Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Monday, October 27, 2008
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
While shopping for candy corns in Target two weeks ago, my boys started shouting, "Look! Look at the light-up reindeer!" That made no sense, as it was early October and I was standing next to Halloween costumes, but I followed the sound of their voices (not a difficult task), and what to my wondering eyes should appear but Christmas decorations. There was a story about this phenomena on the news that weekend. It seems the marketing people have pushed the Christmas merchandise out early in an attempt to deal with the situation of the American economy being so deep in the toilet. What's good enough for the people at Target is good enough for me. I'm not even trying to sell anything; I'm just going to tell you about some lovely Christmas books.
As I'm sure you know, there are hundreds of holiday board, picture, and chapter books in print. I kind of love them all because they combine two delicious acts, anticipation with reading, often with good illustrations. Perhaps my favorite Christmas book of recent years is my favorite because of its gorgeous illustrations, The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, illustrated by P.J. Lynch and written by Susan Wojciechowski. I read it to my children at Christmas, and they love it, so last year I read it to the fourth grade CCD class I teach, and my students hung on every word and wanted to discuss the plot and pictures long after I was done reading. It tells the story of a widow and her son who come to ask a woodcarver, Jonathan Toomey, to carve a new creche for them. It is the kind of book that you read and immediately think of people to whom you will give it as a gift.
So you can imagine how thrilled I was to learn that P.J. Lynch has illustrated another holiday classic, O. Henry's The Gift of the Magi. We all know the story of the married couple Della and Jim who sell their most prized possessions in order to afford Christmas presents for each other. She sells her hair to buy a chain for his pocket watch, and he sells his pocket watch to buy combs for her hair. This story is taught in so many English and writing classes. I think this version would be particularly nice for high school students to visualize the time and place. Lynch's warm illustrations bring their humble flat and turn of the century New York City to life.
Finally, I'll mention the book I plan to give my eleven year old niece at Christmas. It is not a Christmas book and it's not illustrated by P.J. Lynch, but I'm going to tell you about it anyway as it does relate to my Christmas shopping. It is Patricia Reilly Giff's Nory Ryan's Song about the Great Hunger of 1845-1852 in Ireland. This fictional account of a twelve year old girl and her family's love and suffering is well written and moving. Written for a middle school and young adult audience, the book condenses time a bit and clearly explains the situation of the potato blight and English rule without ever getting pedantic.
Now that I've given you some holiday books to think about, and there will be more in the weeks to come, get back to carving your jack o'lanterns!
Monday, October 20, 2008
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Friday, October 17, 2008
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Monday, October 13, 2008
Sunday, October 12, 2008
On Saturday we hit the town wide garage sales on a successful mission for Roald Dahl books. Hayden purchased Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and George's Marvelous Medicine for fifty cents apiece. We played Scrabble in the afternoon. Dunce, oxen, and haters were the highest point earning words of the match.
I fear all of these wonderful but spinster-like activities may have unnaturally accelerated the aging process in Hayden. She did have a girlfriend over to watch High School Musical and spend the night on Saturday evening. With any luck that reversed the process in her and she won't head off to the third grade on Monday with a wad of extra tissues in her cardigan sleeve "just in case" and a line of stray cats behind her!
Friday, October 10, 2008
We spent several hours yesterday picking apples at the beautiful Pennings Orchard in Warwick, NY. The weather was perfect, the view of the fall foliage was stunning, and the apples were crisply scrumptious. I wish I could share some of my apple pie with you, but that doesn't really work via blog. Instead, I've included a photo of some of our massive bag of apples and a selection of a few of our favorite apple books. There are dozens of apple books to choose from. Apples show up frequently in preschool and primary grade science lessons as well as in library story hours, so we've been exposed to a great number of apple picture books over the last few years .The Apple Pie Tree, written by Zoe Hall and illustrated by Shari Halpern, is ideal for children from preschool to grade two. Its text and paint and paper collage illustrations follow two siblings following the cycle of an apple tree over the course of a year. The book includes the contributions of bees and weather, the family of robins who nest in the tree, and a delicious apple pie at the end. Nancy Elizabeth Wallace's Apple, Apples, Apples is another charmingly illustrated picture book introducing young children to the science of apples. Wallace's Leave! Leaves! Leaves! and Pumpkin Day are worth checking out during the fall as well. For slightly older children, I highly recommend How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World by Marjorie Priceman. In it, a young baker considers how to gather up ingredients for an apple pie if the market is closed. It will involve taking various modes of transportation to get to Italy for the semolina wheat, Sri Lanka for cinnamon, Vermont for apples, Jamaica for sugar cane and so on. It is a lovely combination of geography and whimsy that shows readers that our food doesn't just magically appear, shrink wrapped in plastic, in our grocery store. (As you might remember from my Aug. 4 post "Of Books and Blueberries," this is an issue for me.)
For second through fifth graders, here's a book that we use throughout the year, not just during apple season, in my house. Apple Fractions by Jerry Pallotta and illustrated by Rob Bolster enlists adorable elves to divide different types of apples into fractions. Some interesting apple facts are presented along with a math lesson in fractions. For example, on two facing pages showing the elves dividing up a Gala apple into five equal parts, using miniature wooden tools, the text treads, "A Gala is a medium-sized apple. It is about the size of your fist. The largest apples are as big as grapefruits. The smallest are the size of cherries. This Gala is cut into five equal pieces. Each piece is one-fifth. One fifth plus four-fifths equals five-fifths. When the numbers above and below the line are the same, the fraction equals one whole."
Finally, the award for best children's book with apple in the title goes to Deborah Hopkinson's Apples to Oregon: Being the (Slightly) True Narrative of How a Brave Pioneer Father Brought Apples, Peaches, Pears, Plums, Grapes, and Cherries (and Children) Across the Plains. And don't forget that there are literally dozens of books at all levels from easy reader to young adult about Johnny Appleseed. How about them apples?
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Class Picture Day by Andrea Buckless
Mrs. Toggle's Class Picture Day by Robin Pulver (deals with the teacher's bad hair day)
School Picture Day by Lynn Plourde
In case you are wondering, I am in the middle row, second student from the left in the picture above.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Saturday afternoon was a piece of autumnal perfection here in New Jersey. My family happily spent it at five year old Ethan's first flag football practice. As soon as we arrived, Ethan ran onto the field and nine year old Aaron found another kid his age with whom to play in the nearby woods. Our eight year old daughter Hayden saw two girlfriends at a picnic table and hung out with them while Bill and I were able to enjoy the football from the bleachers. Ahhh, peaceful. Hayden came over to us after about twenty minutes. We asked her what she had been up to. She answered that she and the girls had been picking out their favorite costumes from a Party City catalogue that arrived in the mail that morning. Bill and I gave her the absent minded "Oh, that's nice." We focused on the football. She continued to flip through the catalogue. Hayden asked us some question about what she was reading. Surprise took so over my brain that I can't remember the specifics, but it was something like, "What's the difference between a pirate and a pirate wench?" or maybe it was "Why is this nurse named Hot Flash?" I do recall that it prompted me and Bill to simultaneously say, "Let me see that," perhaps with different intentions. Trust me, I wrestled, I mean got to it, first. While toddlers, boys, girls, and men each had about two pages of costumes, four plus pages were devoted to the Adult Female category. And I mean adult in the adult bookstore sense of adult. Since when did Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, firefighters, and "Straight A Students" all start wearing micro miniskirts, push up bras, and thigh high stockings? Hayden questioned why referees would wear high heel shoes and super short shorts. You don't see many NFL game officials showing that much skin, well, at least not in Green Bay. I'm all for women, and men for that matter, feeling attractive and having fun with a little dress up if they want. Although let me point out that there were no sexy male costumes, just goofy or ghoulish ones. My problem here is that these supersexualized images arrived in my mailbox and in a deceptive way. The cover of the Party City mailing does not have Treasure Pirate, Joy Rider, and the other girls on it. Instead, it looks like it is going to open up into a catalogue full of family friendly Halloween costumes.
Back to the football field. Once Bill and I established that our daughter and her friends had spent most of their time choosing from the Girl and Teen Girl sections (one wants to be Gabriella from High School Musical, one a skeleton, and one a Glam Witch), we sent Hayden into the woods to play with her older brother sans catalogue. Despite the bears, we figured there would be less trouble there. I should just be happy Hayden only looked at Party City's print catalogue and not their website version which includes zoom and 360 degree view features, more pouting, and sexier posing. On the one hand, it bothers me that I have to think twice before sending my kids to bring in the mail. On the other hand, maybe this is all just sour grapes on my part. I thought I had prepared to dress up as my husband's fantasy this Halloween. After all, I've got a comfortable Starbucks hat and apron waiting in the closet. I guess I'm going to have to tart them up somehow. Where oh where will I find bright green thigh high stiletto boots?
Monday, October 6, 2008
Friday, October 3, 2008
Michael Cera's sweetness aside, my recommendation for a more grownup movie about relationships and music (in this case mix tapes, remember those?) would be High Fidelity starring John Cusack. Or even better, read the Nick Hornby novel from which it was adapted. I take that back, read the book and see the movie. Jack Black is not to be missed in it. Speaking of mix tapes and books, I also really enjoyed the very poignant Love is a Mix Tape:Life and Loss, One Song at a Time by Rolling Stone writer Rob Sheffield.
Thursday, October 2, 2008
1. Check the books out from your library.
2. Individual and boxed sets of the books can be found at amazon.com.
3. Hit garage sales for clothes and accessories.
4. If you decide to go to the American Girl Doll Place and share a meal with the girl in your life and the doll in hers, go for afternoon tea. It's the most budget-friendly and so fancy!
Bill and I have been trying to explain the economic situation our country is currently in to our children. It's no easy task. I'm finding it extremely challenging explaining the bailout plan. They listen to the news from time to time. The older kids have asked about the banks going under and the devastating hits the stock market has taken. At some point, either Bill or I mentioned people losing confidence in financial institutions. A light bulb turned on. Eight year old Hayden said it's like the Great Depression when people tried to buy things on credit and many lost their homes. She also understood how stock and other investments lost their value. Yes!, but how did she know about that? "From my Kit Kittredge American Girl Doll books."
American Girl is a line of dolls, accessories, and books based on pre-teen girl characters from various periods in American history. They were first sold in 1986, and according to Wikipedia (I know, I know), 14 million American Girl dolls and 123 million books about them have been sold since. I have some experience with these dolls. My daughter owns Samantha Parkington (1904) and Bill's cousin brought Kirsten Larson (1854) as a guest to our wedding back in 1997. We have read many of the books that feature the American Girls. Each book includes a few pages of historical background about its heroine's time period. Hayden all but devours these books.My sons have no interest in the fiction part, but enjoy those back pages. They especially want to know were there cars at that time, and if so, what did they look like. The Molly Mc Intire (1944) books gave them a much better understanding of World War II and what life was like for their great grandparents during that time.
Back to Kit Kittredge (1934). While Hayden does not have this doll, she has the boxed set of six books about her (Thanks for giving it to her for Christmas, Mom!), and has apparently paid attention while reading them. As I said, she has some basic knowledge of the Depression. She was able to tell me that during that time, people recycled even though they didn't call it recycling. They used flour sacks and animal feed bags to make clothes and turned old clothes into quilts. She had also learned that many people lost their jobs and often went hungry. The entire Kit series, along with Molly, Felicity, and Josefina, was authored by Valerie Tripp who holds a Masters in Education degree from Harvard University. In an excellent article called "The Thinking Girl's Barbie?" (July 3, 2008) four women writers from Slate discuss American Girl Dolls and books. While they do worry some about the "training in consumerism" the dolls provide, they generally come down in favor of them. One goes so far as to describe the American Girl collection as "a history gateway drug." Hey, I'm all for getting girls hooked on history.
Here's my only big fear: That Republicans are going to mail Joe Biden Kit doll and book sets. Meet Kit makes it clear that Herbert Hoover was President of the United States until 1932 when FDR beat him by a landslide. However, Joe Biden seems like such a nice guy, I'm sure he'd pass them on to his grandkids or maybe Sasha and Malia Obama who I've read are American Girl doll fans themselves.