The Joy of Jumping on the Bandwagon: The Book with No Pictures

Hi there!

My name is Luke, I am three years old, and I am a bookaholic.

This past Christmas, Mama gave me B.J. Novak’s The Book with No Pictures.  She also gave it to three other friends of mine.  Clearly, she loves the book and put her money where her mouth is.

Sometimes Mama’s taste in books does not coincide with mine (see A Sick Day for Amos Magee), but in this case, we are in complete agreement.  The Book with No Pictures is AWESOME!  So, there are literally zero pictures in the book (unless you count the penguin symbol for Penguin Books, in which case there are exactly THREE pictures on or in the book–trust me, I counted them).  But there are crazy words that the person reading the book HAS TO SAY.  And the “person reading the book” is usually an adult, so listening to an adult make weird noises and say weird things is really quite entertaining.  Try it!  And to make that adult read the book over and over again is the ultimate power trip.  Think about it: the adult thinks that she is doing something educational for you, something “beneficial for your development,” but in reality, the adult is making a complete fool of herself and making you laugh and laugh at her as she stumbles through words like “ma-grumph-a-doo” and sings nonsense songs about her face being a bug.

Silly parent.  The joke’s on you!

I’m just sitting here enjoying the show, enjoying the book, enjoying the words, en…joy…ing…read…ing…awww, man!  I’ve been had!

   The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak

 

Clicking on the book will take you to Amazon.com, and if you decide to buy the book, a portion of your purchase comes back to me.  I, in turn, will use the profits to purchase books for our local library or for a children’s literacy project.

A Bookish Christmas Story

Once upon a time, my family used to travel up to Mt. Prospect, IL on Christmas Day to celebrate the holiday with my Great Aunt Rosie, Great Uncle Bob, and their daughters, Carmen and Kathy.  As we feasted on a Honeybaked ham, scalloped potatoes, Aunt Rosie’s famous layered Jello dessert, and her VERY merry spiked punch, she charmed everyone around her with her glorious smile, sparkling blue eyes, accepting attitude, and gift for making you feel important as she listened carefully and thoughtfully to everything you said.

Both Uncle Bob and Aunt Rosie loved books.  Uncle Bob was an English teacher and Aunt Rosie was an elementary school teacher, so they both understood the value of books.  For Christmas, Aunt Rosie always gave me a book.  But not just any book.  A children’s picture book.  I don’t know how she knew, even way back when I was in high school, that one day children’s books would be so important to me, but I’ve learned that you can’t question the wisdom of a perceptive soul.  For years, I kept those books with their personal Christmas inscriptions on my bookshelves amongst the Faulkner novels, Rand tombs, and Dickens masterpieces…until Luke was born.  Then I went back to them with a more discerning eye for quality, and I found them to be amazing. The Eleventh Hour: A Curious Mystery by Graeme Base, The Three Questions [Based on a story by Leo Tolstoy] by Jon Muth, and Stranger in the Woods: A Photographic Fantasy (Nature) by Carl Sams and Jean Stoick are just a few of the books she gave me.

Uncle Bob passed away a few years ago, and Aunt Rosie is now in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s.  When I saw her last Christmas, she recognized us, but she couldn’t remember our names.  She’s in an assisted living home in Arizona, and I don’t know if I will ever see her again.  But I can’t forget the books and the kindness that she showered on my family and me.  So this year, I sent her books.  Children’s picture books.

The first is called Grandpa Green by Lane Smith.  A gorgeously and cleverly illustrated Caldecott Honor Book, it’s told by an old man’s great grandson, and the reader follows the boy through an elaborately shaped topiary garden where Grandpa Green has carved each bush to represent an episode from his life.  Throughout the book, the little boy collects random things that his grandpa has forgotten: glasses, a hat, gloves, a trowel.  At the end, the boy recognizes that even though Grandpa Green is old and sometimes forgets things, the garden will always remember the important things for him.  The metaphor is just too strong to ignore.  I am the garden for Aunt Rosie.  We all are–her daughters, my family, her many friends.  Even though she can no longer remember us, we are a repository for all of the wonderful parts of her that she shared with us through the years.  She shaped us, and what’s more, her influence is now going beyond just one generation, for I am reading the books she gave me with my own children.

The second book that I sent to Aunt Rosie is one that I mentioned in my last post: Journey by Aaron Becker.  It’s the exact type of book that Aunt Rosie would have given to me–beautifully illustrated with a timeless storyline that a reader will never tire of revisiting again and again.  In it, a young girl is bored and no one in her family has time to play with her.  She discovers a piece of red chalk in her room, though, and draws a door on her wall.  She steps through the door and into a magical land where she goes on a grand adventure of imagination.  It’s a wonderful book.  I hope Aunt Rosie loves it as much as Luke and I do.

So, even though Alzheimer’s has stolen away Aunt Rosie’s memory, it does not mean that nothing of her remains.  Her appreciation and instinct for great children’s picture books will live on through me and my children.

Love you, Aunt Rosie!

–Erin, Christmas 2014

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‘Tis the Season to Be Giving…Beautiful Wordless Picture Books

My mama has an obsession with beautifully illustrated wordless (or almost) picture books.  Maybe it’s because she couldn’t draw a straight line to save her life.  Who knows.  But because she feeds them to me, I’ve learned to love them, too.  These kinds of books are often paradoxical: no words seems to imply easy to digest for little ones, but in actuality, the plot lines and illustrations can be extremely intricate and definitely need an adult’s help to interpret.  So, wordless picture books make great gifts for kids of all ages.  And they’re works of art, too, which helps me learn to appreciate beautiful things.

Here’s a short list of my favorites from the past three years:

  Chalk by Bill Thomson: On a rainy day, three friends are out walking when they discover a bag hanging from a playground dinosaur’s mouth.  They look in the bag.  Chalk!  They begin to draw.  And magically, what they draw comes to life!  Everything is going well…until the mischievous boy decides to draw a dinosaur.  The solution to their predicament is both ingenious and simple.  Illustrations are to die for.  Beautifully done.  I LOVED this book when I was two.

  Flotsam by David Wiesner: A boy discovers a camera on the beach and develops the pictures.  What those pictures have to show is both clever and amazing.  Gorgeously illustrated.  My mama has checked out a number of Wiesner’s books, but this one and the next one have been my favorites.

  Mr. Wuffles! (Caldecott Medal – Honors Winning Title(s)) by David Wiesner:  Mr. Wuffles is a cat who doesn’t like playing with anything…except tiny spaceships with visiting aliens inside.  While trying to fix their broken ship and outsmart the wily Mr. Wuffles, the aliens meet some unlikely friends (ants and a ladybug).  When I was two and a half to when I was three, I really really liked this book.  Mama made up an alien and an ant language, and we had lots of fun making upset cat meow sounds.  Clever storyline and beautiful illustrations.  The best of the best.

Yellow Umbrella (New York Times Best Illustrated Books (Awards)) by Dong Il Sheen and Jae-Soo Liu:  In this book, all the reader ever sees is the tops of umbrellas on their way someplace.  The umbrellas travel through a variety of scenes, all viewed from above (a novel difference in perspective).  Soft watercolors help create a rainy day atmosphere.  There is also a CD included with the book that readers can play while “reading” (no words in this book), and there is a song with a score and lyrics printed on the last page.  I really liked this book for three reasons: 1) I “worked on” colors 2) I “worked on” counting (the umbrellas are added one by one) and 3) Mama sang the song (badly) at the end and followed the music notes for me.  I also enjoyed listening to the CD.

  Journey by Aaron Becker:  Woo!  If you have a slightly older child or a younger child who is fairly patient or a budding artist in the family, this book is a treasure.  A young girl is bored.  On a whim, she picks up a piece of red chalk and draws a door on her bedroom wall.  She steps through it to enter a magical place where her chalk helps her to escape from a number of scrapes.  In the end, she finds a friend who is just like her.

My dada gave this book to Mama for Christmas last year (to read with me, of course), but I wasn’t quite ready for it until I was almost three years old.  But since then, it’s been a favorite that I return to every few weeks.  Talk about creative!  And talk about wonderful illustrations!  The rich details will keep you opening it again and again, finding something new every time.  Fantastic.

  Red Car, Red Bus by Susan Steggall: Not a traditionally illustrated book.  Instead of hand-drawn illustrations, the author uses torn paper to create richly detailed scenes.  There are a few simple words that accompany the scenes: red car.  red bus.  yellow car.  yellow van.  As the traffic line lengthens, the reader begins to notice a simple pattern developing.  I was obsessed with this book when I was first learning to read because I could follow the pictures and read the words.  Before long, I had the pattern memorized.  I also loved discovering the little “mini-stories” within the larger story.  A great book for learning to attend to details, learning colors, and learning patterns.  It’s also about vehicles, for the vehicular obsessed child ;-)

Happy reading and happy gifting!

–Written by Luke (age 3) and Mama (age ?)

Clicking on the books will take you to Amazon.com, and if you decide to buy the book, a portion of your purchase comes back to me.  I, in turn, will use the profits to purchase books for our local library or for a children’s literacy project.

Hitting the Jackpot: Random Library Picks That Luke Loves

Some library trips we come home with twenty books and none of them are any good.  Other trips, like this last one, we come home with ten books, and they all rock.  Luke is now three years old, but even if your child is a little older or younger, check them out!  As with all children’s books, different books appeal to different kids for different reasons.

  Batty by Sarah Dyer: Batty isn’t the most popular animal at the zoo, so he decides to try being more like the other animals.  Super cute book about being yourself.  Luke loves this book because some of the pictures are from Batty’s perspective…upside down, that is.  He loves turning the book over to view the illustrations right side up.  Very well done.

  Grumpy Bird by Jeremy Tankard: One morning Bird wakes up in a foul mood.  He doesn’t want to eat, play, or even fly.  So he starts walking.  Along the way he meets a host of animals, each of which eventually joins him on his walk.  Soon, the walk turns into a game, and Bird’s bad mood is gone.  Illustrations are bold and simple.  Text is spare and repetitive (perfect for toddlers/preschoolers).  A super cute story.

  Froodle by Antoinette Portis: Four birds sing the same song day in and day out…until one day when the little brown bird decides to try something different.  Something silly.  Something like, “Froodle!” A really cute, well-done book about how much fun it can be to break from the usual every once in awhile.  Illustrations are great.  Text is simple enough for early readers.  Luke says that he likes the words “blurv” and “inkpadink” the best.

  Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein: Little chicken LOVES her bedtime stories.  She loves them so much that she can’t help but interrupt her father’s reading every time.  Papa starts stories only to have little chicken leap into the story (literally–she is actually drawn into the storybook pages) and save the characters from disaster.  This is a Caldecott honor book, so the illustrations are fun, and the text is simple enough for preschoolers.  Luke thinks little chicken is pretty funny.

  Cheese Belongs to You!: by Alexis Deacon and Viviane Schwarz: This is Rat Law: cheese belongs to you…unless a big rat wants it…unless a bigger rat wants it…unless a faster rat wants it…unless… and on and on.  Luke gets a huge kick out of the dirty rat (we do lots of nose holding and ewww-ing) and the hairy rat (gross), and he enjoys watching the story build.  What’s funny is that the ending is all about how nice it is to share, but Luke usually walks away for the last two pages.  Maybe that’s why he doesn’t know how to share very well?

  Come Back, Ben by John Hassett and Ann Hassett: Luke can read this book independently.  Simple, repetitive text is great for the newest readers.  And for such an early reader book, it’s actually really cute.  Ben goes up and up holding onto his balloon, and everything he passes says, “Come back, Ben!” including the window, a tree, some bees, a big hill, etc.  He finally reaches the moon, where he fills his pockets with moon rocks and floats gently back home.  Luke really enjoys reading this book, in part because it’s easy enough for him to read by himself,  and in part because we’ve started doing baby signs with Brynn (3 months old) and we can sign almost the entire book.  Fun!

 

Clicking on the books will take you to Amazon.com, and if you decide to buy the book, a portion of your purchase comes back to me.  I, in turn, will use the profits to purchase books for our local library or for a children’s literacy project.

Love Lessons for My Daughter

Brynn is only seven weeks old, but she has already had a lifetime’s worth of lessons via the books she’s been read.  Here is a list of the books and what I hope they convey to her brand new brain:

   The Red Wolf by Margaret Shannon: BE CLEVER.  In this book, Roselupin is a princess who has been imprisoned in a tall, stony tower by her well-intentioned but misguided father, the king.  He wants to protect her from the wild and dangerous world, but in doing so, he also removes her from the joys of life as well.  On her seventh birthday, however, Roselupin receives a surprise present: a chest full of balls of wool with a note that says, “Knit what you want.”  That night, she knits herself a red wolf suit, speaks some magic words, and is transformed into a giant wolf that bursts from the tower into freedom.

There is more to the story, and a surprise ending to boot, but the central idea I hope you take from it, Brynn, is to be resourceful and clever and to use the tools available to find solutions to knotty problems.

  Goodnight Songs: Illustrated by Twelve Award-Winning Picture Book Artists by Margaret Wise Brown: BE MUSICAL.  Your father gave me this book for Mother’s Day this year in anticipation of your birth.  It is a collection of poems written by the author of Goodnight Moon and is illustrated by several different authors.  A CD comes with the book, but I’ve never listened to it.  I like to read the poems and make up my own melodies for you.  Music has played a huge role in my life, and I hope that you pick up on how important it is to have some form of beauty in your life.

  Oh, the Thinks You Can Think! (Big Bright & Early Board Book) by Dr. Seuss: BE CONFIDENT. “Think left and think right, think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try.”  Most people would say that this is a book about thinking and creativity, but I really like the part of the message about trying.  I’d like you, Brynn, to grow up knowing that you can do almost anything if you only put your mind to it.  Effort reaps rewards, and it’s not just about how smart you are.

  Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You : Dr. Seuss’s Book of Wonderful Noises (Bright and Early Board Books) by Dr. Seuss: BE SILLY.  Moo, buzz, boom boom boom, dibble dibble dop your way through life, Brynn, and don’t worry a fig about what other people think.  It took having kids of my own before I finally learned this lesson, but I hope you learn to have a silly, wonderful time dancing through life.

  The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams: BE REAL.  “‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.’”

Oh, Brynn.  This will be one of the biggest challenges of your life.  To be Real.  People will make fun of you because they are jealous and call you names because they are insecure, but they are little people in the end and can never change who you are as long as you remain committed to this idea of being Real.

  Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle:  BE ENGAGED.  I’d love for your life’s mantra to be “What do I see?”  I used to have my Seniors do a ten minute writing on a quote that says, “Being bored is an insult to oneself,” and I can’t help but agree.  Everything in life has the potential to teach you something, even if it’s what not to do, so keeping your eyes open and taking time to think about what you see is one of the most valuable lessons I could teach you.

  I Love You Through And Through by Bernadette Rossetti Shustak and Caroline Jayne Church: BE LOVED.  Find a few really good friends and a best friend for a partner and you won’t go wrong, Brynn.  They make life worth living.  And always know how loved you are.

Your first month and a half in books, Brynn.  Be happy, girlfriend…

Love,

Mama

My Mother-in-law Must Really Dislike Me

farts in the wild

My mother-in-law must really dislike me.

On her last trip to visit, she came bearing books for my almost-three-year-old son Luke.  The book that stole the show?  Farts in the Wild: A Spotter’s Guide.

Yes.  She bought my son a fart book.

And he LOVES it.

This little gem details farts from the smallest creatures (goldfish) up to the largest creatures (elephants), with eight lovely additional animals in between.  It could be slightly educational as it also provides facts and stats about each creature’s farting habits, but that’s not what Luke likes about it.

Off to the side of the text is a panel with ten little buttons on it.  Oh, yes.  Push the buttons and you will hear a sample of the corresponding creature’s fart accompanied by the creature’s distinctive call.  The goldfish blubs, the cat meows, the elephant trumpets, but they all fart.

A preschooler’s dream.

A parent’s worst nightmare.

And yet…

As I watched Luke play with this book on day eight (yes, I was definitely counting the days), I realized he was doing something interesting with it and not just pressing buttons randomly anymore.  Luke had his music player next to him, and he had This Old Man on repeat.  As the song played, he pressed the number that the singer sang.  Woah, I thought. That’s kind of cool.  And on day nine, I watched Luke unfold his fingers one by one, counting as he pressed the ten little buttons.  Woah. That’s even cooler!

In true preschooler fashion, Luke turned an otherwise annoying toy into something pretty cool.  And, as an added bonus, without any outside help, it became something educational.  Authentic, self-directed learning at its finest.

So, even though I’d rather not hear animal farts all day long, I do have to admit my own lesson learned about the amazing capacities of children and the endless possibilities of books.

I’d love to hear about how your child repurposed an old or uninspired book.  Please leave a comment!

Mama’s Corner: The Thought of Raising a Girl–Revised

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So, my husband and I are expecting a baby girl any day now now have a baby girl (Brynn!).  To be frank, when I first found out that this baby was going to be a girl, I was scared shitless.

Sure, I’m female, but as anyone who knows me will attest, I’m not exactly normal, and the thought of raising a girl in this day and age seemed like a Herculean task.  So, I did what I always do when I don’t know what to do: I started reading.  I read The Feminine Mystique, Mighty Be Our Powers, Cinderella Ate My Daughter, Rescuing Girlhood, and Pink Brain Blue Brain.  I read blog articles, sought out girl-power websites, and perused newspaper op-eds.  I talked to other moms and dads of girls.  Next to none of it helped.  In fact, the picture seemed even bleaker than before.  Mass marketing, pigeon-holed pink and purple clothing, insidious commercials, Disney princesses, risque clothing for first graders?!  How do I raise a girl in such a gender-specific world? At last, I gave up reading.

And I thought, instead.  I thought about all of the little girls that I know.  Even with a small sample size, I know girls who climb better than boys, who are more physical than boys, who love cars and trains, and who still wear pink.  I thought about the little boys that I know.  I know boys who read better than girls, who speak better than girls, who have tea parties with their grandmas, and who still love cars and trains.  I also thought about all of the confident, self-possessed, intelligent young women and men that I met in my eight years of teaching.  Young women and men who bucked the stereotypes and pressures of high school cliques and were purely and simply their own people, true to their ideals and their goals for themselves.

In the end, I took to heart the two bits of advice that I could glean from all of the reading and talking and thinking that I did.

First, every child is unique.  The most obvious epiphany ever, right?  Even my own son Luke is not like any other boy we know, so why would I expect to think of my daughter any differently?  She will be unique.  Her own person with her own agenda, just as Luke is.  Following her lead will be my joy and privilege, just as it has been with Luke.

Second, talk.  The idea that open communication is the key to, well, pretty much everything.  If I talk to my daughter about the shows she watches, the clothing she wears, the idols she adores, then I have the chance to help her become a critical consumer of the world.  And teaching her (heck, both her and Luke) to think instead of just blindly follow is, I believe, my most important job as a parent.

I never thought I’d say this, and I know the people who know me well are going to laugh at me, but for maybe the first time in my life, I’ve decided to keep it simple.  Raising a child is difficult enough as it is, right?