Thursday, April 29, 2010

Cultural Exchange

Two of my children will read a book or try an activity because I suggest it. My youngest child, on the other hand, is more likely to avoid something because I have suggested it. In terms of getting him to read certain books, I have resorted to reverse psychological warfare, you know, suggesting that a book might be too difficult or scary for him. He is beginning to see through that though.

Luckily, this seven year old free thinker of mine is influenced by his friends. I understand that may be a problem later in life when cigarettes and graffiti or the like are in vogue with his peers, but right now it is working to my advantage. He just came off a The Adventures of Tin Tin bender. Do you know who Tin Tin is? I did not; he came highly recommended by a fellow first grader from the Czech Republic, or as my son likes to call it, The Czech. Apparently, Tin Tin is a Belgian reporter and hero of a comic strip that first appeared in European newspapers in the late 1920s. My son loves his adventures, and is even picking up some French phrases from the books he reads. Who ever could have predicted that? I am pleased to report that it has not been an uneven exchange. My son introduced his friend to The Boxcar Children series, another unlikely hit for seven year old boys if you ask me, but as I made clear already, my seven year old is not asking me for suggestions.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Travel Prep

The Book Bench family has a trip to Europe planned for later this spring. We are preparing feverishly. Mostly that consists of hoping for the Icelandic volcano to behave and reading guidebooks. A little advice to parents out there: Fodor's and Let's Go guides are great as are the Rick Steeves travel guides and anything with "Kids" in the title. I would not recommend allowing your eleven year old son to check just any old guidebook from the travel section of your public library. If he checks one out published by MTV Books (you read that right), he might be able to tell you how many grams of marijuana you can carry without being hassled by local police and how to ask where to buy condoms in French. This will result in your having to explain to him what a condom is, not the most fun conversation imaginable.

My daughter is taking a much more enjoyable approach to travel prep. She is hoarding candy in case she doesn't like the food in Europe and she is reading novels set in London and Paris. Currently she is reading and loving Siobhan Dowd's The London Eye Mystery.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Musical Gifts

I risk sounding like Sue Sylvester when she claimed that Madonna's "True Blue" album was released on her sixth birthday, but here goes. I remember only one present from the 1984 combined celebration of my birthday and eighth grade graduation. My brother Sean gave it to me. It was Madonna's debut album on cassette. I played the bejesus out of that tape. I still have it in fact. Perfection. Fox gave me a gift tonight with the Madonna episode of "Glee." It was genius, fun and thrilling. True, this has absolutely nothing to do with books. I haven't even read those English Roses picture books penned by Madonna, but I plan to listen to everything she ever sang again in the coming days. Every finger and toe I've got is now crossed for a Springsteen episode. Can you imagine?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Love is...

Remember the "Love Is..." cartoons from the 1970s? In case you don't, Homer Simpson's description might ring a bell. According to Homer, they're "about two naked eight year olds who are married." I loved them back in the day with their Kewpie doll bodies and pithy definitions of love. "Love is... taking one day at a time." "Love is... turning his head."

I've got a new definition of love. My nine year old daughter checked out a Judy Moody and Stink chapter book from the library for my seven year old son. She loved that series when she was in first and second grade and was excited to share the experience with him. A few days later I saw him reading it with a resigned look about him. I asked if he liked it and he dropped his voice to a whisper and said, "It's horrible, but I don't want to hurt Hayden's feelings." That is love, my friends! Anyone can wear an ugly shirt or tie, spritz on stinky perfume or use an unwanted appliance that was given as a gift, but it takes someone special to read a book he does not like all the way through. I am so impressed with my son's selfless act of love I feel like letting him go pick out one of books he loves about superheroes or farts. Loving behavior needs to be rewarded after all. Let me tell you, sitting through him reading those is an act of love as well.

One more note about those sappy comics. John Hodgeman once stated on The Daily Show "Love is... a quasimental illness prompting the bizarre sexualization of genital-free infants into a daily cartoon strip." That leads me to my last definition of what love is. It is my husband staying up later than he wants to allow me to watch The Daily Show in bed all the way to the closing credits just so I can giggle about stuff like that the next day.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Forget All That Teaching Career Talk!

Forget everything I said about longing for more time in the classroom. I've seen black bears in my yard on each of the last three days. On Wednesday, my eleven year old boy and his friend were playing in our woods and an adult came so close the boys felt they could have touched it. Wisely they chose to run to the house instead. So now I am dreaming of a career as a marksman (markswoman?)/ sharpshooter. It's very red state of me, I know, but that mama bear hasn't cornered the market on wanting to protect her cubs. SWAT team here I come. Don't tell them that I need a magnifying glass to read the account number on my credit card bill.

These Two Have A Lot in Common

So September 2009 was when I returned to teaching after a nine year absence. I landed a nice maternity leave replacement job, worked like the dickens, and all was right with the world. The teacher I replaced returned, I started subbing with a stack of resumes to mail out for a job for this September. Only now New Jersey public schools are facing crazy big budget cuts resulting in program cuts and layoffs galore. It's looking like this very enthusiastic English teacher with a massive hole in her resume might not be able to find a job for September. It is all pretty frustrating and demoralizing especially when I am also concerned about the cuts being made in my own children's schools. What I ought to do is ignore my troubles with some good escapist fiction: science fiction, chick-lit, English mysteries, but no, instead I am reading books about teaching that make me excited about the imaginary job I probably won't find for next year. Or worse, everything I read that is not about education specifically makes me think about education anyway or about how I would use that material in a classroom. I guess I just like salt in my wounds or a big fat pity party.

Here are two examples: I just read Doug Lemov's Teach Like a Champion after reading about him in the NYTimes earlier this year. Lemov works in charter schools and has observed many successful teachers working in inner city schools. He has come up with a taxonomy of 49 techniques he has seen these teachers employ to help their students achieve. Some of it is common sense. Some of it is a fresh new way of doing things. Some of it bucks trends in education. All of it interested me and made me wish I had a book like this when I was in school to become certified. If you know someone in a teacher education program right now, I highly recommend this book. It made me think about how I use time, my voice, and the physical space of my classroom. It will remain on my desk as a reference if I should be so fortunate as to have one.

I also recently finished Steve Martin's Born Standing Up and could not help but notice the ways stand up comedy is akin to high school teaching. Both deal with controlling the audience. Both require the person at the front of the room to be entertaining, quick thinking, and reflective. I love Steve Martin from The Jerk to his SNL and Muppet Show appearances to LA Story and his novella The Shopgirl. His cleverness and embrace of the absurd delight me so of course I enjoyed this book about the development and demise of his stand up career. He writes about the stand up act with great affection but also the knowledge that that is over for him. I am still so affectionate about teaching; I certainly hope I do not have to put it on hold due to the economy. So what can I read that won't put me in mind of it? Sports Illustrated? Nope. I have a hundred ways I could use that in an English classroom. Cookbooks? No again. They make me think of Frank Mc Court's Teacher Man. I may have to take up home improvement magazines or nudie ones as there doesn't seem a book out there I can completely escape into at present. So I'm off to get some copies of Playgirl and Popular Mechanics. Just kidding.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

What and Why I'm Not Reading Right Now As Planned

For their birthdays back in January and February, my sons were given tickets to a professional hockey game. The game was for five pm today. The boys have been looking forward to it for months. It is the last regular season game for the NJ Devils and it is Fan Appreciation night which apparently means free hot dogs and soda. For my little Devils fan chowhounds it was shaping up to be a great night. My daughter and I had big plans of our own. She wanted us to go to Borders, spend a gift card that had been burning a hole in her pocket. Then she wanted us to come home and read our books on the couch while eating "a simple dinner like garlic toasts and carrots." She is my kind of girl; a little old lady that is. Oh, it was gong to be heaven.

Unfortunately, my seven year old woke up in the night with a stomach bug. After a lot of vomiting, he spent the rest of the day in bed in his pajamas. He, of course, could not go to the game, but was pretty brave about it, even generously offering his jersey to his sister to wear. She wore the jersey, a grim expression, and a book tucked under her arm. Rather than bookstore meandering and reading, I've made toast and Jello, played board games, watched Scooby Doo videos galore, and took a walk around the block with a cross between Alfalfa and Hugh Hefner as my boy insisted it was fine to walk around the neighborhood in his way too short pajama pants, no shirt, and bathrobe. I hope my daughter is enjoying her free hotdog and having at least as many laughs as the neighbors had when they got an eyeful of my walking companion.

What would I have read, you ask. Well, I'm in the middle of two autobiographies, Frank Bruni's Born Round and Tracy Morgan's I Am The New Black. Honestly, neither book is really thrilling me. I am, however, looking forward to The Irresistible Henry House which I plan to read the minute it is delivered via interlibrary loan.

Okay, it's back to Scooby Doo now.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

In My Nest

In a radical break from tradition, the Easter Bunny did not deliver any books to any baskets in our house this year. Easter baskets past have had board books and chapter books, easy readers and cookbooks nestled beside chocolate bunnies and marshmallow chicks. Weird. I guess the Easter Bunny never got her act together enough to organize a trip to the bookstore. I, however, did give one book as an Easter gift to my adorable baby nephew. It was Susan Gillingham's adorable In My Nest which comes with the cutest little finger puppet bird and ends with that cute finger puppet bird in his nest with his parents. They put me in mind of a bird family version of my brother, sister-in-law, and nephew. There are others in the series like In My Pond and In My Tree. They would make precious new baby or shower gifts.

In other Easter animal news, on Good Friday, my son who is in the first grade played at a friend's house. They were playing by the pond in the friend's yard, and reported that they found "a dead snake and a lizard that passed out" in the grass near the pond. How they could determine the difference between dead and passed out, I don't know, but I've been laughing about the description ever since.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Best Possible Scenario

I know I have mentioned on this blog how much my kids (and I) love Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. It was with much glee and anticipation that we recently went to see the movie in the theater. It was funny and we laughed and elbowed each other at the good parts throughout. The best part for me, however, was as we walked out of the theater and the kids told me that although it was great, the book was better. I love when they like the book better!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Seven Things That Made Me Smile Today

1. It is 73 degrees and sunny outside.
2. I played charades with a group of high school juniors today. I played it with them during the last period of the day on the day before spring break. All that separated them from a sunny spring break was 50 minutes and me. Instead of being cranky, distracted, or too cool for school, they threw themselves into the game of charades with abandon, and we had a lot of laughs.
3. During library duty I squeezed in a few pages of Kate Atkinson's latest Jackson Brodie mystery, When Will There Be Good News?
4. This afternoon, my son who is in the first grade informed me that he "is moving on from Flat Stanley to The Boxcar Children."
5. I ate a few marshmallow Peeps.
6. Anticipating a new 30Rock. I'm hoping The Office is new tonight too. What the heck. If you're gonna dream, dream big.
7. Rolling down my window and belting out Jackson Five tunes in the car.

I hope you had much to smile about today.