Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | Melanie Heuiser Hill

How To Make An Apple Pie and See The World

How To Make An Apple Pie and See The WorldA cou­ple of years ago, I decid­ed I want­ed to learn how to make a real­ly good pie. I asked around—bakers, cater­ers, cook­ing store own­ers etc. and the book The Pie and Pas­try Bible by Rose Levy Beran­baum came up con­sis­tent­ly. One per­son men­tioned How to Make An Apple Pie and See The World  by Mar­jorie Price­man. I pur­chased both—one for the how-to and one for inspi­ra­tion.

The Pie and Pas­try Bible is enor­mous and beyond detailed (like read­ing an organ­ic chem­istry book in some places). It has been extreme­ly help­ful. Under its tute­lage, I’m proud to say I can turn out a decent pie with a flaky, tooth­some crust, and fill­ing that holds togeth­er (most­ly) and delights the sens­es in its sweet­ness and tex­ture.

How to Make and Apple Pie and See The World is some­thing else entire­ly. Tech­ni­cal­ly, it is also a how-to, I sup­pose, but a per­son could get lost in the adven­ture of it.

Mak­ing an apple pie is real­ly very easy.
First, get all the ingre­di­ents at the mar­ket.
Mix them well, bake, and serve.

Let me tell you, Rose Levy Beran­baum would scream and pull her hair out by the roots read­ing these instruc­tions; but with a sim­ple page turn, Mar­jorie Price­man acknowl­edges the dif­fi­cul­ties that can arise.

Unless, of course, the mar­ket is closed.

What is to be done then? Well, you go home pack a suit­case. With walk­ing shoes and your shop­ping list, catch a steamship bound for Europe and use the six days on board to brush up on your Ital­ian. Why? Well, you’ll need it when you arrive in Italy dur­ing the har­vest (tim­ing is impor­tant, Price­man acknowl­edges) to gath­er your­self some superb semoli­na wheat.

Photodune: Happy Cow | by Aruba2000You’ll head to France for the chick­en (the eggs! You need eggs!) and then Sri Lan­ka for the kurun­du tree (cin­na­mon!). Upon hitch­ing a ride to Eng­land you’ll “make the acquain­tance of a cow”—one with good man­ners and a charm­ing accent. You’ll take her with you because only the fresh­est milk will do.

On the way to Jamaica (for sug­ar!) you’ll nab a jar of salty sea water (sim­ply evap­o­rate and you have the salt!) and then fly home. Ingre­di­ents should remain fresh, after all. Both Beran­baum and Price­man agree that fresh ingre­di­ents are of the utmost impor­tance. You’ll para­chute into Ver­mont for the apples—you can’t for­get the apples when you’re mak­ing apple pie.

Once home, there’s sim­ply milling and grind­ing and evap­o­rat­ing and per­suad­ing (the chick­en to lay an egg) and milk­ing and churn­ing and slic­ing and mix­ing to do!

While you wait for the pie to bake, you sim­ply ask a friend over to share!

I love this book and the kids I’ve read it to love it, too. We spin the globe and find all the coun­tries of ori­gin for the pantry sta­ples. We talk about where our food comes from, and if it is pos­si­ble to make some of our favorite foods with all local ingre­di­ents. We talk about how much work it is to grow and pre­pare food and how many peo­ple we depend on to do that. We enjoy the pictures—the delight­ful hero­ine who tire­less­ly globe-trots so she can make a pie to share with friends.

A quick inter­net search yields les­son plans and home­school­ing ideas for this book—few men­tion actu­al­ly bak­ing a pie, which makes me sad. Is there any­thing more homey than a made-from-scratch pie? I think not.

Apple Pie by robynmac | Photodune

Got some back­yard rasp­ber­ries? A u‑pick straw­ber­ry farm? Con­sid­er a bake-n-read this sum­mer with some kids. It’ll be messy, but fun!

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The Sandwich Swap

The Sandwich SwapNor­mal­ly, I spurn pic­ture books writ­ten by celebri­ties, be they actors or roy­al­ty or what have you. If it’s a per­son in the head­lines, I quite assume they could not pos­si­bly write a wor­thy pic­ture book. The only excep­tion on my shelves, I believe (and I real­ize there are oth­er excep­tions! Feel free to leave titles in the com­ments.) is The Sand­wich Swap by Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdul­lah with Kel­ly Depuc­chio, illus­trat­ed by Tri­cia Tusa.

I adore this book and have read it to many groups of kids. It’s about two best friends, Salma and Lily, who do most every­thing together—they draw, they swing, they jump rope. And every day they eat lunch together—Lilly always has a peanut but­ter and jel­ly sand­wich on squishy white bread, and Salma always has a hum­mus sand­wich on pita bread. Secret­ly, they each find their friend’s choice of sand­wich mys­ti­fy­ing. Gooey peanut paste? Ew Gross! Icky chick­pea paste? Ew yuck! But they don’t say this to each oth­er.

Until one day they do. Lily blurts out her feel­ings about Salma’s sand­wich.

Salma frowned. She looked down at the thin, soft bread, and she thought of her beau­ti­ful, smil­ing moth­er as she care­ful­ly cut Salma’s sand­wich in two neat halves that morn­ing. 

The next line is the most bril­liant in the book, I think: Her hurt feel­ings turned to mad.

Isn’t that how it goes? Once, when I read this in sto­ry time a lit­tle boy smacked his fore­head with his hands and said, “Oh no!”

Oh no, is right—Salma snaps back with hurt­ful words about the gross­ness and offen­sive smell of Lily’s sand­wich.

Lily looked sur­prised. She sniffed the thick, squishy bread, and she thought of her dad in his sil­ly apron, whistling as he cut Lily’s sand­wich into two per­fect tri­an­gles that morn­ing.

Well, the dis­agree­ment is per­son­al and hurt­ful, and the friends part ways after a few more hurt­ful exchanges. No more pic­ture draw­ing, swing­ing, and jump rop­ing. They don’t eat togeth­er, they don’t talk…and the pic­tures are exquisite—two deflat­ed girls with­out their best friend.

Meanwhile…the sto­ry spread and every­one in the lunch­room began to choose sides around the peanut but­ter and hum­mus sand­wich­es.

Pret­ty soon the rude insults had noth­ing at all to do with peanut but­ter or hum­mus.

Sandwich SwapThat’s so dumb!” said one out­raged girl I was read­ing to.  I nod­ded vague­ly and turned the page to the two-page spread of a food fight right there in the lunch­room. “See!” said the girl. She held her head as if she had the worst headache.

This is how wars start, peo­ple! Inter­est­ing­ly, every time I look for this book on my shelf I’m look­ing for the title “The Sand­wich War” and am then remind­ed that the actu­al title is more…peaceful. As is the book in the end.

Salma and Lily come to their sens­es as pud­ding cups and car­rot sticks whip past their heads. They’re required to help clean up the mess and they’re sent to the principal’s office, as well. Again, the illus­tra­tions car­ry the feelings—two small girls, made small­er by all that has hap­pened.

The next day, brave Salma sits down across from Lily at lunch. In return, Lily works up the courage to ask Salma if she’d like to try her peanut but­ter and jel­ly sand­wich. A swap occurs, as well as glad excla­ma­tions of the yum­mi­ness of each oth­ers sand­wich­es.

The girls hatch a plan, which is depict­ed entire­ly in a gor­geous pull-out three page spread.

Sandwich Swap

When I read this to kids, we looks at all the flags and try to iden­ti­fy them. We won­der what food was brought to rep­re­sent each coun­try. I’ve always want­ed to have such a potluck after the book, but although I’ve been to such potlucks, I nev­er seem to have the book with me at the right time. Per­haps I just need to car­ry it around in my purse… Or cre­ate such an event!

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One Day at the Farmers Market

Farmers MarketSat­ur­day was gor­geous, and (Oh joy! Oh rap­ture!) the open­ing day of the Mill City Farm­ers Mar­ket, one of my favorite mar­kets here in the Twin Cities. I got up and out the door in such a hur­ry I for­got my mar­ket bas­ket, but no matter—there were just the ear­li­est of crops avail­able: aspara­gus, spinach, rhubarb…. I could car­ry the few things I needed—and truth be told, I was real­ly after the expe­ri­ence more than the food. The chilly air com­ing off the Mis­sis­sip­pi, the vio­lin play­er on the cor­ner, the chat­ter of ven­dors and cus­tomers, small kid­dos look­ing for future crops like berries and corn-on-the-cob and apples…this is the kind of thing that will clear the rest of win­ter from the recess­es of your soul! I got my cof­fee and bliss­ful­ly wan­dered the stalls. If I were to design the per­fect morn­ing, this real­ly is it.

And then—an unex­pect­ed gift!

Just as I was leav­ing for the busy Sat­ur­day ahead of me, I heard a rich bari­tone sing out. “STO-ries! STO-ries! It’s sto­ry­time! STO­RY­time!” The hair on he back of my neck stood up (in a good way). STORYTIME! Well, I wasn’t going to leave with­out sto­ries!

I moseyed back over to the stone steps of the Guthrie The­ater, the usu­al spot for pro­gram­ming dur­ing the farm­ers mar­ket. And sure enough, a com­pa­ny actor was there with a stack of kid books. Par­ents were get­ting their sticky-farm­ers-mar­ket- smudged-up kids set­tled at the man’s feet, mov­ing to sit up a step or two and enjoy their cof­fee in peace. I fit right in, I told myself, even with­out any kids with me. I just sat down with the par­ents and smiled down benev­o­lent­ly on the squirmy mosh-pit of would-be sto­ry lis­ten­ers, as if one of them was mine.

Reading at the Mill City Farmers Market

Read­ing and Sto­ry­telling at the Mill City Farm­ers Mar­ket

No soon­er had the read­er begun than all wig­gles stopped. The first book: One Day In The Euca­lyp­tus, Euca­lyp­tus Tree by Daniel Bern­strom, illus­trat­ed by Bren­dan Wen­zel. I couldn’t believe my luck! Bern­strom and I had gone to grad school together—and the book was but days old! I hadn’t even made it to the book­store to get my copy yet!

One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus TreeWell, it’s a hoot of a book—as I knew it would be—and what I wit­nessed on the steps to the Guthrie was none oth­er than Sto­ry­time MAGIC. A mar­velous sto­ry, ter­rif­ic illus­tra­tions, and a fan­tas­tic read­er! (I mean, the guy is a pro­fes­sion­al!) The kids were rapt as this man belt­ed out the lines of the lit­tle boy who out­smarts the yel­low snake who swal­lowed him up.

It’s a sto­ry with some sim­i­lar­i­ties to I Know An Old Lady Who Swal­lowed a Fly and also to Brer Rab­bit. The boy in this sto­ry is the Smart One, a more pos­i­tive moniker, I think, than “Trick­ster,” as Brer Rab­bit is often called. The yel­low snake is tak­en by this smart boy. Every­time he swal­lows some­one or some­thing up, the boy talks about how much more room there is inside…and so the snake takes anoth­er vic­tim. And then anoth­er. And anoth­er. It’s the very small­est thing that proves too much, of course, and the gross results were most pleas­ing to the young audi­ence. One lit­tle girl clapped hard as the snake “expec­to­rat­ed” every­one and every­thing in his stom­ach.

Oh the kids loved it! The swingy rhymes, the fun word-rhythms—their lit­tle bod­ies swayed in time. The sus­pense! The fun! Their faith in the boy! Their joy as the snake’s bel­ly grew larg­er and larg­er. “Look at that bel­ly!” our sto­ry­teller exclaimed every oth­er page turn.

It all worked to make me quite teary behind my sun­glass­es as I sat there among the young fam­i­lies. I was so hap­py for Daniel, so grate­ful this won­der­ful actor lent his voice and sto­ry­telling to the morn­ing, so glad to have heard my classmate’s sto­ry before I read it. He has a won­der­ful gift with words and fun and rhythm and rhyme.

In my esti­ma­tion, it was quite the per­fect morn­ing. Per­haps the only thing that could’ve made it bet­ter was hav­ing a lit­tle sticky per­son of my own on my lap to hear the sto­ry with me. But alas, those days are pret­ty well gone for me. (Some­times I’m still able to bor­row.) So it’s just the pure joy of being read to now, which, as it turns out, I’ve not out­grown. Don’t plan to either.

Thanks Daniel, thanks Mr. Wenzel—your book is ter­rif­ic. Thank you Mill City Farm­ers Mar­ket and Guthrie The­ater. Thank you to the won­der­ful sto­ry­time read­er whose name I did not catch—your sung “STO-ries!” made my day. You were won­der­ful! The whole thing was won­der­ful.

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The Odious Ogre

The Odious OgreI’m a big fan of Phan­tom Toll­booth by Nor­ton Juster, illus­trat­ed by Jules Feif­fer. I can remem­ber read­ing it as a kid and think­ing it both hilar­i­ous and clever. And I loved the words! So many words!

So when the Juster-Feif­fer team came out with The Odi­ous Ogre a few years back, I leapt at it. A pic­ture book! A long pic­ture book! My favorite kind! Full of long words and clever phrasings—it is a hoot. I’ve read it to pre-school­ers through middle-schoolers—they and their adults laugh.

The Odi­ous Ogre lives on his rep­u­ta­tion mostly—and it’s a ghast­ly rep­u­ta­tion. He was, it was wide­ly believed, extra­or­di­nar­i­ly large, exceed­ing­ly ugly, unusu­al­ly angry, con­stant­ly hun­gry, and absolute­ly mer­ci­less.

At least that was his reputation—it’s what every­one thought or sup­posed or had heard or read …. As Juster says: No ogre ever had it so good. He ter­ror­ized the sur­round­ing vil­lages and every­one just … well, let him. They thought it was hope­less, that there was noth­ing they could do.

No one can resist me, says the Ogre. I am invul­ner­a­ble, impreg­nable, insu­per­a­ble, inde­fati­ga­ble, insur­mount­able …. He had an impres­sive vocab­u­lary hav­ing acci­dent­ly swal­lowed a large dic­tio­nary while eat­ing the head librar­i­an in one of the neigh­bor­ing towns.

Now I know there are those who will read that sen­tence of won­der­ful i‑words and and the detail of eat­ing librar­i­ans and they will think one of two things (if not both): There’s a vocab list! OR, why would she read that to pre-school­ers?!

My hus­band just looked over my shoul­der at the illus­tra­tions and said, “Wow. That looks vio­lent.” And there are vio­lent scenes, to be sure. (Although they’re pic­tures in sweet pen and inky water col­ors, so the impact is soft­ened.) The best scene is when the ogre throws a tem­per tantrum, leap­ing and hurl­ing him­self around the gar­den of a com­plete­ly unflap­pable young girl out­side of her beflow­ered cot­tage. She’d just offered him tea. And muffins. This floors the ogre. He wor­ries that his rep­u­ta­tion might be in jeop­ardy. So he bel­lows and stomps and blus­ters. He gri­maces and twitch­es and snorts, all while belch­ing, claw­ing and drool­ing in an attempt to fright­en the imper­turbable young woman. There’s a two-page spread of his reign of ter­ror. The chil­dren adore it. The younger they are, the more they delight in it.

gr_odious_ogre_tantrum

The girl is at first over­whelmed. Then she recov­ers her­self, sets down her plate of muffins and applauds with great enthu­si­asm for a full minute.

What fun, how mag­i­cal, how won­der­ful!” she exclaimed. “Would you con­sid­er doing that for the orphans’ pic­nic next week? I know the chil­dren would love it.”

It sim­ply doesn’t mat­ter that the three-year-olds can­not define all of the words. They know exact­ly what is going on—they’ve thrown such spec­ta­cles them­selves, after all! They think it hilar­i­ous that the young woman wants the ogre to do it again on pur­pose.

Tucked in my copy of The Odi­ous Ogre, I have sheets that I made that fold into a wee lit­tle book. It helps the kids to write their own sto­ry about  (Name) , The Most (adjec­tive) Ogre. It asks them to name their ogre, describe their ogre, draw the ogre‑y face, describe the ogre’s voice and sounds ….

Kids love this activ­i­ty! At first I thought it was the size of the book (maybe 2 inch­es by 3 inch­es). But I actu­al­ly think it’s the words. They come up with such cre­ative words after hear­ing such the­sauras­tic strings of adjec­tives from Juster. They name their ogres things like Chris­til­li­blly and Amdropis­ti­ly. They describe their ogres with words like humun­go, tiz­zl­ly, and grub­bling. They use all the crayons in the box when they draw their ogre’s por­trait, and they change their own lit­tle voic­es in the most amaz­ing ways to let me hear how their ogre sounds.

Big words, long ram­bly sen­tences, large art spreads—this is a great book for kids of all ages. I stand by my call for the longer pic­ture book. I wish Juster and Feif­fer would do a series for my per­son­al sto­ry­time plea­sure.

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Books as Therapy

FrindleI con­fess to using books ther­a­peu­ti­cal­ly. When my kids were lit­tle and the day had gone wonky and none of us were at our best, a pile of pic­ture books was a sure-fire way to reset us all. It was part­ly the snug­gles, but most­ly the shared expe­ri­ence of read­ing the sto­ries we loved. As they’ve grown, I’ve been known to read them hap­py books when they are sad (and some­times sad books, just to help us lean into it) and sil­ly books when anger and tears have had their way with us. I’ve picked “top­i­cal” books when it seemed that approach­ing an issue at a “slant” might be the way to go.  And I’ve picked up books and insist­ed we read when I didn’t know what else to do.

Recent­ly, I heard Andrew Clements talk about his writ­ing life and his books at the Fes­ti­val of Faith & Writ­ing. I reread Frindle, my favorite of his books, on the plane on the way to the con­fer­ence. Pre­dictably, it made me cry, just as the flight atten­dant came by with pret­zels and juice. I was a lit­tle afraid Mr. Clements him­self would make me cry just by, you know, being up there on stage; but he talked about his child­hood and his ear­ly mar­ried years and find­ing his way as a writer…. And it was delight­ful! He was exact­ly as you expect­ed Andrew Clements to be while pre­sent­ing to a group of teach­ers, writ­ers, librar­i­ans, and read­ers (most­ly adults, some kids).

And then, at the end he rifled through some papers, say­ing he wasn’t sure if he’d talk about this next thing…. But he did. Or rather he read it. He’d been pre­sent­ing for an hour extem­po­ra­ne­ous­ly, but now his eyes were glued to the page and he read us pre­pared remarks. He wasn’t even a full sen­tence in before we under­stood why he was read­ing and not telling the sto­ry “off-the-cuff.”

Not long after the Decem­ber 2012 school shoot­ing at Sandy Hook Ele­men­tary in New­town, Con­necti­cut, Clements was con­tact­ed with a request he both could not refuse and could not imag­ine. While the world watched and prayed, the school and com­mu­ni­ty worked hard to piece togeth­er life for the kids, teach­ers and staff, and their fam­i­lies. Some­one float­ed the idea of an all-school read—something for all ages, some­thing they might enjoy  togeth­er, some­thing besides the tragedy to help re-define them.

They need­ed a book that took place in a school. A book that both chil­dren and adults who were rid­dled with shock and ter­ror and grief could focus on. A book that was maybe a lit­tle funny—in spots, at least. A book that did not con­tain the names of any of the vic­tims of the vio­lence that had torn apart their school com­mu­ni­ty. They need­ed a book that could bring hope and light to their lives again.

They chose Frindle. They asked Clements to come and so he and his wife went. He told us how he was led through the police check points in the park­ing lot and at the school doors…. How he was escort­ed into the school gath­er­ing by the library work­er who had shield­ed eigh­teen kids in a clos­et in the library dur­ing the shoot­ing…. How they explained the impor­tance of not mak­ing any loud nois­es or sud­den move­ments…. 

And then he read Frindle to those kids and teach­ers. He said he and his wife agreed it was one of the holi­est spaces and times they’d ever expe­ri­enced.

There wasn’t, of course, a dry eye in the audi­to­ri­um. Those of us in the audi­ence could hard­ly breathe while he read this account. I can’t imag­ine the strength it must have tak­en for this beloved author to read his work to those chil­dren and their teach­ers. Such an hon­or, such a priv­i­lege.

Books can be so therapeutic—and the read­ing of them togeth­er even more so. I think the idea of an all-school read at Sandy Hook Ele­men­tary was bril­liant, the choice of book and author inspired. Read your way into some holi­ness with a kid (or a whole group of them) today if you can. When­ev­er and wher­ev­er we can gath­er over books…holy time and space is found.

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Beverly Cleary

Beverly Cleary, 1971

Bev­er­ly Cleary, 1971

For the last month I have been read­ing arti­cles, toasts, essays, and inter­views with one of my favorite authors of all time: Bev­er­ly Cleary. She turned 100 years old this week. Every­thing I read about her makes me misty-eyed—the birth­day plans in her home state of Ore­gon … her mem­o­ries of being in the low­est read­ing group, the Black­birds, in ele­men­tary school … that she writes while bak­ing bread … how she named her char­ac­ters … that she was a “well-behaved girl” but she often thought like Ramona (me, too!!!) … the fan mail she still receives in a steady stream … SIGH.

My sec­ond grade teacher, Mrs. Perkins, read us Ramona the Brave. It was a new book that year—she used it to show us how to open a brand-new book and “break in” the bind­ing so that the pages would turn eas­i­ly. She told us that it was part of a series and I remem­ber being out of sorts that she would start mid-series, but then I was so engrossed in the sto­ry that I dropped my grudge.

Reading Is FundamentalMy ele­men­tary school was a RIF (Read­ing Is Fun­da­men­tal) school. RIF day was eas­i­ly my favorite day of the year. I under­stood that RIF exist­ed to put books in the hands of kids who would not oth­er­wise own books. I had books at home, though many of my class­mates did not, and I was always a lit­tle ner­vous that some­how I would be excluded—what if some­one report­ed my lit­tle book­shelf, or the fact that I received a book every birth­day? What if I was pulled aside—not allowed to go pick a book?! But it nev­er hap­pened. No ques­tions asked—just encour­age­ment to pick a book of my very own. RIF Bliss!

Ramona the PestThat sec­ond-grade-year, when my class went down to the entrance lob­by of the school to vis­it the tables and tables piled with books (this remains my image of abun­dance), the very first book I saw was Ramona the Pest. I knew it had to be relat­ed to Ramona the Brave, and was proud to have the pres­ence of mind—my heart beat hard in the excite­ment of my discovery!—to con­firm that the author’s name, Bev­er­ly Cleary, was list­ed under the title. Mrs. Cleary lived in Ore­gon, Mrs. Perkins said. It was a place so far away from cen­tral Illi­nois that I was sur­prised one of her books could have made its way to our RIF tables. I scooped it up and car­ried it around with me as I perused all of the oth­er books. We were allowed to choose only one book, but none of the oth­ers even came close to tempt­ing me to put down Ramona the Pest.

illustration by Louis Darling

illus­tra­tion by Louis Dar­ling

I’m astound­ed when I look at lists of Bev­er­ly Cleary’s books and their pub­li­ca­tion dates. She start­ed the Ramona series in 1955. My moth­er was nine years old! The last in the series, Ramona’s World, was writ­ten when my son was two, in 1999. And that’s just the Ramona books! What a career! At least three gen­er­a­tions have read and loved Cleary’s books.

I still have that lit­tle trade-paper­back book. It’s well worn—I read it many times as a kid. And I read it to my kids, too, of course. It’s the only Ramona book I own—through all of the cov­er changes and box sets, I’ve just stuck with my one lit­tle RIF book.

I might change that this week, though. I think per­haps I’ll buy myself a boxed set of Ramona and make a dona­tion to RIF in Bev­er­ly Cleary’s hon­or.

Hap­py Birth­day, Bev­er­ly Cleary!

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Rose Meets Mr. Wintergarten

Rose Meets Mr. Wintergarten

Rose meets Mr. Win­ter­garten by Bob Gra­ham has been around for awhile. I’ve been read­ing it to kids for almost as long as it’s been on this side of the pond. But I’ve read it two dif­fer­ent ways, and I’m ready to con­fess that now.

I love most every­thing about this sweet pic­ture book. I adore the Summerses—what a great hip­pie-like family!—especially Mom in her loose fit­ting dress and san­dals and crazy ear­rings. I love the illustrations—particularly the gobs and gobs of flow­ers. And I expe­ri­ence noth­ing but delight with the mar­velous con­trast pro­vid­ed by Mr. Wintergarten—his dark house that the sun nev­er hits; his cold, gray, uninvit­ing din­ner with float­ing gris­tle and mos­qui­toes breed­ing on top; his dusty coat­tails and huge emp­ty din­ing room table. I think the not-so-sub­tle puns found in the neigh­bors’ last names (which a four-year-old had to point out to me) are bril­liant.

And the sto­ry itself! Sweet Rose, brave enough to ven­ture over to her neighbor’s house despite the neigh­bor­hood children’s sto­ries of Mr. Wintergarten’s mean and hor­ri­ble rep­u­ta­tion, his wolf-dog and salt­wa­ter croc­o­dile, his pen­chant for eat­ing chil­dren…. I love it all.

Except that last bit. “No one ever goes in there,” said Arthur, “in case Mr. Win­ter­garten eats peo­ple.” I hate that. And it func­tions almost like a spell in the sto­ry, because as soon as Arthur deliv­ers this worst-of-the-worse news, Rose’s ball goes over Mr. Wintergarten’s fence.

For a long time, I just left off the incaseMr.Wintergarteneatspeople part of what Arthur says. I thought it suf­fi­cient­ly excit­ing for my wee sto­ry-lis­ten­ers that nobody ever went in there…(drumroll!)…and now Rose would go in there. It was but a small change—a tiny omis­sion, I rea­soned. It’s not like I total­ly changed the sto­ry.

Rose Meets Mr. WintergreenWhen Rose goes to ask her moth­er what to do and her moth­er sug­gests, like all good hip­pie-moth­ers, that she sim­ply go ask Mr. Win­ter­garten to give her ball back, Rose says she can’t  “Because he eats kids.” To which her no-non­sense hip­pie-moth­er says, “We’ll take him some cook­ies instead.”

Again, the can­ni­bal­is­tic innu­en­do was just too much for me. I’d look at those sweet lit­tle faces, rapt in the sto­ry I was read­ing them…and it was just eas­i­est to have Rose remain silent when her moth­er asks why she doesn’t just go make the prop­er inquiry. Then all I had to do was leave off the word “instead” when her moth­er sug­gests the cook­ie idea. The book taught hos­pi­tal­i­ty among neighbors—excellent!

I read it like this for years. I didn’t feel bad about it at all. I was pro­tect­ing the chil­dren! And then one day, amongst the crowd of chil­dren at my feet, there was a read­er.

Hey!” he said. “You skipped a line.”

I did?” I said.

The boy stood and approached. “Yeah, right here. “No one ever goes in there,” said Arthur, “in case Mr. Win­ter­garten eats peo­ple.” He under­lined the words with his index fin­ger. I feigned sur­prise upon see­ing them. I com­pli­ment­ed him on his astute read­ing skills.

Ner­vous­ly, I checked on the rest of the wee vul­ner­a­ble sto­ry­time chil­dren at my feet. They were look­ing up at me in what I can only describe as thor­ough­ly delight­ed hor­ror.

He EATS kids?” a lit­tle girl said.

For real?” said anoth­er.

Rose Meets Mr. WintergartenProb­a­bly not,” said the read­ing child. “They prob­a­bly just think he eats kids.”

Oh….” Big eyes looked at me and the old­er, wis­er, more world­ly read­ing boy.

So when Rose’s Mom says they’ll take cook­ies, I, of course, put in the word “instead.”

That’s a good idea,” said a sweet lit­tle girl with dark curls. She nod­ded vig­or­ous­ly. “A real­ly good idea.”

Yeah,” said her lit­tle broth­er. “Every­one likes cook­ies.”

As you might guess, Rose’s brave over­tures earn her a new friend in Mr. Win­ter­garten. Turns out her old neigh­bor hadn’t even opened his drapes in years. Once he goes out­side and kicks Rose’s ball back over the fence—losing his slip­per in the process—he’s pret­ty much a new man. As are the chil­dren, who learn their reclu­sive neighbor’s rep­u­ta­tion might be a bit exag­ger­at­ed.

I’ve not omit­ted the can­ni­bal­is­tic lines since. I bite my tongue so I don’t soft­en them with a “Oh that’s just sil­ly, isn’t it?!” I just read it straight. Kids love this book—I think, much as it pains me to admit it, all the more so because of the pre­vi­ous­ly cen­sored lines. They can take it, I guess. Who knew?

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Worm Loves Worm

Worm Loves Wormfinal­ly had a chance to read one of my new favorite pic­ture books—Worm Loves Worm by J.J. Aus­tri­an, illus­trat­ed by Mike Curato—to a group of kids. It was Valentine’s Day—the kids were mak­ing valen­tines, learn­ing origa­mi, and lis­ten­ing to love sto­ries read by moi.

My mis­take was try­ing to call them away from the origa­mi and stick­ers and scraps by say­ing: Hey kids! Let’s read some love sto­ries!

A cou­ple of them looked up and made a face, but most ignored me. The adults came to my aid and tried to get every­one to cir­cle up, but the assur­ances that every­one could go back to their craft­ing did lit­tle to per­suade. They’re read­ers, but they’re also crafters. Unfair to make them choose, but I did. I announced grand­ly, “The first book is about worms….”

That got their atten­tion.

Worms?” they said.

I thought you said you were read­ing love sto­ries,” said one child (who will be a lawyer some day.)

Yes,” I said. “This is a love sto­ry. About worms.”

A few left their scraps and stick­ers and came over to see. I start­ed the sto­ry.

Worm loves Worm.

Let’s be mar­ried,” says Worm to Worm.

Yes!” answers Worm.

Let’s be mar­ried.” 

I didn’t know worms could get mar­ried!” said one child. More joined our cir­cle.

I turned the page. Worm and Worm’s friend Crick­et vol­un­teers to mar­ry them, because you have to have some­one to mar­ry you—“that’s how it’s always been done.”  

That’s How It’s Always Been Done is a major refrain in this book.

Now can we be mar­ried?” asks Worm.

But no, not yet. Bee­tle insists on a best bee­tle, and vol­un­teers him­self for the role. The Bees insist on being bride’s bees. And then there are the rings to consider—because, of course, “that’s how it’s always been done.”

It goes on and on—the usu­al trap­ping of a wed­ding, the ways “it’s always been done”—are trot­ted out as hur­dles, if not quite objec­tions. Patient­ly the worms adapt. Their friends see how things can be dif­fer­ent. They’ll wear the rings like belts, not hav­ing fin­gers. They’ll do The Worm at the dance, not hav­ing feet to dance with. Their friend Spi­der will attach the hat and flow­ers with sticky web and eat the cake “along with Crick­et and Bee­tle,” since worms do not eat cake.

Now, the adults in the room under­stood the sto­ry as a clever way to turn the same-gen­der vs. dif­fer­ent-gen­der mar­riage debate upside down. They were delight­ed. These are par­ents who have raised their kids to sup­port mar­riage for all—indeed, some of the kids in my audi­ence are being raised in a fam­i­ly with two moms/dads.

The kids under­stood the more sub­tle mes­sage behind the sto­ry, though. It’s about change. It’s about learn­ing to see past How It’s Always Been Done. They didn’t even blink when one worm wore a veil and tux and the oth­er wore a dress and top hat. This is how kids play dress up, after all. Details do not stymie chil­dren the way they do adults.

Worm Loves Worm0797

The end­ing to this book is hap­py. When Crick­et objects that “That isn’t how it’s always been done.” Worm says, “Then we’ll just change how it’s done.” The oth­er worm said, “Yes.”

And the chil­dren said, “Yes.” And then they went back to their Valen­tines.

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A Walk in the Woods

I tend to win things. Not always, of course…but if there’s an “enter to win” offer that shows up on Face­book and I don’t mind the spon­sor­ing par­ty hav­ing my email or mail­ing address (usu­al­ly they already do), I enter. I’ve won con­cert and play tick­ets, music, din­ner, and books this way. I think maybe not many oth­er peo­ple enter. Or I’m extra­or­di­nar­i­ly lucky. Per­haps I should buy lot­tery tick­ets?

Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the WoodsThe lat­est thing I won was two copies of Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods plus two movie tick­ets (it was a pro­mo for the movie); though now that I think about it, I nev­er received the movie tick­ets. Doesn’t mat­ter. Two copies of the book arrived at my house from Pen­guin Ran­dom House as soon as I gave them my address; which I might add, they already had.

A few weeks lat­er I threw one of the copies in a care-pack­age head­ed to #1 Son at col­lege. He’s at an engi­neer­ing school and I’m just so afraid he’ll for­get to read what with all the math and sci­ence. (This real­ly isn’t like­ly, but I have to wor­ry about some­thing.) He’s in a hyper-woodsy-out­doorsy loca­tion and had recent­ly announced an inter­est in doing some longer hikes.

Me: How long?

#1 Son: A long trail, maybe….

Me: Like the Pacif­ic Crest Trail or the Appalachi­an Trail? That kind of long?

#1 Son: Yeah, maybe….

Me: By your­self? I texted back as relaxed as I could.
Notice there’s no excla­ma­tion point after the ques­tion mark—that means I was [fak­ing] relaxed.)

#1 Son: Yeah, that’d be cool….

So there’s some­thing else for me to wor­ry about. But I try to alter­nate that wor­ry­ing with my wor­ries about the snow shel­ters he’s now into build­ing. (They’re engi­neer­ing stu­dents—this means they have all the yearn­ings and yet not all the skills to build things safe­ly. Ven­ti­la­tion, for instance—that’s my wor­ry this week. When you fac­tor in the still devel­op­ing pre-frontal cor­tex of these lit­tle boys, I mean, young men…well, like I said, I have to wor­ry about some­thing.)

ANYWAY…a week or so after I sent the book, I asked if he’d read it. He said he’d start­ed it but had to put it down because of finals. “I can tell it would be dis­tract­ing,” he said. And what’s a moth­er to say to that? So he packed it and brought it home for win­ter break—it’s a well-trav­eled book at this point. He curled up in the red read­ing chair in the liv­ing room his first full day home and pret­ty much only put it down to eat. He read and laughed and kept say­ing “You have to read this!” to any of us who passed through the liv­ing room.

So here we are a month lat­er and I still haven’t read it. (Still intend to.) But #1 Daugh­ter picked it up as soon as her broth­er left. She also lounged about in the red read­ing chair and gig­gled through the whole thing. “You have to read this!” she said when­ev­er her father and I walked into the liv­ing room.

This marks a mile­stone of some sort in our fam­i­ly. We have read so many books togeth­er, and our eldest has hand­ed down books he loved to his sis­ter over the years, but they were books I’d read (and pur­chased for him). This is the first time, I do believe, that both of them have devoured a book (an adult book at that) and nei­ther of their par­ents have got­ten to it yet. They laugh and joke and talk about it and just keep repeat­ing: You have to read it!

It’s com­ing up in the pile. In fact, I might just start it tonight….

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Bambi

by Melanie Heuis­er Hill

gr_rrb_header

BambiWhen I was 16, my aunt gave birth to twin boys. We did not see them near­ly often enough as they were grow­ing up (we were sep­a­rat­ed by sev­er­al states), but the mem­o­ries I have of those boys when they were lit­tle are clear in a way they are not with regard to my oth­er cousins. (I’m the old­est of many cousins on that side—there were lit­tle kids every­where for a few years.)

I remem­ber spoon­ing baby food into their lit­tle mouths—two-handed, hard­ly able to keep up. I remem­ber catch­ing them as they jumped off the div­ing board, and how hard they held onto my neck as we swam to the side. I remem­ber their lit­tle boy ener­gy (x2!) as they ran the cir­cle between the liv­ing room, din­ing room, kitchen, and front hall in my grand­par­ents’ house.

And I remem­ber read­ing Bam­bi to them as if it was yes­ter­day. The boys were almost three, I believe. We’d had a big day and they were final­ly bathed, in their paja­mas, and it was time to set­tle-down for the night. I asked them to pick a book we could read togeth­er. They brought me Disney’s Bam­bi, a book that was almost as big as they were—they had to take turns lug­ging it across the room. Togeth­er they heaved it onto my lap, then climbed up on the couch and sank in beside me, one on each side.

I opened the over-sized book and start­ed read­ing. They were imme­di­ate­ly absorbed, each of them lean­ing into me…breathing deeply…settling down, as was the goal. I snug­gled down between the two sham­poo smelling dar­lings, bliss­ful­ly hap­py….

I don’t know how, but I total­ly for­got Bambi’s mom dies. I turned the page and there she was in the upper left-hand cor­ner, sprawled on her side, blood in the snow. I quick­ly adjust­ed my grip on the book, plac­ing my hand over her body. I felt a flash of anger. Seri­ous­ly? We had to cov­er mater­nal death before they were three?! I smooth­ly adjust­ed the words, leav­ing things a bit vague as to where Bambi’s moth­er went….

But the boys knew the sto­ry. They sat up. One moved my hand off of Bambi’s life­less moth­er, and the oth­er said, “Why did Bambi’s Mama die?”

I will nev­er for­get those sweet lit­tle faces look­ing up at me, anguished curios­i­ty pooled in their big eyes. My heart broke right there and I start­ed to cry. What could I say? Just the facts? A hunter shot her. It’s The Dis­ney Way? The moth­ers always die. The truth? Some­times hor­ri­ble things hap­pen….

I don’t know what I offered as expla­na­tion. I remem­ber that they stood on the couch and bounced, prob­a­bly try­ing to make me laugh instead of sob all over their book. Even­tu­al­ly, I pulled it togeth­er and we sank back into our cozy read­ing posi­tion to fin­ish the grand saga of Bam­bi. As I read, one of them kept his hand on my arm, his lit­tle fin­gers ris­ing and falling in a sooth­ing pat.

One of those boys—the patter—became a father last Decem­ber. The oth­er became a father ear­li­er this week. This is astound­ing to me. I look at the pic­tures of these grown men (they’re THIRTY now!) hold­ing their wee babies and all I see are the faces of those sweet lit­tle boys—their imp­ish grins, their big eyes full of love and ques­tions, their pride and won­der at all that life holds…. The razor stub­ble doesn’t fool me at all—time just moves in weird ways, I guess. The babies now have babies.

They will be won­der­ful fathers, I’ve no doubt. I wish for them so many things, but espe­cial­ly the joy of read­ing to their kids as they grow. It’s been a favorite part of par­ent­ing for me. And it’s my favorite mem­o­ry of being their cousin, too.

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Red Reading Boots: Lucia Morning in Sweden

ph_lussekatterbunThis week is full of prepa­ra­tions at our house. Lucia Day comes on Sun­day and our household’s Lucia wish­es to make the Lussekat­ter buns this year. I’ve learned not to stand in her way—she can­not be deterred.

The mag­ic of St. Lucia was intro­duced to our fam­i­ly four­teen years ago. It was a dif­fi­cult Decem­ber for us and our dark days were in need of some light and love, which was pro­vid­ed by some dear friends who arrived on our doorstep in the very ear­ly morn­ing, wak­ing us with song, can­dle­light, and a scrump­tious Swedish break­fast feast. It’s one of the kind­est gifts of friend­ship I’ve ever received. We knew noth­ing about Lucia pri­or to that mag­i­cal morn­ing, but our friends sat and told her sto­ries and their sto­ries of cel­e­brat­ing Lucia with their kids when they were small.

By the next Christ­mas we had a rosy-cheeked blue-eyed baby girl who looked like she’d be a blondie if she ever got hair. (She’s one-quar­ter Swedish, to boot!) And it came to pass. She’s thir­teen now, and has a full head of still-blonde hair. She’s been Lucy on Decem­ber 13th for the last ten years. She takes very seri­ous­ly the bring­ing of  light and song and Lucy cook­ies and treats to her fam­i­ly and friends.

When she was in sec­ond grade, her school did a unit on all the fes­ti­vals of light that occur in and around December—Hanukkah, Diwali, Kwan­zaa etc. and my girl vol­un­teered me to come teach about Lucia.

bk_Lucia

writ­ten by Ewa Rydåk­er,
illus. by Cari­na Ståhlberg

So I did a lit­tle research, wrote new Eng­lish words to the tra­di­tion­al Swedish song, bought a lot of Annas Swedish Wish Cook­ies, and went to my local Swedish Insti­tute (we have such things in Min­neso­ta) to see if there was a book I might read. Lucia Morn­ing in Swe­den by Ewa Rydåk­er fit the bill.

Class after class was rapt as the sto­ry of one mod­ern Swedish family’s Lucia Day prepa­ra­tions was read. The kids loved it. They sang the song lusti­ly, ate their cook­ies and made their wish­es (one for them­selves and one for some­one else, in homage to Lucia who brought light and love to oth­ers), and asked many many ques­tions of Lucia’s death, saint­hood, and her many Decem­ber cel­e­bra­tions around the world. They were utter­ly fas­ci­nat­ed with the crown of can­dles and only the lice epi­dem­ic the school was expe­ri­enc­ing that year (there’s always some­thing) pre­vent­ed us from hav­ing each and every child try the crown on.

gr_luciaIn research­ing the his­to­ry and sur­round­ing myths of Lucia, I learned that Swe­den is not the only coun­try to claim Lucy. There’s an Ital­ian part of the story—which led me to announce that some Lucias have blonde hair, blue eyes, and pale skin, while oth­er have black hair, dark eyes, and brown skin. Sud­den­ly the entire sec­ond grade felt free to be Lucia or one of her star boys.

Six years lat­er, I still occa­sion­al­ly run into a teenag­er who says, “Hey—you brought us those wish cook­ies and taught us about Lucia when we were lit­tle! I loved that book!”

The mem­o­ry of tak­ing the St. Lucia cel­e­bra­tion to the sec­ond grade warms my heart each year in Decem­ber. My own Lucy needs lit­tle help with prepa­ra­tions any more. Indeed, she told me she’d be my alarm clock this year and bring me lussekat­ter and cof­fee in bed on Sun­day.

This leads me to think my work here is about done.

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Red Reading Boots: The Tapper Twins

by Melanie Heuis­er Hill

I’m gen­er­al­ly a read­er of “tra­di­tion­al nov­els,” by which I mean nov­els that have chap­ters with titles, para­graphs with gram­mat­i­cal­ly cor­rect sen­tences, and per­haps the occa­sion­al com­ple­men­tary art under the chap­ter num­ber. I’m inten­tion­al about expand­ing my hori­zons and read­ing graph­ic nov­els, hybrids, and the like…but I still have to be inten­tion­al about it, I’m afraid. What can I say? I’m a suck­er for the com­fort­able, tra­di­tion­al for­mat, even as I’m often wowed by the untra­di­tion­al.

book_1_smallThe Tap­per Twins Go To War (With Each Oth­er) came across my radar and was accom­pa­nied by pos­i­tive reviews from peo­ple I respect a great deal, so I request­ed it at my friend­ly local library. It came. I stood in the library, flip­ping through, shocked at what I saw.

I must have the wrong book, I thought. It was the only expla­na­tion I could think of. So I looked up the rec­om­men­da­tion again. I had the right book.

I hand­ed it to my thir­teen-year-old daugh­ter, who is much more…open. And I lis­tened to her laugh in her room that evening while she read it. The next day, she hand­ed it to me and said, “Must read, Mom!”

Real­ly?”

You’ll love it. Besides, it’s a New York Book.”

I love New York Books.

The sto­ry of Clau­dia and Reese Tap­per, twelve-year-old twins, and their war is told as an “oral his­to­ry.” It looks much like a screen play in many places. (Geoff Rod­key is, in fact, a screen­writer.) But it also includes com­put­er screen­shots, gam­ing dig­i­tal art, text mes­sages between the par­ents, and doc­tored pho­tos. There are hand­writ­ten “edits and addi­tions,” lots of arrows drawn with these edits and addi­tions, and many ref­er­ences to Wikipedia-told his­to­ry. It is, in short…well, quite dif­fer­ent than my usu­al tra­di­tion­al nov­els.

bk_tappertwins1Then I read it. And I laughed out loud. In my office, all by myself. Laughed and laughed. Loved it. I’ve spent quite a bit of time around mid­dle school­ers in recent years and Clau­dia and Reese and their friends beau­ti­ful­ly cap­ture the diver­si­ty of matu­ri­ty, zani­ness, and crazy ener­gy of this age group. Clau­dia is a pulled-togeth­er, bossy, know-it-all who is thor­ough­ly exas­per­at­ed by her twin broth­er. Reese is such a twelve-year-old boy, and there­fore sort of bewil­dered by his sis­ter. Their friends are vari­a­tions on sim­i­lar themes. The dia­logue is spot on, the esca­la­tion of the con­flict true to form, and the rela­tion­ship between sib­lings, friends, and the mid­dle school as a whole is pret­ty per­fect­ly depict­ed. Through com­put­er screen­shots, gam­ing art, text mes­sages, doc­tored phots…..

Clau­dia inter­views the com­bat­ants and serves as the pri­ma­ry nar­ra­tor of the sto­ry of the war, which starts as a series of pranks and esca­lates to seri­ous (though not fright­en­ing) pro­por­tions. She includes the tes­ti­mo­ny of her clue­less par­ents (hilar­i­ous all on their own), the inept nan­ny, the allies, bystanders, and ene­mies. She is the one who draws the arrows and makes the cor­rec­tions and addi­tions to everyone’s tes­ti­mo­ny.

book_2_smallThe rela­tion­ships are com­pli­cat­ed and the mis­un­der­stand­ings numer­ous. But the nov­el cir­cles back in a very good way—and there are some “teach­able moments,” actu­al­ly, if a par­en­t/teacher-type doesn’t ruin it by call­ing atten­tion to them. Kids can learn a lot about how things look from dif­fer­ent points of view, how social media can com­pli­cate things in ways you can’t pre­dict, and how embar­rass­ments can turn into more or less than that depend­ing on how we react to them. I’m glad my social media new­bie read it.

Pick­ing up my copy of The Tap­per Twins Tear Up New York tomor­row! I’m a fan!

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Keeping Track

img_RRBJournalI’ve not kept track. Not real­ly. I mean, I can peruse our many book­shelves and make a sort of list, but it would be miss­ing things. What about all the library books we’ve read togeth­er?

I was in a book dis­cus­sion ear­li­er this week with a woman who keeps A Read­ing Jour­nal. She writes as she reads—notes and quotes, ques­tions and lists, impres­sions and rec­om­men­da­tions, etc. She has, she con­fessed under my too eager ques­tion­ing, mul­ti­ple vol­umes of these jour­nals. I imag­ine them sit­ting with their straight spines and gild­ed pages all on one book­shelf. I am jealous—not envi­ous, but flat out jeal­ous. She insists their res­i­dence is not so neat, that the prac­tice is not that admirable. She says the note­books are not all the same, that some are falling apart, that she keeps them in mul­ti­ple places etc. She says this as if she’s real­ly not so orga­nized and dili­gent, but she doesn’t fool me. She’s been keep­ing A Read­ing Jour­nal since she was eleven.

I’ve always want­ed to keep A Read­ing Jour­nal. I’ve nev­er kept A Read­ing Jour­nal. Not so much, even, as a list of the things I’ve read. I can for­give myself for this, but I’m envi­ous of those who do man­age to jot down the titles, even if noth­ing else.

img_RRBAuthorHenkesHowever…on the heels of meet­ing this won­der­ful read­er, I read this inter­view. Because I would read any­thing hav­ing to do with Kevin Henkes, on whom I might have a small writer­ly-crush. (Some­times, when I have a rough day, I watch the Meet Kevin Henkes video on his web­site. It’s bet­ter than a glass of wine. I watch him draw Lilly…and my thoughts set­tle. I lis­ten to him talk about the col­ors of Lil­ly and Ginger’s dresses…and I feel like I can go on. He flips through his note­books show­ing us how his ideas become books…sigh…and I am inspired and ready to work. I’m eas­i­ly moved by the keep­ing of note­books, appar­ent­ly.)

I adore this man’s books—especially the mouse pic­ture books. When I think of this won­der­ful author-artist in his book-lined, light-filled stu­dio cre­at­ing books for us, my heart is glad. I think I vague­ly knew he had a fam­i­ly, though I nev­er gave them a thought until this inter­view. Here, I learn that he read to his kids at break­fast. “Which was a great thing,” he says in his Kevin Henkes way, “because I would read to both of them and my wife would be mak­ing the lunch­es so all four of us had this shared expe­ri­ence.”

img_RRBmouseWelcomeI sigh. He reads to kids at break­fast and his wife makes the lunch­es and they have a Shared Expe­ri­ence. Do they know how lucky they are? And then I think: I read to my kids at break­fast some! My hus­band wasn’t mak­ing the lunch­es while I was doing so, since he leaves before the rest of us are up, but we as a fam­i­ly have oth­er Shared Expe­ri­ences around books, yes we do! So, Kevin Henkes and I have some­thing in com­mon! There’s that!

Then I learn that they’ve kept a list in the back hall of all the books they read togeth­er, “120 and some books.”

My heart sinks. We do not have a back hall. I have not kept a list. I’m sure we’ve read 120-some books togeth­er, but I do not have a list in a back hall to prove it. I find myself won­der­ing how the list was kept in the back hall. I imag­ine Kevin Henkes’ chil­dren scrib­bling titles on the wall, his wife wall­pa­per­ing with book­cov­er pho­tos, him slip­ping small scraps of paper with titles in a chinked wall of rock. Can you have a back hall made of rocks?

I call myself back to real­i­ty. It doesn’t mat­ter how Kevin Henkes and his lucky fam­i­ly keep their list. It doesn’t even mat­ter that they’ve kept the list. Not real­ly. What mat­ters is the Shared Expe­ri­ence. I feel sure Kevin Henkes would agree with me. And my fam­i­ly and I have the Shared Expe­ri­ence of books read together—hundreds of books read togeth­er, espe­cial­ly if you count all the times we read Kevin Henkes’ mouse books.

img_RRBmouseFlowerThere’s a part of me that wants to recre­ate the list—find a wall some­where in the house (I’m quite tak­en with the “back hall” aspect of this) to scrib­ble all of the titles of books we’ve read togeth­er. But it wouldn’t be accurate—it’d be like mark­ing the kids’ heights as they grew on the kitchen door­frame now that they’ve grown. (Anoth­er nos­tal­gic record keep­ing I wish I’d done.)

So I will kvell in the Shared Experience—I’m so grate­ful for all the time we’ve read togeth­er, whether I have a list in the back hall or in a jour­nal to show for it or not.

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Mouse and Bear Books

by Melanie Heuis­er Hill

RRB_SnifflesBearWhen I plan a sto­ry­time, I always plan for the kid­dos first and fore­most. But I do like to give a nod to the grownups who have brought them when I can—something they’ll “get” at a dif­fer­ent lev­el than the kids, a trea­sure they might remem­ber from their own child­hood, a book that will make them smile or laugh.

The Mouse and Bear Books by Bon­ny Beck­er, illus­trat­ed by Kady Mac­Don­ald Den­ton, are always an inspired fit. The chil­dren adore these books and the adults can have their entire day turned around when we read one of these. They might come in sweaty and grumpy from try­ing to get every­one out the door, but they’ll leave lighter and with a smile. I’m always con­fi­dent it will be a won­der­ful sto­ry time if I include one or more (it’s hard to stop with just one) in the series. They are reg­u­lars in my rotation—they re-read very well.

RRB_LibraryBearMy favorite might be The Snif­fles for Bear. Then again, it might be A Library Book for Bear. Or the first one, per­haps,  A Vis­i­tor for Bear. Who am I kidding—they are all ter­rif­ic. The read­er must be pre­pared with these books—a monot­o­ne read will not do. The per­son­al­i­ties of mouse and bear are much too won­der­ful for that. No, the read­er must be ready to act—overact, in fact, in the case of Bear, espe­cial­ly.

There is not a mis­placed word in any of these books—each one is pre­cise­ly placed, flows effort­less­ly when read aloud, and paints with words the exact pic­ture that Kady Mac­Don­ald Den­ton has gor­geous­ly paint­ed with paint.

The dia­logue is per­fect for these two friends so oppo­site, and yet so alike some­how. Bear, in par­tic­u­lar, speaks as if he walked out of a Jane Austen nov­el, which con­tributes to much of the humor: I am quite ill—I grow weak­er by the moment…. he says in The Snif­fles for Bear. (“What he has,” one of the delight­ed grand­moth­ers in a recent sto­ry­time said, “is a man-cold.”)

But mouse is not to be out­done: Per­haps we could have just a spot of tea, he says when he meets his friend in A Vis­i­tor for Bear.

I am undone….Bear says after being unable to show Mouse the door.

RRB_VisitorBearThese char­ac­ters are so delight­ful, so true, and so much fun. I’ve nev­er read one of these books with­out the room’s ener­gy chang­ing to a won­der­ful hum and laugh­ter rul­ing the day. I do not know if more Bear and Mouse books are planned, but I cer­tain­ly hope so. They’ve won a ton of awards, but that doesn’t always mean a book is right for sto­ry time; in my expe­ri­ence, though, the acclaimed Mouse and Bear books make that dou­ble play every sin­gle time.

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The Berenstain Bears

RRB_BearsLast night, I was remind­ed of our family’s love of The Beren­stain Bears books. (Hap­py Sigh.) Before I go any fur­ther in my homage, please understand—I’m not claim­ing these books are stel­lar lit­er­a­ture. I’m just say­ing that we read a lot of Beren­stain Bear books at our house once upon a time, and we loved, loved, loved them. And the we includes me. Absolute­ly. Yes, I know they are for­mu­la­ic, preachy, and moral­is­tic. Obvi­ous­ly, they flaunt fla­grant gen­der stereo­types. And nor­mal­ly, I steered clear of such books for my young impres­sion­able readers…but good­ness, we loved those Beren­stain Bears!

My daughter’s piano teacher remind­ed us of them—she, too, adored the books. We’ve been reor­ga­niz­ing clos­ets and rooms late­ly and she com­ment­ed how much The Beren­stain Bears and the Messy Room informed her own (now adult) need for orga­ni­za­tion and tidi­ness. Instant­ly, we all remem­bered how won­der­ful the peg­board Papa Bear made was, and how sat­is­fy­ing and inspir­ing the neat­ly labeled and stacked box­es full of Broth­er and Sis­ter Bear’s trea­sures were.

RRB_BearsRoomWe con­tin­ued our love fest, remem­ber­ing togeth­er oth­er impor­tant books in the series—the mile­stones and tran­si­tions books, the anx­i­ety-address­ing books, the healthy habits series, and the behav­ior mod­i­fi­ca­tion titles—we loved them all! The list of titles is long. (I was amazed how long.) We didn’t have near­ly as many as there are, but we had a lot—purchased for pit­tance at garage sales, inher­it­ed from old­er friends, res­cued from the trash bin at the library…. And I must’ve passed them on, because in the recent reshuf­fling of the book­shelves not a Beren­stain Bear book was to be found.

But the lessons remain: kind­ness and grat­i­tude are impor­tant, too much junk food or TV is just too much, tak­ing the time to do things right yields bet­ter results, and new sit­u­a­tions are less daunt­ing when we know some­thing of what to expect. We nev­er watched the TV shows or bought any of the mer­chan­dise etc., but I’d say Beren­stain Bears were a sig­nif­i­cant part of our kid­dos’ child­hood. And I am not ashamed.

Are there books you read with kids (or have read with them) that you’re just a little…shy about admit­ting to? Books you found in the check-out lane at the gro­cery store, in a bin of dreck at the library, or for week after week in your kid’s back­pack? You know the ones I’m talk­ing about.

Now, how many of those did you secret­ly love? How many did your kids adore? Did you have a ____________ stage in your household’s read­ing? ‘Fess up! I’ve led the way—WE LOVE (present tense!) THE BERENSTAIN BEARS!

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Brambly Hedge

by Melanie Heuis­er Hill

bk_BramblyStripWhen they were lit­tle, both of our kids had a fas­ci­na­tion with anthro­po­mor­phic mice. One actu­al­ly had a set of imag­i­nary mice friends who pre­ced­ed us into anx­i­ety pro­duc­ing sit­u­a­tions, of which there are many when you are a small child. These benev­o­lent mice (who had names, spe­cif­ic jobs, and amaz­ing vehi­cles of trans­porta­tion) went ahead and checked out wed­dings, Mom­my-and-Me music class, doctor’s offices, camp­sites, kinder­garten, etc. They pro­vid­ed infor­ma­tion as to what to expect and sit­u­a­tions to watch out for. Amaz­ing­ly (and for­tu­nate­ly), they always gave favor­able courage-pro­vid­ing reports. They were an impor­tant part of our life for sev­er­al years.

As I look back, it feels like a chick­en-or-egg sit­u­a­tion. Did the love of mice come first, or did the Bram­bly Hedge books spark that love?

Do you know the Bram­bly Hedge books? They’ve been around for quite a while. I actu­al­ly found the first ones at Tar­get, which seems all wrong as they would more right­ly be found in a tiny book­shop that serves tea and is full of nooks and cran­nies, wild­flow­ers and gor­geous books, some­where in the British coun­try­side. But I’m glad Tar­get car­ried them when my kids were small—chancing upon one enlivened an oth­er­wise unin­spir­ing trip for dia­pers and toi­let paper etc. We have an almost com­plete set of the books. (I found out about the miss­ing ones just now when I searched on-line—that will be rec­ti­fied short­ly.). And I see that you can buy all the sto­ries in one vol­ume today. Which I might. For my (very) future grand­chil­dren, you know.

As orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished, the books are small. They are easy to find on the book­shelf because no oth­er books are their par­tic­u­lar size and shape. Jill Barklem’s art is so astound­ing­ly detailed that it would seem they could have made them over­sized, but they are not. If any­thing, they are under­sized, and that seems just right. Lends to the cozi­ness of the books.

And these books are COZY, let me tell you. Even the names of the rodent heros and hero­ines there­in are cozy: Mrs. Crusty­bread, Dusty Dog­wood, Old Mrs. Eye­bright, Pop­py Eye­bright, Basil Bright­ber­ry, Mr. and Mrs. Toad­flax, Prim­rose Wood­mouse…. They are the sweet­est char­ac­ters you can imag­ine and their adven­tures in Bram­bly Hedge are excit­ing (in a calm and pur­pose­ful way) as they scur­ry around the com­mu­ni­ty through secret pas­sage­ways, tun­nels, and amaz­ing rooms.

I love the quo­tid­i­an details and so did the kids—the pic­nics packed, the sur­prise cel­e­bra­tions, the sea­son­al food prepa­ra­tions! The research Barklem did is obvious—she didn’t just dream up the flour mill that grinds the flour for the mice’s bread; the mill is a part of Britain’s agri­cul­tur­al his­to­ry. The Bram­bly Hedge mice are a resource­ful bunch. They use wind and water­pow­er, know how to “make-do” with what is avail­able, pre­serve and fix things, and they cel­e­brate the many turn­ing points of life with delight­ful par­ties. These mice are self-suf­fi­cient, kind, and cre­ative. Their sto­ries are heart-warm­ing and the details of their dai­ly lives are inter­est­ing in ways that you don’t often find in books for small chil­dren. Through­out the sto­ries there’s an empha­sis on self-suf­fi­cien­cy, courage, and the tend­ing and nur­tur­ing one’s com­mu­ni­ty. These are beau­ti­ful things to put before a child, I think.

When I pulled these well-loved books off the book­shelf this morn­ing, I lost myself in them for a bit. I then had the over­whelm­ing urge to make a pie, tidy the gar­den, and sweep the porch so as to have a neigh­bor over for a cel­e­bra­tion of some kind that we would just…create! Per­haps I should read a Bram­bly Hedge book once a day. Alas, they are unde­ni­ably bet­ter with a small per­son on your lap, and those are in short sup­ply around our house these days. So I com­mend them to you: find a wee one, find the friends of Bram­bly Hedge, brew a prop­er cup of tea, and enjoy! You will not be dis­ap­point­ed.

 

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Enola Holmes Mysteries

by Melanie Heuis­er Hill

bk_EnolaStripThe summer’s road­trip is behind us—a won­der­ful vaca­tion had by all. We were in two cars this year due to dif­fer­ent des­ti­na­tions at the start, but we met up for the sec­ond half of the week.

The car my daugh­ter and I drove was equipped with sev­er­al audio­books. The boys neglect­ed this detail, prob­a­bly because they were pack­ing for sur­vival in the wilder­ness. I have no idea what they lis­tened to while in the car—each oth­er, pod­casts, music etc., I guess. We asked the ques­tion, but hard­ly lis­tened, I’m afraid, so eager were we to fill them in on what we had lis­tened to….

…which was a trio of glo­ri­ous Eno­la Holmes mys­ter­ies! We’d all lis­tened to the first, The Case of the Miss­ing Mar­quess, a sum­mer or two ago. The kids are huge Sher­lock fans, and so these mys­ter­ies fea­tur­ing a much younger sis­ter of that famous detec­tive were a no brain­er for a long trip that took us into the moun­tains. We agreed after that first book that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s got nuthin’ on Nan­cy Springer. And now that some of us have lis­tened to a cou­ple more books of Springer’s series—well, let’s say this: Stand Down, Sher­lock. Eno­la Can Do It All—And In a Corset!

Eno­la Holmes (please notice what her first name spells back­wards) is but four­teen years old and liv­ing on her own, hav­ing run away from her broth­ers, Sher­lock and Mycroft, after her moth­er ran off on Enola’s four­teenth birth­day. And she’s get­ting along quite well, thank you, with­out her bril­liant (yet ter­ri­bly chauvinistic/misogynistic) broth­ers. In each book, Eno­la is solv­ing a mystery—even over­lap­ping with Sher­lock in some cases—and elud­ing vil­lains, scal­ly­wags, and her broth­ers as the needs arise.

The his­toric detail is fascinating—especially the detail on the sub­ject of corsets and oth­er “unmen­tion­ables.” The corset becomes a sym­bol of all that Eno­la (and her moth­er, for that mat­ter) rejects—namely, the myr­i­ad of con­fines that Vic­to­ri­an soci­ety placed on women. But she wears one! Not just any corset, of course. Her scrawny four­teen year old body doesn’t need the “sup­port,” and she flat-out rejects the not-unlike-foot-bind­ing pur­pos­es of ear­ly corset wear­ing (these details are har­row­ing). But as a vehicle—yes, you read right—for her many dis­guis­es and tools, her very indi­vid­u­al­ly designed corset is an impor­tant part of how she makes her way in Lon­don as a detec­tive instead of a run­away four­teen year old girl. Enola’s corset offers phys­i­cal pro­tec­tion and storage—in it she car­ries a dag­ger, var­i­ous dis­guis­es, mon­ey, clues, ban­dages, food and supplies—while allow­ing her to change her shape as need­ed. Her dis­guis­es are as var­ied as the fas­ci­nat­ing char­ac­ters she meets.

Eno­la is feisty and out­spo­ken, wicked smart and wise beyond her years. The mys­ter­ies she solves are full of intrigue, puz­zles, and curi­ous clues. And the audio­books are per­formed by none oth­er than Kather­ine Kell­gren, one of our very favorite read­ers. These sto­ries are won­der­ful in black and white on the page, but Kell­gren brings them to life! As she does in read­ing the Bloody Jack series, each char­ac­ter receives their own voice. If you read about Kellgren’s prepa­ra­tion you’ll see that she works with dialect coach—I dare say that Pro­fes­sor Hen­ry Hig­gins would be able to place each char­ac­ter on the very street on which they were born.

Although the mys­ter­ies do not have to be read in order, it’s good to read The Case of the Miss­ing Mar­quess first because it sets up the ungird­ing mys­tery of Enola’s moth­er. Each mys­tery ref­er­ences pre­vi­ous ones and as we end come clos­er to the end of the series (I hope more are being writ­ten!) that seems to be impor­tant, as well.

Read them, lis­ten to them—they’re delight­ful either way. These receive a hardy rec­om­men­da­tion from our house to yours as beau­ti­ful­ly span­ning a sig­nif­i­cant sib­ling age-range in the car. You can’t help but fall into the sto­ry. We only made it half-way through the third mys­tery before we were home, but we’ll start again with our boys on our upcom­ing road trip. What were we think­ing lis­ten­ing to such great books with­out them?

 

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In God’s Hands

by Melanie Heuis­er Hill

In God's HandsThis week, I am read­ing (for the umpteenth time) what I think of as The Very Most Favorite Book of the chil­dren in my church. They call it That Book About Bread. The book is In God’s Hands by Lawrence Kush­n­er and Gary Schmidt and it res­onates deeply with these kids.

I know how it will go. I’ll pull it out of my bag and a gen­er­al clam­or and harangue will go up.

YAY!” 

I LOVE THAT BOOK!

Me, too!”

You haven’t read that book in a long time!” (Deliv­ered with a pouty face.)

You should read That Book About Bread EVERY week.”

Now, this is a very well-read group of kids—they are a ter­rif­ic sto­ry­time audi­ence. But they do not say these things about every book. Some books I pull out (espe­cial­ly if they are books “about God”) illic­it these respons­es:

You already read that one.” (Pouty face.)

Aahhh…not that one!”

Are you just read­ing that one first and then a bet­ter one next?”

Can you read That Book About Bread?”

Yeah! Read That Book About Bread!”

In God’s Hands begins like this:

When the sun sets and stars fill the sky, the square in the lit­tle town grows qui­et and still. The cool air of dis­tant hills min­gles with the sweet scent of bak­ing bread. The moon ris­es and glows soft­ly. It’s the sort of place where mir­a­cles could hap­pen.

The chil­dren grow qui­et and still as I read. You can prac­ti­cal­ly see them inhale the sweet scent of bak­ing bread. They are ready to hear (again) about the mir­a­cle that hap­pens in this book. They love that it’s called a mir­a­cle, because what hap­pens in this book is a quo­tid­i­an mix-up–and the kids fig­ure it out before the char­ac­ters do. 

Jacob is a rich man, David is a poor man. Jacob, half asleep in syn­a­gogue ser­vice, hears God call him to bake twelve loaves of chal­lah and set them before The Lord in two rows, six in each row. (What he actu­al­ly hears is the day’s Torah read­ing from Leviti­cus.) Obe­di­ent­ly, Jacob does this—he bakes twelve beau­ti­ful braid­ed loaves and places them in the syn­a­gogue’s ark, where the holy Torah is kept, since that seems to be the clos­est place to God.

Soon after, David, the care­tak­er of the syn­a­gogue, comes before the ark and prays a prayer of qui­et des­per­a­tion. His fam­i­ly is hun­gry and they are out of food.

When I turn the page and David opens the ark to find twelve loaves of braid­ed chal­lah, the chil­dren all but cheer. They lis­ten in delight as the mir­a­cle con­tin­ues. Jacob, astound­ed that God has received his twelve loaves, con­tin­ues to bake; and David, his chil­dren ever hun­gry, con­tin­ues to receive with deep grat­i­tude the mirac­u­lous loaves that appear in the ark. Nei­ther man real­izes what is happening—they quite appro­pri­ate­ly call it a mir­a­cle. But the kids know what is going on, and they love it!

I love the mes­sage of this beau­ti­ful book—the wise rab­bi explains that God’s mir­a­cles often work like this. “Your hands are God’s hands,” he says. And now that David and Jacob know this, they will have to keep act­ing as they have—doing God’s work with their hands.

Read it again!” the kids say.

My copy is well-worn. I intend to read it until it falls apart. Then I’ll get a new one.

 

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Library Lion

by Melanie Heuis­er Hill

I recent­ly read about a series of get-to-know-you games to play with kids. One sug­gest­ed mak­ing a list of hard and fast rules that every­one could agree to—a series of sen­si­ble pro­hi­bi­tions, perhaps—and then tak­ing turns think­ing of the excep­tions to those rules.

RULE:  No run­ning in the hall­ways. EXCEPTION: Run if the build­ing is on fire.

RULE: Only qui­et voic­es in the library. EXCEPTION: Shout as loud as you can if there is an emer­gency.

Library Lion cover

by Michelle Knud­sen illus­tra­tions: Kevin Hawkes Can­dlewick, 2006

Vari­a­tions on these two rules appear in Library Lion, one of my favorite pic­ture books ever. And I wish I’d had this book when my two rule-fol­low­ers were little—it might’ve helped us play the game above.

I was quite smit­ten with Library Lion the first time I saw it. Some­thing about the cov­er evokes a nos­tal­gic feel­ing for me—the illus­tra­tions by Kevin Hawkes are done in a soft palate of acrylics and pen­cil. The gigan­tic lion calm­ly read­ing over the shoul­der of a young girl looks entire­ly plau­si­ble.

The sto­ry, too, some­how feels plau­si­ble. You don’t ques­tion it at all when you read on page one: “One day, a lion came to the library. He walked right past the cir­cu­la­tion desk and up into the stacks.”

I have made the mis­take, while read­ing to a group of chil­dren, of say­ing, “Can you believe it? A lion in the library!” They look at me with weari­ness, their faces clear­ly say­ing, “Hush up, Sto­ry Lady. Just keep read­ing.”

Only Mr. McBee ques­tions the pro­pri­ety of the lion. Not Miss Mer­ri­weath­er. (Could there be more per­fect names for {nos­tal­gi­cal­ly stereo­typ­i­cal} librar­i­ans? I think not.) Miss Mer­ri­weath­er is as calm as Mr. McBee is ner­vous. “‘Is he break­ing any rules?’” she asks. Mr. McBee, obvi­ous­ly famil­iar with the rules and their impor­tance, admits that the lion has not tres­passed in any way. “‘Then leave him be,’” says the unflap­pable Miss Mer­ri­weath­er.

Gor­geous spreads of the lion’s pres­ence and assis­tance in the library abound. He sniffs the card cat­a­log, rubs his head on the new book col­lec­tion, and joins sto­ry hour. Nobody quite knows what to do as “there weren’t any rules about lions in the library.”

When he lets out a small but star­tling RAAAHHRRRR! at the end of sto­ry hour, Miss Mer­ri­weath­er informs him of the library rule that cov­ers every­thing from too much talk­ing to roar­ing. “‘If you can­not be qui­et, you will have to leave,” she [says] in a stern voice. “Those are the rules!’”

Well, as we know—and as chil­dren must learn—there are times when it is entire­ly right to break the rules. And when that time comes in this book, the lion knows what to do. This time, his roar is much larg­er. I always have the kids read it with me—we raaahhrr as loud as we pos­si­bly can. As we work up to a prop­er vol­ume (they always have to be encour­aged), we take turns run­ning our fin­gers over the illus­trat­ed let­ters that blow the spec­ta­cles off Mr. McBee’s face.

RAAAHHHRRR!

Library Lion illustration

© 2006 Kevin Hawkes

I was so smit­ten with Library Lion when I first dis­cov­ered it that I was lit­tle ner­vous about read­ing it to a group of young chil­dren. What if they didn’t like it? What if it was too old-fash­ioned, implau­si­ble, too sweet? What if chil­dren today were some­how too jad­ed to prop­er­ly appre­ci­ate this gem of a book?!

I need not have wor­ried. This is one of those pic­ture books that sucks kids in right away. They become one of the chil­dren in Miss Merriweather’s library on page one. When the book fin­ish­es, they look around the bookstore/library/room as if they expect to see a lion pad in.

Michele Knud­sen and Kevin Hawkes are an inspired pair—this is a beau­ti­ful book and I love shar­ing it with kids. It’s a love­ly thing to go hoarse while roar­ing with chil­dren.

 

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Mother-Daughter Book Club

by Melanie Heuis­er Hill

Mother-Daughter coverIn a meta-move (we’re not usu­al­ly so cool), our moth­er-daugh­ter book club has start­ed the Moth­er-Daugh­ter Book Club series by Heather Vogel Fred­er­ick.  We read the first book last month and the sec­ond is sched­uled for our next meet­ing. I’m not sure we’ll be able to stop there. It was good we held them until the girls were the age of the girls in Frederick’s first books—the tim­ing is per­fect now.

The form­ing of the fic­tion­al moth­er-daugh­ter book club was dif­fer­ent than ours. The moth­ers in Frederick’s books pret­ty much coerced their girls into com­ing togeth­er in sixth grade to read Lit­tle Women. The series fol­lows the daugh­ters through their pre-teen and teen years as they read var­i­ous lit­er­ary clas­sics togeth­er with their mothers—not always hap­pi­ly, but always enter­tain­ing­ly. 

Our moth­er-daugh­ter book club start­ed when our girls were in sec­ond grade.  We start­ed with George Selden’s The Crick­et in Times Square. I sent the orig­i­nal inquiry/invitation. I sim­ply looked around my girl’s class­room and play­ground and sent an email to a few of the moth­ers I knew. Some of the girls were friends, some were not…yet. I don’t believe any were coerced into par­tic­i­pat­ing. If they were, at least they’ve stayed. And I’ve over­heard them claim they start­ed the book club, and we moth­ers were sim­ply allowed to come along for the ride. This revi­sion­ist his­to­ry is fine by me.

Cricket in Times Square coverToday, we are five moth­er-daugh­ter pairs and the girls are in sev­enth grade. I would guess we’ve read close to fifty books togeth­er. Frederick’s moth­er-daugh­ter book club focus­es on one clas­sic for months—sometimes a year. Ours reads one book every 4–6 weeks or so.  We take turns pick­ing books, moms gen­tly encour­ag­ing books the girls might not oth­er­wise find and devour on their own (no Har­ry Pot­ter books, Hunger Games, Diver­gent etc.), and girls insist­ing on books moms might not oth­er­wise have giv­en a chance. We’ve read sev­er­al that were pop­u­lar when the moth­ers were the daugh­ters’ age, which they find interesting/hysterical. We’ve had a cou­ple of author vis­its. We’ve even done some events that have noth­ing to do with books—we won a prize for our Brown-Paper-Pack­ages-Tied-Up-With-String cos­tumes at the Sound of Music Sing-a-long! 

Our daugh­ters are friends in that sus­tain­ing sort of way that makes it through (we hope) the some­times tumul­tuous mid­dle school years; which is to say there are no cliquey BFF’s in the group, but rather known-each-oth­er-for-quite-awhile friend­ships. The moth­ers are friends in that sus­tain­ing sort of way that comes when you raise your daugh­ters togeth­er. We are lis­ten­ing ears for one anoth­er, glad cel­e­bra­tors, co-com­mis­er­ates (clothes shop­ping with pre-teens—OY!), and con­fi­dants. The girls talk of con­tin­u­ing our book group through their high school years, and we moth­ers cross our fin­gers and say a lit­tle prayer this will be the case. It’s get­ting more and more dif­fi­cult to sched­ule our meetings—busy girls, busy moms, busy fam­i­lies. But we work hard to make it work when we can with­out stress­ing any­one out.

In short, it has been a tremen­dous thing in our lives, this moth­er-daugh­ter book club.  Read­ing about a moth­er-daugh­ter book club that is so dif­fer­ent from ours is a hoot. And in the hands of Heather Vogel Fred­er­ick, ado­les­cence is not only well drawn, but help­ful­ly drawn. The moth­ers and daugh­ters in her series go through many of the very same things we do, for there is noth­ing new under the sun with regard to ado­les­cence and the moth­er-daugh­ter relationship—just vari­a­tions on sim­i­lar themes. It’s good to read about oth­er lives that have touch points with yours—sparks great con­ver­sa­tion.

 

 

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The Magic Valentine's Potato

Big Bob and The Magic Valentine’s Day Potato

Sev­er­al years ago, a mys­te­ri­ous pack­age arrived at our house on Valentine’s Day: a plain brown box addressed to our entire fam­i­ly with a return address “TMVDP.” The pack­age weighed almost noth­ing. It weighed almost noth­ing because the box con­tained four lunch­box serv­ing-size bags of pota­to chips. Noth­ing else. Or at least I thought there […]

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The Quest for the Perfect Thanksgiving Book

Each Novem­ber I begin the search anew. I know what I’m look­ing for, and I real­ly don’t think it’s too much to ask of a pic­ture book: It must delve into the themes of gen­eros­i­ty, abun­dance, grat­i­tude. It should be beau­ti­ful. Com­pelling in its beau­ty, in fact. Ide­al­ly, I’d like it to cel­e­brate our bet­ter […]

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Winnie-the-Pooh

There are a lot of “chal­lenges” hap­pen­ing in the social media sphere these days—books, ice buck­ets, kind­ness, grat­i­tude, etc. All great things—perhaps one of the bet­ter uses for social media even, though it doesn’t quite beat out birth­day greet­ings and first-day-of-school pic­tures, in my book. Last week, a good friend and fel­low read­er “chal­lenged” me […]

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Just Like A Baby

I’m miss­ing a dear friend who died very sud­den­ly this past spring. Liz was old enough to be my moth­er and my kids’ grand­moth­er. She loved to give gifts and had an almost mag­i­cal way of doing so. Her taste in books for kids was exquis­ite and she always found the most per­fect, most unique […]

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On Flower Girls

A year ago this week­end, I had the hon­or of offi­ci­at­ing at the wed­ding of dear friends. They’d planned a grand celebration—organ and trum­pet, dra­mat­ic read­ings, fantab­u­lous atten­dants, fam­i­ly and friends, and not one but two flower girls. In my expe­ri­ence, flower girls and ring bear­ers increase the “chance ele­ment” in a wed­ding cer­e­mo­ny. I’m […]

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Kuplink, Kaplank, Kuplunk!

We missed straw­ber­ry pick­ing, and there­fore jam mak­ing, this year. We were in the moun­tains, a dandy excuse to be sure, but now we’re in a bit of a pick­le (no can­ning pun intend­ed). We have a strong home­made jam habit at our house, and last year’s boun­ty is dwin­dling. We’re try­ing to fig­ure out […]

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We Need Longer Picture Books, Too!

I’ve just read yet anoth­er arti­cle about the new length of pic­ture books. Some say pub­lish­ers won’t even con­sid­er pub­lish­ing a pic­ture book over five hun­dred words any­more. Oth­ers say they should be under three hun­dred words. Why? Inevitably, the short­er atten­tion spans of chil­dren are cit­ed some­where in the rea­son­ing. Rub­bish, I say! As […]

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Harry Potter

Har­ry Pot­ter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the first book in the Har­ry Pot­ter series, came out a few months after Child #1 was born. In my sleep-deprived stu­por, I didn’t notice for awhile; but it quick­ly became dif­fi­cult to be a cit­i­zen of the world and not know about Har­ry Pot­ter. Suf­fice to say, the […]

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This Vacation’s Audiobooks

Many have asked what our fam­i­ly lis­tened to on vaca­tion this year. We have recent­ly returned and I can now report back. We had a lot of hours in the car—Minnesota through the Black Hills and into the Tetons and up through Mon­tana etc. And back, of course. Good to have three dri­vers. Good to […]

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The Borrowers (audio book)

One of the first books we lis­tened to in the car was Mary Norton’s The Bor­row­ers. We had one child and he was very small. But he’d been well-trained on audio books. He fell asleep to The Vel­veteen Rab­bit (Meryl Streep and George Win­ston) or Win­nie-the-Pooh (The BBC ver­sion) every night. So we popped in […]

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Pulling Radishes, Thinking About Books

In the gar­den this week I am pulling radish­es. Weeds, too, and maybe that’s why I appre­ci­ate the small, crisp, spicy lit­tle radish­es. Pulling those rosy red globes out of the black dirt makes me think of one of my favorite books from child­hood: Mrs. Pig­­gle-Wig­­gle.  I have espe­cial­ly vivid mem­o­ries of my third grade […]

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Fevered Reading

Let me be very clear. I do not ever want my kids to be sick. We’ve had run-o-the-mill child­hood sick­ness and we’ve had seri­ous sickness—I don’t like either kind. I would wish only good health, hap­pi­ness, sun­shine, and lol­lipops for my chil­dren and the chil­dren of the world. And we are for­tu­nate and grate­ful to […]

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Touching the Reading Spot

About a year ago, I found myself at week­ly appoint­ments with a speech ther­a­pist who spe­cial­izes in func­tion­al breath­ing dif­fi­cul­ties. I was deal­ing with some breath­ing and voice issues and my aller­gy and asth­ma doc­tor thought I might ben­e­fit from “relearn­ing to breathe.” The process was fascinating—we worked on pos­ture, word lists, tongue place­ment, swal­low­ing, […]

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An Ode To Beeswax

Back in the days of small chil­dren and lit­tle mon­ey, I reg­u­lar­ly saved pen­nies for The Best Art Sup­plies that could be found. I’d read some­thing ter­ri­bly inspi­ra­tional about giv­ing your chil­dren real art sup­plies: gor­geous col­ors and tex­tures that would help them pro­duce fan­tas­tic works of art even if all they did was scrib­ble, […]

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The Privilege & Responsibility of Reading in Bed

The indomitable Gertrude Mueller Nel­son gave our fam­i­ly the rit­u­al of Birth­day Priv­i­leges & Respon­si­bil­i­ties. Each birth­day our kids receive a scroll of paper fes­tooned with rib­bons. Inside, in the fan­ci­est (and hard­est to read) script our print­er can man­age, we have cer­e­mo­ni­al lan­guage award­ing the birth­day child his/her next year’s Priv­i­lege & Respon­si­bil­i­ty. We start­ed […]

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The Miss Rumphius Challenge

Hen­ry was a reg­u­lar. He was in after­noon kinder­garten and he and his nan­ny had the morn­ings free to come to the sto­ry­time I did at the indie book­stores near his home. He was old­er than most of the oth­er kids—a very wise and eru­dite six years. His eyes were black and lumi­nous, his curls […]

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Seussical the Musical!

Dar­ling Daugh­ter has dis­cov­ered the stage. She is in her first musi­cal this spring and is hav­ing a ball. Nine­­ty-four mid­dle school­ers (with help from some won­der­ful teach­ers and staff, of course) are valiant­ly putting on Seussi­cal. I say valiant­ly because it is a big project. It’s real­ly a mini-opera—very few lines are not sung. […]

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Of Knitting and Books and Tattoos

I met her while knit­ting. She worked at the children’s book­store next to the yarn store I fre­quent. I was knit­ting with the usu­al group gath­ered around the table at the yarn store when she came in. “Cat!” my table­mates called out that day. (I’m embar­rassed to admit I don’t know if she spells it […]

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My Son’s First Book

Sev­en­teen years ago today, I became a moth­er. My water broke in the mid­dle of the night and I called my hus­band, who was work­ing the night shift, to come and get me. It was time. I was ready. More than ready. I had a bag packed with slip­pers and the new bathrobe my moth­er […]

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