother, even though she was a cow, she let him just sit there and be happy." Of course this is not the end of Ferdinand's story. He mistakenly ends up in a bullfight in Madrid, but he will not be provoked by the Banderilleros with their long, sharp pins, by the Picadores with their long spears, or even by the Matador. No, Ferdinand sits in the middle of the ring sniffing the flowers in the hair of the ladies in the audience. The Matador was "so mad he cried because he could not show off with his cape and sword." That spoke to our funny bones. What a great story with fantastic illustrations! My kids really enjoyed it, and immediately asked me to reread it. After the second reading, I asked what they liked about the book. Ethan said everything, Aaron said, "That the bull was smart and didn't fight when they wanted him to," and Hayden said she liked that,"It shows you that there are all kinds of people. And bulls." This is definitely a book I will give as a gift in the future, and can imagine being used in classrooms for many purposes in addition to plain old enjoyment.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Summer Magic

My eight year old daughter is attending a summer camp run by our town's Parks and Recreation Department. It runs from 9 to 12:30 each day and involves all of the great old school summer camp activities like kickball, lanyard making, and Bingo. That alone is magical to me. But wait, there's more. A few days ago, a magician came in and put on a little show for the campers. Hayden came out of camp that day, clutching a balloon tied to look like a flower and instructions for a magic trick to make a coin weep. She was hooked. She and a girlfriend put on a magic show in our living room last night. Girls "disappeared," torn tissues reformed, and coins wept. Still high on the applause, we went to our public library after camp today and I led her to the section with books of magic tricks. She had no idea such a section existed and looked at me as if I were Harry Houdini. (Hooray!) We checked out two of them, and she began reading on the car ride home. Two hours later, she has perfected and performed half a dozen tricks from Mr. Mysterious's Secrets of Magic and Abbra-Ca-Dazzle. Oh, how we love the library and summer vacation!
I also love my dad, and today is his birthday. Happy Birthday, Dad!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Big And Little Brother Are Watching

You know the saying about life imitating art? This week, my daughter's life is imitating the novel I am reading. I am 77 pages into Child 44, Tom Rob Smith's gripping mystery set in Stalinist Russia. I find my body tense up while reading it, so worried am I for the Soviet citizens living in fear of the State. Back here in American suburbia 2008, my sons, have convinced my daughter that they have set up a surveillance system all around our house, using two digital cameras with video capability and a camcorder. The poor girl is constantly looking over her shoulder and too paranoid to use the bathroom. If one more fight breaks out over this, someone is headed to the Gulag (i.e. timeout).

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Fourth of July!

Perhaps my favorite part of volunteering in my children's' classrooms or attending school functions is hearing a room (or auditorium) full of kids recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. I enjoy the mispronunciations (invisible/indivisible), the sing song rhythm of their recitation, and seeing the inevitable few switch back and forth between right hand and left hand. Those sweet amusing bits are fun, but there is also something especially moving about the words of the pledge spoken by children. Maybe it is their sincerity that gets to me, but I don't kid myself that they completely understand what they are saying. However, if every school in the United States had a copy of Bill Martin Jr. and Michael Sampson's I Pledge Allegiance, they might all in fact understand it completely. This wonderfully clear and simple book breaks down the language, history, and ideas of the pledge for even very young children. Basically, it presents the pledge with commentary. The authors define key terms as they come up. "I pledge (A pledge is a promise) allegiance (Allegiance is loyalty.) to ..." They suggest things we can do while saying the pledge, such as standing at attention, removing a cap or hat, and so on. I am impressed with their handling of the "under God" part. They tell their readers that "Many people believe that a democracy is a reflection of how God thinks- every single person is important." What a beautiful and simple way to explain that idea to a young child.
Chris Raschka's illustrations are spot on perfect. He uses ink and torn paper collages to show lots of kids and lots of red, white, and blue. The pictures look like they were made from materials found in an elementary school art class- chalk, paint, scraps of paper, but with much thought given to the ideas of equality and unity.
Not to be missed in a read aloud are the blurbs about the authors and illustrator. It's interesting to read how they each personally connect with the pledge. There is also a useful note to parents and teachers suggesting activities to help kids grasp the concepts in the book.
I highly recommend this one!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Truth About Poop

Flip through most family albums and you'll find pictures of smiling children posing on Christmas morning with new bicycles, sleds, dolls, and so on. Go through my 2006 album and you'll find a picture of my then seven year old son next to the tree and grinning as he holds up his favorite gift from Santa Claus, a book named The Truth About Poop. The novelty has not worn off yet, and I must admit that the book is fascinating.
Since I wrote about scatological humor yesterday, I figured I should write about fecal history and science today. In The Truth About Poop, author Susan E. Goodman treats her subject with humor but never resorts to outright silliness or gross out humor. One of the sections most frequently read and quoted in our house is "The World Pre-T.P." On hikes and at the lake, my kids will point out leaves, stones, moss, and mussel shells, reminding me that all of these were used for wiping. Here is some American history for you, "And soon after the Pilgrims learned to grow corn, they figured out what to do with the cobs." Think about that at your next barbecue.
Are you more of a physics buff? Perhaps you will enjoy the section called "Waste in Space." Goodman explains that astronauts in space must swing a bar across their legs to stay put when having a bowel movement. Why, you ask. She explains Newton's third law that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. A downward push would result in the astronaut shooting up off the toilet. I remember a college professor of mine demonstrating this law by wearing roller skates and shooting a fire extinguisher at the same time. As he shot the extinguisher, he rolled in the opposite direction.I was about 20 at the time. My elementary school aged children have an equally good understanding of Newton's law and it makes them giggle. But it's not just children interested in astronaut waste. Remember last year when the news was full of a female astronaut who went on a cross country drive to confront the other woman? All of the late night talk shows joked about the adult diapers she wore on the trip to cut down on bathroom breaks. Goodman mentions the efficacy of such "maximum absorption garments" on spacewalks.
She also presents many facts about poop in nature, history, even warfare. Did you know that sharks produce spiral poop? Or that beaver poop often floats because it contains so much undigested wood? There's plenty more where that came from. Maybe you'll get lucky and Santa will leave it under your tree this year, the book that is, not poop.
My apologies to any readers who may be offended.