Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Holiday Cliche

We have been read ing a chapter or two of this each night this week. Everyone loves it. It's a classic, it has ghosts, and there is an illustration on every other page. What's not to love? Merry Christmas and happy reading to all!

Friday, December 18, 2009

It was inevitable. My holiday stress and hormone levels reached the tipping point this week. After a few ridiculously busy weeks of work and motherhood and Christmas shopping, I was in the car with a dangerously full bladder and racing to meet my six year old's school bus when John Denver and the Muppets began singing "Silent Night." I immediately began weeping loudly. So I've reached that point in the pre-Christmas frenzy where just about anything can make me cry, throw up my hands, or bang my head against a wall. Luckily, I got the good kind of tear in my eye from our annual reading of The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey. It is such a beautiful book. I won't go into great detail about it now, as I believe I posted about it last December. It is just too wonderful for words anyhow. I will say this, however, the copy we own is pictured below, but the second photo here has a different cover. That cover includes my favorite illustration from the book.

That picture comes about midway through the book, the exact point when a lump forms in my throat and I have to pause in my read aloud to find tissues. My children love this book too, and reading it is a favorite holiday tradition. Speaking of holiday traditions, perhaps we instituted a new one. As soon as we set up and decorated our Christmas tree and decorated it last weekend, we sat in its glow and my husband and I taught the kids how to play poker, because nothing says Christmas memory like a good game of Texas Hold 'Em.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The True Gift: A Christmas Story

One of my favorite holiday traditions is reading Christmas stories with my children in the evenings leading up to Christmas Eve. We have some old favorites, but every year I like to find at least one new holiday picture or chapter book. I struck gold with this year's new selection, Patricia MacLachlan's The True Gift A Christmas Story. Perhaps you know Patricia Mac Lachlan from her lovely and now classic Sarah, Plain and Tall. The True Gift is a short (which is a bit of a gift to me during this busy time of year) and gentle chapter book that highlights the beauty of thoughtfulness, generosity, and community. Liam and Lily work to find a friend for White Cow, the lone cow on their grandparents' farm. In trying to help the cow, they help a young boy whose family is struggling financially, and they in turn are helped by the members of their grandparents' farming community. It could inspire some good conversations about whether or not animals have feelings and what it means to give. Brian Floca's pencil drawing are quietly gorgeous. I recommend this one for readers from first through fifth grade looking for a good holiday book that is not too Christmasy.

Friday, December 11, 2009

In Which The Full Extent of My Geekiness Is Revealed

Anyone who reads this blog has probably long suspected that I am a geek. Here's your proof positive. My latest favorite book is Stylized: A Slightly Obsessive History of Strunk & White's The Elements of Style. You know Elements of Style. It is the wonderfully brief and informative guide to writing every writer and English teacher has on her desk. In 1959, E.B. White updated a style guide written by his own Cornell professor William Strunk Jr. It has sold well ever since. My own grandmother used to give it to young people she loved as an eighth grade graduation gift. I have consulted my own copy countless times, and it has never steered me wrong.

Stylized is the back story of the creation and popularity of that popular little style manual. For people like me, to whom E.B. White is a rock star, it is sure to be a hit. Much of his correspondence about the book is included, along with a surprising number of anecdotes about it. The author, Mark Garvey, admits that it is a slightly obsessive history, but it is a highly entertaining read. I especially enjoyed Frank McCourt's thoughts on Strunk and White's little jewel of a book. I also enjoy his confession that he was terrified of semicolons and maybe colons as well.

If you are looking to stuff an English teacher's stocking this Chritmas, no doubt he or she already owns a well used copy of Elements of Style, so fill that stocking with Stylized instead. And maybe a gift card to a local bookstore too.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Do My Cold Cuts Qualify as Reading Material?

I recently read about the Wisconsin Travel Federation ( its tourism board, I suppose) needing to change its name due to the pervasiveness of texting abbreviations. The federation could no longer go by its initials. I loved that story and thought of it this morning while making the school lunches. The plastic baggy from my delicatessen containing a third of a pound of Land O'Lakes cheese read "LOL Cheese." As it was 5:30 in the morning, I didn't lol myself, but it is kind of funny when I think about it now.

I promise, I will go back to writing about books again soon. I will say that I just finished David Benioff's The Twenty Fifth Hour for my book club and enjoyed it. I didn't love it, but it was short and never lost my attention.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


My life is overrun with animals lately, none of them real. It began with traced hand turkeys a little over a week ago. We were coloring and decorating them in preparation for the Thanksgiving which largely wasn't due to swine flu. Piggy flu hit our household and we're still feeling its effects. To distract one son while he underwent a nebulizer treatment, I read some wonderful Aesop's fables. As you know, those are largely concerned with animals, clever foxes, timid mice, ants, grasshoppers, and the wolf the boy cried about. I have not read Aesop's fables in years, and I'm now on a mission to find some really good versions. It was pretty slim pickings at my local library. The best animal of the long weekend was a fox, Fantastic Mr. Fox specifically. My husband and I took the kids who we judged to be finally noncontagious to see the film last night. It is genius, genius, genius (I'll stop now before I wear out the "g" on my keyboard)!

It is based on the book of the same title by Roald Dahl. That was quite timely as my daughter who adores any word from pen to paper by Roald Dahl is writing a report on him this week. I am happy to report that my nine year old Dahl devotee was satisfied with the film adaptation. I never read Fantastic Mr. Fox, but can honestly say the movie is the best I've seen in about a year. George Clooney and Jason Schwartzman are brilliant as Mr. Fox and his son Ash respectively. The kids and adults in our family left the theater satisfied and talking about the favorite and cleverest parts. There were many.

One last animal note, my six year old son was thrilled to see a preview for the new Alvin and the Chipmunks movie, a "squeaquel," I can guarantee two things about that movie. One, it will not be as wonderful as Fantastic Mr. Fox and two, he will get me to bring him to it anyway.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

I haven't added anything to this little blog in a long time now and that has been bothering me. I've been a bit overwhelmed with sick kids, a commute home from work which gets longer each day due to the Christmas shoppers at the mall on my route, my own holiday shopping, teaching a hundred sophomores to write research papers, grading their efforts, and ice hockey season. While it bugs me that these things keep me from writing, I am thankful for them all too. Okay, maybe I'm not grateful for the traffic and the virus, but I am glad of the job and the moments I can spend comforting my children. I'm sure I'll get back to writing about books soon. I have so much to be thankful for today. I hope you have a happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Foodie Friday: Clementines Are Here!

I am soooo happy! Why, you ask. I'll tell you why. I am so happy because clementines, or as my children sometimes call them, clementimes, are n the groceries stores of the northeast once again. From now until January, I will have an easier time packing school lunches and I will feel better about my parenting. I will feel like a parent who dispenses citrus fruit rather than leftover candy as an after school snack. If we have company coming over, I throw a bunch of clementines in a bowl and tell myself I've created a Martha Stewartesque centerpiece. If I haven't really done that, please don't burst my bubble.
In honor of the return of the clementines, I have decided to mention Sara Pennypacker's Clementine books about a creative and challenging little girl named Clementine. These books are perfect for first through third graders. Despite the female protagonist, I've had success reading it with boys and girls. Like Junie B. Jones' voice, Clementine's voice takes a little getting used to, but it's worth it. Also worth mentioning are Marla Frazee's lively illustrations.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

It Always Comes Back to T-Shirts

I'm up to my eyeballs in research on Edgar Allen Poe. I want to do a good job preparing these lessons because a) I've never taught Poe before and b) Some of my students have told me they are looking forward to reading his works, and I don't want to disappoint them. Of course I keep thinking of the awesome Simpson's version of "The Raven." While I can mention it and maybe even show it, I think I need more than that. I've found some great ideas and biographical information on Poe, which is good, but as is so often the case, I end up at cool t shirt websites.

I love this Nevermore Raven, but I can't quite justify purchasing it to wear for only one school day a year.
I guess I'll just have to come up with a gangbuster lesson plan instead.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Everything is Relative

Our current family nightly read is the first Hardy Boys book. My sons are very interested and my daughter hates it. She has no interest whatsoever in Joe and Frank Hardy with their motorcycles and sleuthing skills. It's just not her thing. It has gotten us talking however, about how different people view the same thing in different ways. Besides the Hardy Boys, a recent example is my daughter's Halloween costume. She made a candy button costume and kept it secret from her friends until the big day. About a week before Halloween we were at a neighbor's house and the kids kept asking me and Hayden what her costume would be. Of course I didn't reveal the secret, but I gave what I thought was a hint. I said,"It's delicious." The dad over there said, "She's going dressed as a rack of ribs" while his daughter asked, "Is she going to be a cupcake?" See, everything is relative.
In a similar vein, my older son dressed as an Ipod. Most people recognized him as such, but in one neighborhood where they trick or treated, a number of elderly people mistook him for a television remote control, saying things like, "Come here, Marge, there's a clicker at the door."
In any event, we'll be wrapping up the Hardy Boys soon so I'd better get looking for a book that will please everyone.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween! While I LOVE these homemade costumes my children are wearing this year, none of them are particularly bookish. You could argue that my little guy's Frankenstein is inspired by Mary Shelly's novel, but it's not. He doesn't know the book exists. He just wanted to look creepy. I have seen some other people in good book-inspired costumes this year. One of my older son's fifth grade classmates is going dressed as a thesaurus! How great is that? A student at the high school where I work dressed as the other mother from Coraline, carrying around big buttons, a needle, and thread yesterday. And yesterday, on my drive home from work, I nearly crashed my car because I saw the cutest little girl, about three years old, walking down the street in a precious very hungry caterpillar costume. Whatever your costume and whatever you are reading, have a happy Halloweekend!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

In A Dark, Dark Room

Every summer, my children attend a camp out on the beach at our local lake. They enjoy setting up tents, roasting marshmallows, racing around in the dark with friends, and two of my three children love to hear and tell ghost stories around the campfire. Ghost story fever stays with them from the time of the camp out until Halloween. They spend those months on the lookout for new ghost stories. I try to find good ones at the library, but it is a difficult task balancing high interest with low fear factor. They don't want any "babyish" books, but I don't want to be woken up by children crying from nightmares. One of the best books we've found to satisfy everyone is Alvin Schwartz's In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories. It is an easy reader, perfect for first and second graders. It contains a good mix of spooky, creepy, and funny stories perfect for campfires or pre-Halloween reading. My daughter who is now in the fourth grade first checked it out of the school library when she was in the first grade. It has been a family favorite ever since. My six year old son now owns his own copy and does a spine tingling rendition of "The Green Ribbon" story in it. I imagine he'll graduate to Goosebumps and Stephen King someday, but happily he's satisfied with this book for the time being.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Foodie Friday: Fast Food Edition

I haven't written a Foodie Friday since the summer and prepare yourself, this one isn't earth shattering. Three kids on three different soccer teams is killing me. Last night after an evening dental appointment and dragging the kids through Target for toilet paper and sundry other items, I treated them to dinner at Wendy's. I was feeling a small measure of guilt about the fast food dinner because they rarely pick the healthy side choices preferring grease and salt like their Mom. Redemption came in the form Kids' Meal "toy." Rather than a toy, each kid's meal contained a Scholastic Audiobook. And my kids liked them! They were excited about the selections. all Halloween themed, including a Jigsaw Jones mystery and a Geronimo Stilton. French fries and guilt averted. Who can ask for more at 7:30 on Thursday night?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Mixed Reviews

On Friday night my ten year old son saw the new Where the Wild Things Are film as a guest at an eleventh birthday party. He loved it. He was inclined to enjoy the evening as he also went out for pizza beforehand and milkshakes afterward. My nine year old daughter attended the movie at a nine year old's birthday party. My daughter did not enjoy the movie one bit. None of the girls did. Indeed, the birthday girl cried at the sadness and darkness of the film. I did not see it, and I'm pretty sure I don't want to. I adored the book as a child. Actually, I still do. In some review I read, the reviewer made a big deal of the fact that the book only consists of nine sentences so it was doomed to fall short of the original. While I was mentioning that to my kids, my husband said he heard on NPR that it consists of just twelve sentences. Anyone out there curious/anal enough to check it out?
My children have reached unanimity on Jeff Kinney's latest installment in the Wimpy Kid series, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days. Both kids laugh out loud love it. Particularly funny to them is when Greg (aptly referred to as a middle school Larry David by his creator) is signed up for a book club by his mother and then not allowed to quit it when all the other boys have dropped out.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Misc. Items

I want to write about a variety of book related topics that have occurred to me this week, but I feel I must begin with the title of this post. I wrote "Misc." on the chalkboard at school this week and more than one student asked me what it meant. I explained that it was an abbreviation for miscellaneous and I was asked twice why I didn't bother spelling that word out. That struck me as highly ironic since so many of my students write in such a way that I can tell they are of the texting generation. Their papers are filled with "&," "b/c," "w/" and "LOL." Yes, "LOL" on an essay. I spoke with another teacher who told me to brace myself for the emoticons that are sure to come, as in "It was sad when Romeo and Juliet died at the end of the play :(" I didn't see that when I was last teaching high school students almost ten years ago.

On a positive note, this week I had one of my best book conversations in the classroom ever. I was discussing Benjamin Franklin's autobiography and his "Speech in the Convention." I asked the kids what they think he valued based on their reading and was met with blank stares. Someone said he might have valued the Philadelphia Eagles because (b/c?) he lived in Philly. After we went over the fact that football was not played in the colonies nor was there an NFL, I asked if it had been played then, what position did they think old Ben would have played based on what they read by him. They warmed to the topic so quickly. I then asked if he was dropped into our society today, what sport would he enjoy the most based on what they read. The answers were brilliant and I left work happy that day.

Speaking of leaving work, I have something to listen to now on my drive home. A friend just lent me the audio book of Spencer Quinn's Dog On It, I've been told that it's a humorous whodunit with a canine narrator. Chet the dog and his owner, a down on his luck private investigator, solve a crime and have some adventures in this story that I have been assured I will enjoy greatly. While I'm in no hurry for Monday to get here, I am less cranky about my long commute now that I've got Dog On It to look forward to.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Book Club Report

My book club met one night this week to discuss Stieg Larson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It was a big hit with most of the ladies. I really enjoyed it and was happy for the opportunity to discuss it with others. It's a difficult book to describe as it is part corporate intrigue, part dysfunctional family saga, and part mystery with some sado masochism thrown in there too. It set in Sweden and all of the place names are these ridiculously long Swedish words which I couldn't begin to try to pronounce so I just glossed over them while reading. No matter. The story was a quick engaging read, and I'm looking forward to the other books in the series that Larson wrote before he died. The book club was a double success because I think I also brokered a workable ice hockey carpool with one of the other moms who is in the club. Win-win. Next month's selection is Sebastian Barry's The Secret Scripture.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Readable Rodents

I can't believe I'm going to admit this, but I recently attended an athletic event where all of the participants were rodents. In a weekend with two childrens' soccer games and another one's ice hockey game, we squeezed in the Hamster Ball Derby at Petco. That's right; I gave up precious hours of my Saturday afternoon watching Mario, our pet gerbil, put to shame on a plastic track by a bunch of hamsters in plastic balls. While my children cheered, cajoled, and commanded him to the finish line, Mario paused to groom himself and I thought it's not a far leap from Petco to the greyhound track or that whole mess Michael Vick got himself into. Trying to be more positive, later in the week we reflected upon other rodents who have impressed us with their adventures. By the way, they are all imaginary. Our list included Ralph S. Mouse, Lily of the purple plastic purse fame, that mouse who got the cookie, went to the movies and school, and of course, the Big Kahuna, Stuart Little. If we lined them in plastic hamster balls and yelled "Go!" who do you think would win? My money's on Ralph S. Mouse.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Oh Books, How I've Missed You!

Here's a bit of irony for you: I've been so busy working as a high school English teacher that I've been unable to read a book all week. Actually, I've been busy teaching high school and having three children who are all playing soccer this season, who all like to eat dinner, and who all want someone to check their homework. It's taking a toll on my reading for pleasure. I haven't even read a newspaper this week. Don't worry, I am all caught up with my Newsweek and Entertainment Weekly magazines. A girl does have to stay current after all. But I miss my books. It's a heartache walking past my night table and seeing that yummy looking stack gathering dust.

Luckily for me, I happened to ask the more than one hundred sophomores that I teach to write about the most memorable book they ever read. I only asked for two or three sentences from each. Every single kid found at least one book he or she could write about. Some told me it was to hard to narrow it down. Some gave me eight, nine, ten sentences about books they found memorable for either good or bad reasons. What fun I had reading their responses. So many of the girls named Twilight (one of the books on my to-read list), but there were Harry Potters, Holes, Unfortunate Events, Wayside Schools, Nancy Drews, Boxcar Children, The Outsiders, and more. It was like walking through a doughnut shop on a diet. It was tantalizing but also satisfying just to sniff the air, so to speak. I am more determined than ever to carve out a little book time in my schedule. 4 a.m. maybe?

Friday, September 25, 2009

This Is What Happens When You (Actually I) Blog at 5:30 AM

It seems I'm having trouble linking to the NY Times article about Jan Brett and her fabulous life, home in the Berkshires, and show chickens. I'll try again soon. Happy weekend!

Not So Starving Artist

I've always loved Jan Brett's books, especially The Mitten and the Christmasy ones. This piece in the NY Times makes me like her all the more. It also makes me a little jealous.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Frog and Toad Are Friends of Mine!

Recently I found myself shopping for a small gift to give a three year old girl who just became a big sister. Arnold Lobel's sweet and funny Frog and Toad Are Friends fit the bill perfectly. When my six year old son came home from school last week saying he needs to read for twenty minutes each day as homework, I headed to the library to check out a whole stack of Frog and Toad books. When he saw them, Ethan told me, "You rock, Mom!" I'm sorry, but life doesn't get much sweeter than that. Although listening to him giggle his way through Frog and Toad Together last night was pretty great also. He loved how Toad lost his mind when he lost his list of things to do. Toad couldn't chase after the list because that wasn't one of the things written on the list of things to do. Don't we all love a good neurotic?! Arnold Lobel was a genius, and by the way, he illustrated the Miss Suzy book I mentioned back in Old School week.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Foodie Friday During Old School Week

School is back in session, and no matter what I pack in my kids' school lunches, they get off the school bus, "Starving!" and "Sooooo Hungry!" Therefore, the topic of after school snacks has been much on our minds and in our conversations. These children are not satisfied with what was a perfectly acceptable after school nosh when I was a kid: pretzels and juice. They want cheeses and nuts, pomegranates and petit fours. Well, maybe they're not that demanding, but still...

While I was lecturing them recently on this topic, they reminded me that Harriet from Harriet the Spy ate a slice of cake and a glass of milk after school every single day. While they all love cake, they did think a slice of it each day would get old.

Then Ethan told me about an "old fashioned snack kids ate a really long time ago." He went on to explain how moms in the olden days would put peanut butter and sometimes raisins inside a stalk of celery. This was all related in a "Can you imagine?" sort of way. Can I imagine? Those ants on a log, while never a staple in the house I grew up in, showed up regularly at class parties and friends' houses in my youth. That is an old school snack never to show up again in schools with all of the nut allergy awareness these day.

I've got cucumber slices, grapes, and Ritz crackers ready for when my kids come home today. A tall stack of Ritz crackers was a favorite after school snack for me years ago. What was your favorite after school snack?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Look Out, Container Store; We're Talking Old School Storage Today

One hot, steamy day in August, my sister and I took my three kids on a field trip of sorts. We left New Jersey and took public transportation into Brooklyn. Once there, we visited my sister-in-law and her scrumptiously adorable new baby boy. We all went out to lunch together, and my kids whispered to me that we have to buy Mo Willems' Knufflebunny for the baby because his neighborhood looks just like the one in the book. Plus it's really funny. That's one blank filled on my Christmas shopping list. After lunch, we left my sister-in-law and her perfect boy and walked over the Brooklyn Bridge. It was interesting, fun, and ridiculously hot. I believe I told the kids my underwear was so sweaty you could grow rice in it. Or something like that. Once we made it to midtown Manhattan, we stopped in every place we thought might be air conditioned. One of those places was an old fashioned tobacconist shop. It had a wooden Indian outside and everything. I don't smoke and never have, but oh, the smell of pipe tobacco is divine. Combine it with air conditioning on a hot humid day, and I could have moved in. While my sister and I inhaled as deeply as possible and perused the tobacco products and their accoutrements, my three kids asked the salesmen if they had any extra empty cigar boxes. A very nice tobacconist (talk about old school words) led them into a room sized humidor to make their selections.
I'm not glorifying cigar smoking. In fact, I think it's nasty. But cigar boxes are magical. They seem made for holding collections even more than for holding cigars. They are perfect for stamps, baseball cards, comic books, video games, rocks, shells, photographs, paperback novels, coins, even buttons. Yes, that's my daughter's button collection shown above. There is something timeless about wooden and cardboard boxes with hinged lids and gold seals, pictures of Spanish ladies and foreign writing. Who needs Ikea or WalMart for storage solutions? Cheap plastic boxes hold cheap stuff; cigar boxes house treasures.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Old School Week Spirals On

Did you Spirograph as a kid? That little construction right there, turning a noun into a verb, is pretty new school, so maybe I shouldn't have used it during Old School Week here, but actually, it's more about classic old books and products, not about writing in a retro style, so I'll repeat. Did you Spirograph as a kid? I did. I loved putting the little circle inside the big circle, sticking a ballpoint pen in the middle and making hippy dippy trancey spiral designs. As it turns out, all of those designs have definite mathematical formulas, but I never bothered with that aspect of the activity. I just liked decorating my notebooks, folders, and any piece of scrap paper I could find. The version I had back in the 1970s was put out by Hasbro and could keep me entertained for hours. A few years ago, my daughter received the "Hypotrochoid Art Set" pictured above as a birthday gift and fell in love with it. I hunted it down on the Internet (definitely not how my original set was purchased back in the day) and bought several to give as gifts at birthday parties. Patina Stores sells it for $7.95. By the way, Patina Stores has lots of other fun and sometimes retro gift items for the tweens and teenagers you occasionally shop for. Klutz books has The Spiral Draw Book which includes spiral wheels and pens but apparently it is not as easy to use and is more expensive than the Hypotrochoid Art Set. Therefore, I've only given you the link to Patina Stores. Have fun!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Old School Week

My son' s homework for first grade this weekend was to find his favorite book from home to bring to school and share with his classmates. The students are not expected to read the books to the class, just share why they like them. I think that's great; I love a good book talk. The assignment got my husband and I talking about favorite books of ours from when we were Ethan's age. We both loved Caps for Sale. Who doesn't? We both remembered a book about an old man whose beard grows so long that birds build nests in it, but unfortunately we could not remember the title. Bill remembers loving Millions of Cats. That book never really did it for me, but oh, how I loved Miss Suzy! I dreamed of that book as a girl and read it so much! It is the story of a gray squirrel who is driven out of her oak tree home by some very mean red squirrels. Thank heavens she finds a doll house to live in and some toy soldiers to befriend. I haven't read it in years, but am now inspired to find a copy. Ethan chose the first Nate the Great book to share with his fellow first graders. All this strolling down literary memory lane has made me declare this Old School Week here at the Book Bench, celebrating books and things I loved back in the day-o. Feel free to comment with your old school favorites!

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Fair Is A Veritable Smorgasbord

I had to give this post that title up there because it comes from my favorite song in Charlotte's Web, but this post really isn't about that kind of fair and would be more aptly titled, "Evidence of Our Collective Nerdiness." Over the summer, my youngest son read #35 of Mary Pope Osborne's 7,000 Magic Tree House books. This one is Night of the New Magicians. In it, those

time travelling, clue finding siblings, Jack and Annie, travel to the Paris World's Fair of 1889. At the same time, I was reading Richard Peck's Fair Weather about the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 held in Chicago. I've been fascinated by that World's Fair ever since I first learned of it when my book club read Erik Larson's wonderful The Devil in the White City several years ago. Fair Weatheris written for a much younger audience. I'd say it is perfect for nine to twelve year olds and humorously tells the tale of a humble farming family who end up at the fair with their wealthy aunt.

So we've read some books about World's Fairs. That should be it. End of story. But not in this household! My six year old Ethan decided we needed to hold a Family Fair with exhibitions all over the house. Because they love anything that involves crafts and glue and headaches for me, the other two kids were all over that idea like white on rice. I eventually agreed and set some ground rules. The exhibits had to be contained in bedrooms and last no more than ten minutes. We had about three days to prepare and it turned out to be really fun. Inspired by the scientists at the Paris Fair, Ethan gave us a quasi-science/magic show. nine year old Hayden donned a kimono and put together an impressive origami display, and ten year old Aaron set up Matchbox track all over his bedroom and gave us all marbles to try out his ramps and then allowed us to build our own. My husband and I each put on lame little exhibits. The children appreciated the fact that we tried, but they clearly outdid us. I was pleasantly surprised by how much fun it all was, and that is as close as this house will ever get to homeschooling.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Back to School

My children boarded the school buses for the first time this year less than an hour ago. While I should be doing research and writing lesson plans for my return to work as a high school English teacher next week, I first need to blog the lump out of my throat. I am pretty blue this morning. My baby is headed to first grade! How can that be? Plus, it was a really fun summer packed with swimming, bike rides, ice pops, and loafing around. While I'm kind of sad, I am caught up in the excitement of the new school year and am happy that my kids all left with big smiles on their faces. Really big ones. Look:

I like that picture, but I recently read an article about taking back to school photos that describes just that pose as cliche and expected. The article suggested taking photos of backpacks, school lunches, or shoes lined up at the door. Eh. Our backpacks aren't too inspiring

and you don't want to see the state of my boys' shoes. so I lined up the family water bottles, and while that picture may say "Make love not landfills," it doesn't say "Back to School."

The older kids each were asked to bring a book for pleasure reading to school today. Lucky public school kids! Let me say I attended Catholic schools until college and was never told to bring a book for pleasure reading or do anything else pleasurable for that matter. Maybe a photo of the books would be a nice non-cliche memory, but my ten year old son was still hemming and hawing between Louis Sachar's Sideways Stories from The Wayside School and a nonfiction book called The Kid Who Invented Popsicles as we walked out the door this morning. This is what my nine year old daughter packed:

She absolutely loves the wickedly evil pixie Opal Koboi in Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl books. It's a nice cover, but that shot doesn't scream "School Days" either. I believe the following picture does capture the essence of beginning school in September 2009. It is of what I think is the most important school supply my children have with them today, because as I was shouting "I love you! Have a great day!" what I was really thinking this morning as they got on those buses was "I love you, and don't you dare bring home swine flu!"

Friday, September 4, 2009

Here Comes Fall

It's T minus four days until my kids go back to school. Fortunately we've had a bit of a cool snap here in northern New Jersey which makes the idea of school seem logical rather than horrible. We've had a week of weather that makes you grab a sweater and think about apple picking and high school football games. The cool days inspired a bit of organization. Don't worry- it didn't result in full on fall cleaning. We straightened up a bit and returned all of the library books, audio books, and DVDs we've amassed this summer. So long, Artemis Fowl. Fare thee well, Geronimo Stilton. Now I need to dust around the book bench, dagnabbit! The kids and I also made our annual school supply shopping trip armed with lists mailed to us by their teachers. I could get on my high horse about suburban teachers requiring expensive and hard to find items like twistable colored pencils, but frankly that high horse is exhausted. Fortunately, the whole $5.49 twistable colored pencil thing didn't kill the joy I get from sniffing new notebooks and organizing folders and loose leaf paper.

One other side effect of this autumnal weather is that it has inspired a whole rash of play dates. My kids have been hanging out with friends like crazy before homework and soccer practice get in the way. A few days ago, I had three boys building a fort in my yard and three girls playing "Adoption Center" with baby dolls in the house. And while I know it would have made Gloria Steinem wince, I let everyone stay in their little gender role boxes. In fact, I eavesdropped a bit on the adoption center, and it was more compelling than any soap opera I have ever seen! After that, I provided conditioner for a Barbie makeover. Yesterday, it was girls baking cupcakes in the kitchen while little boys ran through the room with paper towel tube light sabers. I tried to mix it up some by having the boys help decorate the cupcakes. They did so while saying, "Sayonara, sucker!" to every sprinkle they ate and by coming up with synonyms for "constipation" and "diarrhea." Won't their language arts teachers be pleased with their verbal skills next week?

Here's hoping that the weather stays cool enough that they don't resent climbing aboard the big yellow bus next week, but not so cool that it ruins recess, because everyone knows that recess is the best part of the day!