31 October 2009

Trick or Treat, Smell My Feet, Give Me Something Good to Eat

Five Little Pumpkins (pictures by Dan Yaccarino)

Five little pumpkins sitting on a gate.
The first one says, "Oh my, it's getting late."
The second one says, "There are witches in the air."
The third one says, "But we don't care!"
The fourth one says, "Let's run and run and run!"
The fifth one says, "I'm ready for some fun."
Oooooooooo went the wind and out went the light.
And five little pumpkins rolled out of sight.

Five Ugly Monsters (by Tedd Arnold)

Five ugly monsters jumping on the bed.
One fell off and bumped its head.
Called for the doctor and the doctor said,
"No more monsters jumping on the bed!"
Four ugly monsters jumping on the bed.
One fell off and bumped its head.
Called for the doctor and the doctor said,
"No more monsters jumping on the bed!"
Three ugly monsters jumping on the bed.
One fell off and bumped its head.
Called for the doctor and the doctor said,
"No more monsters jumping on the bed!"
Two ugly monsters jumping on the bed.
One fell off and bumped its head.
Called for the doctor and the doctor said,
One ugly monster jumping on the bed.
He fell off and bumped his head.
Called for the doctor . . . and then I said . . .
The End

Isaac loves these Halloween rhymes. Hope you did too.

Happy Halloween.

22 October 2009

Lists, Lists and More Lists

A few weeks ago I borrowed a book from a colleague that is right up this blog's alley: What Stories Does My Son Need?: A guide to books and movies that build character in boys. Of course, the title caught my eye, as did the author, Michael Gurian, who wrote Minds of Boys, about which I have also blogged.

I brought it home to peruse and share with Matt, wanting to see how our reading and viewing habits measured up against Gurian's suggestions. I was curious to see what he would recommend. The book lists 100 books and 100 movies, divided into age appropriate categories, that boys and young men should read or watch before graduating high school. One thing to note, however, is that the edition I have is almost 10 years old (copyright date 2000, so assume the material is a year older than that). So, anything published or released in the last decade is not included, and a lot of good stuff has come out in that time.

We hit the Preschool/Kindergarten list two or three times each for books and movies. He recommends an interesting assortment of titles in both. I tend to disagree, though, with the age appropriateness of some of his suggestions. The fact that I take issue with age appropriateness is probably raising some eyebrows among people who have read my previous blogs. Here's an example though-- he recommends The Butter Battle Book for Isaac's age. Now, yes it is by Dr. Seuss, but many of Dr. Seuss' books are best shared with older kids. They are longer books which lose a 4 year-old's interest pretty quickly and some of them tackle some weighty issues. He also recommends It's a Wonderful Life for 1st through 3rd graders. I know adults who hate that movie; I don't think a 7 year-old would make it through it. And, while I like Animal Farm, I think I would suggest it to Isaac in high school, rather than middle school like Gurian recommends.

There are also titles that I think he nails as far as age appropriateness is concerned. Where the Wild Things Are and The Snowy Day make the preschool/kinder book list. Both are classics for that age. And Babe and The Iron Giant make the movie list for the same age. Isaac loves both of those movies. Harry Potter and Hatchet and Stand By Me are appropriately listed under Middle School books and movies. The high school list includes The Jungle, one of my favorites from high school English class, and Mississippi Burning, which I remember watching in a high school history class.

A lot of my angst about his age recommendations stems from an issue I have with the books and movies we push on our kids in general. High schoolers are pushed to read the classics, middle schoolers are reading books I read in high school, and elementary students are reading books that are beyond their level of emotional comprehension just because they are the right "reading level." Kids are missing out on great literature (I'm not so sure about movies) because it is supposedly not challenging or intellectual enough.

All of that is not to say that I think this book is unhelpful. It actually can be very useful if you make your own judgement on when to read or watch the titles he suggests. He offers a synopsis of each book or movie and gives discussion questions to help you talk with your son about the story. The introduction is also very insightful and thought provoking about how boys relate to various forms of media.

I would love to see an updated version of this book. Until then, I hope my co-worker is not missing her copy.

17 October 2009

And It Was Still Hot

Of course, I have to comment on the recent release of Where the Wild Things Are in theaters. The book has been a classic for decades, though it wasn't well received when it was first published. It did win the Caldecott Medal, but librarians were reluctant to buy it. They didn't get it. It wasn't until they realized that the children loved it that adults caught on to the book's appeal. There is a little bit of Max in all of us. If you haven't read it in a while, the text of the book consists of only a few hundred words, ten sentences. Matt recited it almost word for word for friends of ours last night at dinner who were going to the movie with us. Someone commented to Matt the other night that the magic of the story is in what is left out. The fact that most of the story is told in a child's own imagination is why this book has been so popular for over 40 years.

Matt and I have been excited about the movie since seeing the first trailer in the theater last summer. I am not typically enthusiastic about movies adapted from a classic childrens book. I have complained about the lack of originality in Hollywood many times and I am concerned about our society's need to mass market childhood. However, even though I had reservations when I first heard about the movie, once I read some interviews with Spike Jonze and Maurice Sendak, and especially after seeing the trailers, I could not wait to see it simply because it looked like it would be a good film.

We have been reading Where the Wild Things Are to Isaac since he was born. But we were a little worried that the movie would be too scary for him. A few reviews and articles alluded that it was more a movie for older fans of the book than it was for the young children for whom the book was written. But we decided to take him. We knew that if he became scared we would be there with him and would talk him through the difficult scenes. Or we would just let him hide his eyes and tell him when the scary part was over.

I read the book to Isaac before we went to the movie and we talked it up to get him excited about it. But Matt and I were the most excited, and we were fervently hoping that we would not be disappointed. And we weren't. The movie is beautiful and poignant and edgy and respectful of children. Is it a "kid's" movie?" To be honest, not really. It is a movie for those of us who remember the pain and loneliness that is a part of childhood. Most of it was beyond Isaac's understanding, but there were many times that he had a big grin on his face as the Wild Things frolicked. There were also times that Isaac was touched by the emotion and looked at me with a frown or asked why someone was crying.

I don't need to go into a critique of the movie here or try to dissect the characters' motivations or take it apart bit by bit and talk about how it was or was not faithful to the book. There are plenty of reviews and articles that already do that. I will just end by saying that this is a book that all children should experience, and they should all read it before seeing the movie, though I would say that about all books. Children should be able to make their own meaning out of Max's adventures, without Hollywood, or even a talented director like Spike Jonze, creating the meaning for them. Unfortunately, I know that that is unlikely to happen and some of the magic of the book will be lost to children now.

We will probably end up owning this movie and will watch it with Isaac again. And as he gets older I think the movie will take on new meaning for him, just as the book tends to do when people read it at different stages of their lives. A small part of me wishes we had waited until he were older to let him see it, but I do not regret it. It is a beautiful, well-made movie and watching it with Isaac was magical.

12 October 2009

Wrestle Mania

A recent bedtime favorite has been Clancy The Courageous Cow by Lachie Hume. It is a story about being comfortable in your own skin and it teaches kids that it is okay to be different. This, of course, is not why it appeals to Isaac. It is also a story in part about wrestling cows. What boy could resist?

Clancy is born into a herd of Belted Galloways, but he has no belt. He is shunned by the herd because he is different. He tries to gain a belt by rolling in the snow, tying on a bandage, and even painting one around his middle. But nothing works. In a neighboring pasture lives a herd of Herefords. They are big and fat because each year they win the rights to the better pasture in a wrestling contest between their herd and the Galloways. The smaller, weaker Belted Galloways lose each year until Clancy begins sneaking into the good pasture at night to eat the rich grass. He is not spotted because he is all black and he becomes big and fat and strong. Finally his herd realizes that not having a belt can be a good thing and Clancy enters the wrestling contest and wins. When his herd begins to exact revenge on the Herefords for their many years of ill treatment, Clancy calls for peace among the cows and the herds begin to mingle and live together in harmony.

Yes, very cheesy. I agree. But the illustrations are amusing and kind of folksy. It is the spread that shows pictures of Clancy practicing different wrestling holds, however, that clinches the boy-factor in this book. The idea of the underdog triumphing over the oppressor also resonates with children, especially young boys.

I do like, too, that this book begins to teach that being different is okay, and it can even be an advantage. Kids face so much cruelty as they grow up, from each other and from society, and they are bombarded with so many messages that conforming and blending in is better than being an individual. Any book that passes on the message that to be yourself is to be valuable is one worth sharing. That is a message that even boys need to hear. If the book also has wrestling cows, all the better.

08 October 2009

Still My Baby

I sometimes forget how young Isaac is. I know that sounds silly, but we tend to read books and watch movies with him that are geared toward older children, so when he latches on to a "babyish" book I am pulled back to the reality that he is still very much a pre-schooler. And that is fine with me. As much as I look forward to being able to put the money that goes to daycare each month into our savings account or toward a new car payment, I really am not wishing the time away. I enjoy the nights when bedtime stories range from The Avengers to Goodnight Gorilla and I will miss reading Where's Spot when he no longer pulls it from the shelf.

On our last trip to the library we brought home some books that reminded me of Isaac's pre-schooler tastes. One in particular is Who is Driving? by Leo Timmers. Each spread features four animals in varying outfits and a vehicle. One of the characters is dressed so that the children can pick out who goes with the vehicle. The text simply asks, "Who is driving . . . ?" The reader has to predict who will be driving the fire truck or the convertible or the race car on the next page. I was actually pretty impressed that Isaac was able to figure out that the stork in the bomber jacket and leather helmet is supposed to fly the WWI era plane, not the polar bear dressed as a modern day pilot.

This book appeals to boys' fascination with all things wheeled. Add in the animals and it is a sure fire hit with pre-school males. The illustrations are simple, brightly colored acrylic pictures that are not overwhelmed with detail that is lost on a four-year-old. The text is concise and after a couple of readings, Isaac was "reading" it to me.

I think I enjoy reading books like this more than Matt does, partly because I know the day will come soon enough that Isaac no longer wants to read "baby" books. And I will miss them because it will mean he is not my baby anymore. For now, though, pair this with a Hulk comic and everybody is happy.