25 December 2009

Christmastime is Here

There is one book that I can say without hesitation that I prefer the movie, which isn't surprising since it was a movie before it was a book. A couple of years ago one of the books in the Kohl's Cares for Kids line up was A Charlie Brown Christmas. We got it as a gift. I love the show and we have watched it the past couple of years on Christmas Eve with friends. It is one of the few Christmas specials from my childhood (and before) that has withstood the test of time and that I want to share with Isaac. Rudolph, not so much.

But the Charlie Brown Christmas book is just unbearable to read. Which means that Isaac chose it about 3 out of 5 nights the past few weeks at bedtime. Linus' recitation of the Luke Christmas story just cannot be replicated in print. Neither can Schroder's music. And, as hard as I try, I just can't do "Hark the Herald Angels" sing like the Peanuts Gang can.

But if for some reason they stop showing that particular Christmas special each year, or when our VCR finally dies and we have no way to play our VHS version, we will have the book as a backup. Because, despite its early commercial ties to Coca Cola, A Charlie Brown Christmas is one of the best illustrations of the Christmas spirit. One that I want Isaac to internalize as he grows up.

The book will soon be packed away with the other Christmas books and decorations. But I will let the VHS tape stay out in the general collection just in case Isaac wants to watch it later. Its message is relevant year round.

19 December 2009

Letting Boys Be Boys

I got to play Santa Claus on Friday. Toys for Tots was delivered and those of us who were available spent the day (all three hours of it due to early release because of the snow) matching toys with children. Toys for Tots is huge at our school and most of our students receive a gift. I always have a lot of energy when we begin and there are lots of toys to choose from, but it becomes tiresome sorting through the last bit of toys trying to put together a decent gift after hours of choosing and bagging.

Every year we have the dilemma of what to do with the toy guns that we receive. Since we are a public school, we really can't give them out. But that means they are left over, sitting unopened in a box in an office somewhere. This year, I was particularly frustrated by some of the toys that were set aside. One was a set complete with camo hat, toy compass and other soldier paraphernalia, including a very fake-looking plastic rifle. It was in the box with the toy cowboy pistols and the Nerf guns. Our school social worker and I protested some of what was set aside, including the soldier set. I could imagine Isaac with that set having a great time playing soldier.

I have mixed feelings about guns in general, and I don't love that my son plays with guns. But I also know that there is very little I can do to repress those tendencies. Since he was two, anything that could possibly pass for a gun or a sword or a light saber has been wielded by Isaac in some imaginary battle. Boys don't need toy guns to include them in their play. All they need is an imagination. So what do we accomplish by denying them toy guns except to place some mysterious power over weapons that makes them even more intriguing to curious little boys?

Seeing the box of toy guns also reminded me of a discussion I had been part of just the day before at a meeting of school librarians. We were sharing our reviews of new books and one librarian showed us an Eyewitness book she had purchased. This series is very popular, especially with boys. Each book provides in-depth details and illustrations about its topic. The one she showed us was Battle. It is not great literature, but it is what the boys want, so she bought it for her library. Isaac would love the Battle book, just to see the pictures of the weapons that have been used throughout time. Just as he loves the Star Wars Visual Dictionary which includes any and every battleship and weapon even glimpsed in the movies. It was not said at the table during the discussion, but I am sure more than one of us wondered how we would handle a challenge to a book of that sort. It is within the realm of possibility that someone would find that book, or similar books on similar topics, objectionable because of the concern that they somehow promote violence. I am not sure how I would handle it. I hope I never have to figure it out.

Isaac has toy guns, he has books about weapons, he has seen movies with fight scenes. He is not a violent child, nor do I think he is in danger of confusing play fighting with how to appropriately interact with other children. He does need to learn how to control his pretend play, but that is part of the maturing process all children go through as they assert themselves and test their boundaries. Matt and I will protect him by continuing to have conversations with him about being compassionate and caring and, of course, what to do when he is around real guns, not by denying him the experience of playing with toy weapons.

We will be finishing the toy distribution on Monday. I am not sure if the soldier set has been assigned to someone, and I do not have final say about whether or not it will be. I will argue my point, as I am known to do, but I may lose. If I do, the soldier set will join the guns from past Toys for Tots distributions and disappear into some deep, dark closet never to be played with. And I will hang up my Santa hat until next year.

18 December 2009

All I Want For Christmas Is Books, and Maybe Some Cars

There is a Scholastic Warehouse near where I live and they have a half-off sale every winter. I go with the intention of buying gifts, which I do, and being restrained when choosing books for Isaac, at which I fail miserably. We have reached maximum capacity in books and hot wheels, yet I can't keep myself from buying more of either.

This year was an exception when I went to the sale, though. I was a little disappointed in the selection. The books they had were good books, don't get me wrong, but they weren't what Isaac would want. There were lots of warm, fuzzy animal books and cozy, lap-reading books. But I didn't see many scaly, slimy, gross-me-out books or fast paced, action books. There was lots of fiction, but not much non-fiction. Basically, lots of books that would appeal to young girls, but not to young boys.

I did not leave empty handed, however. I did manage to find some of Mo Willems' books that we did not yet own, and I bought the latest paperback copies of the Bear series by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman. But, the books I think Isaac will be most excited about getting are the Fly Guy books by Tedd Arnold.

We own one Fly Guy book and I brought another home from my library to read to Isaac a few weeks ago. They are a huge hit in our house. They are silly, simple books about a boy, Buzz, and his pet fly, Fly Guy. In each book of the series, Buzz and Fly Guy have a new adventure. The books are written in Early Chapter Book format, so young readers feel like "big" kids when they read them. But big kids like them, too, because they are funny. There is not much text and it is really Arnold's illustrations that make the books so entertaining. Arnold is an author/illustrator who has the knack of knowing how to connect with kids using humorous language and exaggerated pictures. His Parts series is popular in my library, but I think Fly Guy is his most widely appealing character.

I have put all of these new books away until Christmas, when they will magically appear with the other gifts from Santa, including some more Hot Wheels which we will squeeze into the basket with the hundreds of other cars that Isaac owns. I am sure seeing the Fly Guy books will bring a smile to his face, and I think that they will be read more than once soon after.

17 December 2009

Some Bears, Snowmen, a Grinch, a Mute Elf and a Rottweiler. It Must Be Christmas Again.

This time of year we are reading Christmas stories at bedtime. If there is one thing I am particular about when it comes to what we read, it is that Christmas stories are read between Thanksgiving and Christmas, no earlier and no later. The Christmas books get packed away with the decorations and the tree after Epiphany and emerge along with all the Christmas cd's when Advent begins so there is no chance that Isaac will insist on reading one at bedtime in July. Christmas may come to the rest of America when the first ornaments hit store shelves in August, but in our house there is no sign of it until late November.

But once it does come to the Cravey household it hits with full force. The decorations go up, the music starts playing and bedtime stories are dominated by Santa, elves, Grinches, Whoes, mangers, angels and a host of other Christmas symbols. I try to buy Isaac a Christmas book each year so that we have a new one to look forward to, but he often returns to some old favorites.

Some of his most recent repeat choices:

Carl's Christmas -- I don't use this blog to talk about books I do not like, but I am not a fan of the Carl series. So, of course, Isaac loves this book. I just don't understand how the parents can leave their infant home to be babysat by a rottweiler?! Which is exactly the appeal of this wordless story in which Carl, said rottweiler, and the nameless baby (really -- the parents call it baby on the one page that has words) eagerly await Santa's visit while the parents are off to church and Grandma's house. Why don't they take baby with them to Grandma's house, you ask? That is a question for the Wise Men.

Snowmen at Christmas -- This is a follow up to Snowmen at Night (which is allowed to stay in the regular rotation of books seeing as it is a winter story not a holiday story -- I am okay with reading a winter story in July). In these books, a little boy builds a snowman and imagines what he does when no one is watching. There are snowmen parties and games and a snowman Santa and snow ornaments and snow presents and snowmen singing carols around a tree. Isaac is fascinated by the adventures that the snow people have and it is fun to read.

You Can Do It Sam -- This story is about a little bear who helps his mother deliver treats to their neighbors on a cold winter morning. I think the appeal in this book is that the little bear is learning how to be independent, just as Isaac is at this stage. And the bear has the same name as one of his best buddies.

Bear Stays Up for Christmas -- This is part of a series of books about Bear and his forest friends. The first one, Bear Snores On, is my favorite, but Isaac likes the Christmas one a lot, too. Bear's friends keep him awake so he can celebrate Christmas with them for the first time and Bear surprises them by making them presents.

Elf on a Shelf -- This is not just a book, it is a season long game. I finally bought it this year and we are all having fun -- Isaac by trying to find the elf each morning and Matt and I by finding new places to put him each night. We have been reading the book that comes with the elf for the past few nights. The book is so-so, but the elf is cute.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas
-- Not much needs to be said about this one. Isn't it everyone's favorite?

There are hundreds of Christmas stories for children out there that hold a special place in many people's hearts. These are Isaac's favorites. What is yours?