24 December 2010

O Holy Night

It is Christmas Eve. Isaac is in bed, the presents are under the tree, Santa's cookies have been baked (and eaten), and Mom and Dad are settling in for what will probably be a short winter's nap.

The Christmas books came out of the boxes with the Christmas decorations a few weeks ago. We have read How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Night before Christmas, and Bear Stays Up for Christmas, among others over the past few days.

This evening after attending a beautiful Christmas Eve service at our church, going out for dinner, discovering that all of the grocery stores closed at 8:00 (including Walmart, if you can believe it), and preparing Santa's treats, Isaac finally went to bed after threats of "Santa will fly right over our house if you are still awake." But not, of course, without stories.

Instead of a repeat of one of the myriad Christmas books we own, I was compelled to stay with the real message of the evening during story time. I pulled Isaac's Bible off of the shelf and opened to the Christmas story. We read about Gabriel appearing to Mary, Mary and Joseph's journey to Bethlehem, the birth of Jesus, the heavenly host of angels bringing the news to the shepherds, and the Wise Men traveling to find the new King.

Isaac will wake up thinking about what Santa left for him, but he went to sleep with the story of the first Christmas echoing in his head.

Merry Christmas and sweet dreams.

16 December 2010

The Culmination of an Idea

A few months ago I wrote about the book Why? by Lila Prap. I mentioned a project idea that I had and I actually implemented it this year with my 4th grade students. Since this blog was where the thought first sprouted I thought I would share the results.

The students I worked with loved the book. Reading it out loud to the classes was one of my favorite experiences so far this school year. Shared laughter between teachers and students can be a rare experience and when it happens I savor it.

The classes I worked with created projects in different formats using some new online tools that I began playing with this year. Their products are fun and creative. Just thought I would brag on my students a bit.

Here they are.

10 October 2010

It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's . . .

We have been going to the library faithfully, though I am not keeping up with my goal of posting once a week. We read faithfully each night and record one book on Isaac's reading log, but there are many nights that we are so tired when we are done that I cannot remember what we have read. When I asked Matt just now if there were any books that I should blog about, neither of us could think of one. Our brains are too tired.

Part of our nightly reading is comprised of phonics readers to help Isaac practice his sight words. Teaching a child to read, or helping him learn to read, is a frustrating process. How many times will he look at the word "the" before he will remember it? But we have noticed progress and Isaac feels an obvious sense of accomplishment when we work through the reader and he has read all of the words.

I have been amazed and pleased at Isaac's work ethic since he started kindergarten. Doing his homework has not been the daily battle that I feared it would be. He actually looks forward to doing it each afternoon. And, even though he is tired at night when we work on his reading, he pays attention and stays focused. School has been an adjustment, but so far he is enjoying it.

In addition to the phonics readers that we read each night, I am trying to work on reading some short chapter books. The teacher assistant in his class reads them Junie B. Jones books, but at home we are starting with Superman chapter books. Some nights Isaac is excited to read another chapter. Other nights, he prefers to stick with picture books. Reading the chapter books over multiple nights helps him develop his sense of story (beginning, middle and end) and memory by reviewing what has already happened in the book. They are short enough that we can get through one in just a few days. And they will be good practice for the longer books that I want to read with him later.

Fall is one of my favorite seasons and some of my favorite children's books are fall books. I will try to remember what they are when my brain is more awake and share them here in the next few weeks.

22 September 2010

No Sleeping 'Till Your Homework's Done

We have discovered that with kindergarten comes homework, at least at Isaac's school. I understand that other schools have different practices and not all homework is created equal. But I will not dwell on how I feel about Isaac's homework here, except to say that part of his daily homework is to read for 15 minutes. We are supposed to write down the name of one book we read during this time on a reading log each night. The goal is for each student to turn in one complete log (20 books) each quarter (9 school weeks).

I do not like to call reading "homework." We have been reading to Isaac since he was an infant and it is a rare night that passes by that we do not read at least one story, most nights we read five. In our house reading is not homework, at least not in kindergarten. I know quite well that there are families who would never read to their children if the school did not require it as homework and ask for the reading logs. Even with the reading "homework" there are still families who do not read with their children. But in our family reading together is something that is a nightly ritual. I want it to remain a time that Isaac enjoys for as long as possible. It is probable that reading for school will become something he dreads all too soon.

So we have been reading as usual every night and Isaac and I are fitting a weekly library visit into our schedule. Most of the books we brought home last week were not very memorable. I picked out a lot of nature themed books. Our nearest library branch has a strong environmental collection and this is a time of year that it is lovely to be outside so I was inspired to choose books on that theme. Isaac, however, was not as inspired.

He did like, love actually, Shark Vs. Train by Chris Barton . It is such a little boy book. Two boys pull a toy shark and a toy train out of a toy box and proceed to pit them against each other in contests. Which one is better at selling lemonade? Or high diving? The twist, though, is that the story is told from the shark's and train's perspectives. This book celebrates boys' imaginations and we read it just about every night.

Another book he liked from this week's pile is A Dark, Dark Tale by Ruth Brown. I thought he would like it because it reminds me of another of his favorite's, Big Spooky House by Donna Washington. (I've been meaning to write about that one -- maybe I will remember now that I have mentioned it here.) A Dark, Dark Tale is a simple, repetitive story. A little spooky, but with a surprising ending. After the second reading, Isaac could recite the words. It was a good lead up to Halloween books.

We have a new stash of library books this week. I am hoping there are a few more that Isaac gets excited about. We are going to start reading some short chapter books, too, since one of Isaac's teachers has introduced the class to Junie B. Jones. Not my favorite choice, but definitely a crowd pleaser. I brought one home in our bag of books, along with a couple of others I thought we would try. We will see how it goes.

12 September 2010

Whatcha Reading?

I am more than a little pleased tonight. Isaac actually asked to go to the library after school tomorrow. We have been going just about every week this month and bringing home a nice pile of books to read. He likes to go and play and he specifically said that he wanted me to pick out the new books, but he WANTS to go! This is such a huge change from his adamant refusals over the summer that I am grinning from ear to ear. So we will head to the library after taekwondo tomorrow and I will choose another bag full of books to read this week.

Isaac has shown definite preference for a couple of the books we checked out on our last visit. He loves Mo Willems' newest series about "Cat the Cat." These books are simple and repetitive and after one reading he can "read" it to us. I prefer his "Elephant and Piggie" series, myself. They have a more sophisticated tone and drier sense of humor. But Cat the Cat and her friends (Hound the Hound, Horse the Horse, Pig the Pig, etc.) are exuberant and fun and Isaac requested them repeatedly.

Another book that he loved was Wendel's Workshop by Chris Riddell. Wendel is an inventor who has a bad habit of tossing anything that doesn't work. His backyard looks like a scene from Wall*E. He invents a robot to tidy his house, but his invention works a little too well and Wendel gets himself tidied right out of his own workshop. He has an epiphany while sitting on his scrap pile and uses his failed inventions to take back his space. Isaac loved looking at the pictures, especially the last one where the conquered Wendelbot has been made into an oversized flower pot. It is a story that teaches about perseverance and, indirectly, recycling and there is a lot of humor in the illustrations to get children giggling.

The last one I will mention from this week's library pile is Beverly Billingsly Can't Catch by Alexander Stadler. Matt and I probably like this one a bit more than Isaac does because the lesson is very timely for our family right now. Beverly is great at academics, but not so great at sports. She and her friend, Oliver, are always picked last for sports teams, especially softball. They decide to change that by learning how to play the game. Matt and I both appreciate the message that you can learn to do anything if you try hard and practice. You may not end up being the best, but you will get better. Isaac is playing t-ball again and taking taekwondo. We stress to him the importance of trying his hardest at both and I don't think there is another kid on the t-ball field that is as focused and intent on the game as Isaac is each week. Beverly just happens to be coached in softball by a pretty cool librarian who tells her not everything can be learned in a book, so that's another plus for this one, as well.

With school starting and taekwondo lessons and t-ball practices and church functions to shuttle to, not to mention the homework and other daily tasks that we are trying to keep up with, my goal is to try and post something once a week. If we can manage a weekly library trip, hopefully I will have some of Isaac's favorites to write about. So keep your fingers crossed that we keep up this momentum, otherwise we may be reduced to writing about one of the twenty "Curious George" books that Isaac has collected.

04 September 2010

It All Started with a Cat

There are a lot of Early Reader series out there. If you don't know what I mean by "Early Reader," they are the books that often have a number on the front (usually 1, 2 or 3) and are about 48-54 pages long. Think Cat in the Hat.

It has been a long time since Dr. Seuss wrote some of the first Early Readers. Just about every publisher has a series now. There is even an award given by the Association of Library Service to Children for excellence in this category of writing for children named after Theodore Seuss Geisel himself.

These books are great for children who are becoming more independent in their reading. The vocabulary is basic and the format is easy to follow. And there are some authors who are really dedicated to making these books fun for kids. Mo Willems' "Elephant and Piggie" series and Ted Arnold's "Fly Guy" series are two that Isaac loves.

Unfortunately, as often happens when companies see a niche that they think they can capitalize on, the number of Early Readers has exploded. Some are okay, others are so boring they are painful to read, and then there are the rare gems. The real problem is that there is no standard in the leveling of the books. 1 is, obviously, the easiest level, with 2 and 3 getting progressively harder with more difficult vocabulary and longer sentences. But one publisher's "1" may be another's "2," and a level "3" from one company may be off the charts hard for the children they are targeting, usually 1st and 2nd graders, while another's is much easier to read. The artwork in most Early Readers also tends to be less polished and uninspiring than the illustrations in more traditional picture books.

There is one series that I really do like, even though the books tend to be a bit difficult for the intended audience. National Geographic has a non-fiction Early Reader series that Isaac and I have checked out of the library on our recent visits. As with most National Geographic publications, the photographs are stunning. We have read some of the animal books and the information is engaging for children and well-written. Non-fiction books can be hard to fit into the Early Reader category because the amount of information that you can get into 40-50 pages with low-level vocabulary is limited, but these books are packed with facts. Even if they are not being read cover to cover, these books are beautiful to look at.

Time For Kids also has a non-fiction Early Reader series that uses photographs and contains a lot of information. The Time books are also more accurately leveled.

Isaac loves reading about animals, as do many little boys. Soon he will be reading on his own. I am glad there are books like these out there that will interest him.

24 August 2010

The First of Many

Isaac starts school tomorrow. Here is a poem for all of the boys out there who are going to kindergarten this year.

"The First Day of Kindergarten"
by Robert Pottle

Today was it. I went to school.
It was fun and kind of cool.
We did the hokey-pokey dance.
Peter cried - he wet his pants.
Miss Libby said to make a line.
I got paper. I drew mine.
But all the kids were in a row.
Miss Libby said, "Come on, let's go."
I sang and drew and had some fun.
I've gone to school and now I'm done.

What did you say?
I've got to go another day?
I am not done this afternoon?
I've got to go until mid-June!
I thought today I was all done.
I guess today was just day one.

from Moxie Day and Family

18 August 2010

My Name Is . . .

Matt and I are a perfect examples of "opposites attract." He is a typical extrovert and I am a typical introvert. When he and Isaac go out of town, I stay at home with my books and some movies and could go days without seeing another human. When Isaac and I go out of town, Matt begins making plans to go out with friends to dinner, movies, anything that will provide him with some human interaction. Isaac so far seems to be a blend of our personalities -- a little bit extroverted and a little bit introverted. Sometimes, I like to believe that he has gotten the best parts of each of us. Other times, I fear that he is the worst of us rolled into one.

When we read Hello My name is Bob by Linas Alsenas tonight, instead of seeing the bears I imagined Matt and myself as the characters. It wasn't much of a stretch. Bob is a self-proclaimed boring bear. He likes to sit and do quiet things. He is low-key and fades into the background. Jack is colorful and bright and energetic. He stands out in a crowd and finds fun wherever he is. But they are best friends. They complement each other, as I like to believe Matt and I do.

I wondered as we read the book which character Isaac relates to more, or if he sees a little of himself in each of them. He definitely tends to make friends with children who are more extroverted than he. His closest friends, Aidan and Sam, are much more dominant personalities, and I worry sometimes that Isaac gets kind of lost in their shadow. But I also see how animated he is when he is around one of them. They seem to help him come out of his shell and be more courageous in social situations.

This book illustrates that friends don't have to be just like each other. Best friends are the people who accept us as we are, even if they don't always understand us. I hope that Isaac gets that message when he observes his father and me interacting. If not, Bob and Jack are good alternative role models.

17 August 2010

Hippo Talk

A lot of children's book are stories about friendship. Many times the pair of friends in the story are opposites in some way. Sometimes the friendships are strained by the differences between the friends. Most times these differences lead to humorous situations.

I pulled My Friend Rabbit by Eric Rohmann off the shelf to read last night. This book is a Caldecott winner from 2003 about a pair of friends, a mouse and a rabbit. As Mouse states on the opening page, "My friend Rabbit means well. But whatever he does, where ever he goes, trouble follows." The trouble in this story being Mouse's toy plane that is stuck in a tree after Rabbit's attempt to fly it. But the real trouble follows in Rabbit's plan to retrieve the plane.

The story is told mostly through the pictures, with sparse text adding context. The reader sees Rabbit pulling animals onto the page to create a living ladder which he plans to climb to reach the plane in the tree. But even after stacking an elephant, a rhino, a hippo, a bear, a deer, an alligator and squirrel on top of each other the plane is out of reach. You can imagine what happens next. After chaos ensues and the animals are heaped on the ground, looking very disgruntled and ready to squash poor Rabbit, Mouse rescues his friend only to end up in more trouble. But Rabbit means well and he always has an idea.

I would write more about how this book is an illustration of the kind of friendships that I am sure Isaac will have as he goes through school. And that I am sure he will at times be most like Mouse and at other times be more like Rabbit. Instead, I have to share a cute moment.

Bedtime began late last night. Summer is winding down and we had been out as is usual on Monday nights playing frisbee and having dinner with friends for probably the last time. Matt and I told Isaac he could have two stories before bed rather than the usual five, just to expedite the ritual a bit. Isaac told me to pick the stories, and then predictably didn't like my choices. As I started reading My Friend Rabbit despite Isaac's protests, Matt picked up Isaac's stuffed hippo that he sleeps with every night and started animating him as I read. It did the trick and Isaac was amused, but was also paying attention. Matt left the room briefly just before the part where Rabbit pulls the hippo onto the page to add to his pile. Isaac got so excited that he screamed for his father to come back to see and then grabbed the hippo and started animating him, making him talk and comment on the story. Just to help you imagine this scene, this is not a small stuffed animal. It is about 2 1/2 feet long and Isaac was holding him up, moving his mouth and talking back to him. It was hilarious. And one of my favorite bedtime moments of the last five years.

Sometimes the best memories of sharing books have nothing to do with the story. In a few years, my memory of last night will fade and I may not recall what book we were actually reading. But I will remember Isaac playing and enjoying the time that we spent together with a book. It is memories like these that I want him to grow up with -- books being fun to share and the time we spent sharing them as being special.

15 August 2010

Speaking Out

Children spend a lot of their existence trying to find their voice. Not literally in the sense that they cannot speak, of course. They search for their voice in the sense that they are trying to discover who they are, what their existence means for the world around them, what they want to say to that world. This search can be confusing for them and those they spend a lot of time with. And this search is ongoing; many of us are still searching as adults.

Isaac's search for his voice can be a frustrating process. His father and I often ask a simple question and get contradictory answers in the space of thirty seconds. Part of finding his voice is becoming comfortable with the decision making process -- coming to a decision and committing to it. His first response is often reflexive, then after his brain has actually processed the question his logic and intellect come to a different conclusion. This process is slowest in the mornings. It can make breakfast decisions teary affairs.

I thought about how children go through this search for their voice as I read Bark, George by Jules Feiffer to Isaac. In it, a mother dog is trying to teach her pup to bark. Each time she prompts him to practice, he emits a different animal noise, as if he is trying to find the one that fits him the best. After a barnyard chorus of sounds, the mother dog takes George to a vet to find out what is wrong. It turns out that George had somehow swallowed a cat, a duck, a pig, and a cow. When all the animals are finally removed, George barks, to his mother's delight. He had found his voice.

This story could have been called "There Was A Young Dog Who Swallowed a Cat." The images of the vet reaching deep into George's throat to pull out yet another animal will have the kids laughing, and the mother's relief when he finally barks will resonate with all parents who have wondered if their children would ever accomplish a basic skill that it seemed like they would struggle with forever.

But it will also connect with children who are searching for their voice -- who are trying out new things to find the one that is comfortable on them. And just when we think the search may be over, George demonstrates that you can keep on experimenting because there are always new experiences to be found.

13 August 2010

To Infinity and Beyond

I can't think of a more fun pair to create a children's book than Jon Scieska and David Shannon. I have written about Scieska and Shannon separately in this blog because they both write books that boys love. Their collaboration on Robot Zot is pure boy brilliance. It combines Scieska's quirky humor with Shannon's characteristically child-like drawings. We loved it.

Robot Zot and his mechanical sidekick Bot arrive on Earth intent on conquering the planet. Their tiny size, however, makes that a bit difficult and when they end up in a kitchen fighting a blender and a toaster their dreams of world domination come to an end as they are chased away by the family dog. But Zot takes away a prize and leaves to find another world to conquer.

As we began reading this story, I assumed that Robot Zot was a toy and a little boy was off the page somewhere controlling the action. But, by the end, we realized that Robot Zot is, in fact, an intergalactic space traveler who has landed on earth in an unfortunate location.

Robot Zot is not what I would consider a sympathetic character, especially when he leaves broken appliances strewn over the kitchen floor and the dog gets blamed. But he is funny and endearingly naive. And he is a robot -- boys love robots.

This book will spark a young boy's imagination and get him dreaming about space travel and other worlds. And, best of all, it will make him laugh.

12 August 2010

The Meek vs. the Mighty

I wrote about a wordless book in an earlier post and mentioned that they can be hard for some parents to share with their children. For those who want to try one, let me suggest starting with Jerry Pinkney's adaptation of Aesop's fable The Lion and the Mouse.

Pinkney won the Caldecott Medal for his illustrations in this book this past year. He retells the fable without words, using his beautiful drawings to show the precarious relationship between the two opposite animals. The story is a simple one and has traditionally been told with very sparse text, according to Pinkney in his author's note, which is why he decided to try telling it through pictures rather than words.

Matt shared this book with Isaac at bedtime a few nights ago. They talked about what was happening in each picture and slowly wove their own story as they went page to page through the book. When they had finished there was silence for a moment and then I heard Matt say, "That was a really great book," to which Isaac responded, "Yeah." They then proceeded to go back to some of Isaac's favorite pictures a second time.

Pinkney is easily one of the best children's book illustrators ever. And The Lion and the Mouse is a beautiful book and deserved the Caldecott Medal, hands down. But what I think is really wonderful about this book is Pinkney's decision to leave out the words and let the reader tell the story. Each child who experiences this book will personalize the fable and internalize the story. The lesson children take away will be one that they create and that will change as they re-experience the story at different points in their lives.

Great books do not have to have words. Great books are ones with which you connect on a personal level. Pinkney's The Lion and the Mouse is a great book.

Strike One!

Isaac loves baseball. For his birthday he wanted baseball shoes (a.k.a. cleats) since he is playing t-ball again. I put my foot down and would not let my mother buy them. As far as I am concerned we did not need to spend the money on cleats for a 5 year-old for t-ball. Instead she bought him a bat, some baseball pants and socks. But, wouldn't you know it, Isaac managed to spot a pair of cleats his size at a yard sale. They were $3 and they fit. So the boy has cleats for t-ball this fall. I have had to forbid him to wear them in the house.

Anything baseball fascinates Isaac. He doesn't play many video games, but for Father's Day we bought Matt an old GameCube game, "Mario Baseball." Isaac clobbered Matt the first time they played it. It is even a game that I can tolerate playing, and Isaac has requested it a couple of afternoons a week this summer. I have to say that I have gotten pretty good.

Knowing his fascination with the game, I picked up The Jungle Baseball Game by Tom Paxton at the library on our last visit. It is based on Paxton's song, "The Monkeys' Baseball Game." The basic plot of the book revolves around a challenge the hippo team gives to the monkey team to play a game of baseball. The monkeys think they will win easily, and at first the game goes their way. But then the hippos dig in their heels and give it all they have and are victorious at the end. The monkeys are left shaking their heads wondering what happened.

This is a classic story of the underdogs triumphing over the champions. Normally, I am a sucker for this type of story. This book is fun to read, and if I could still read music I may even try to sing the song that is included on the end pages. But I am not sure I like the way it portrays the champions or the ultimate winners. The monkeys are stereotypically cocky as the game begins, assured that they would win. At the end, the hippos rejoice and throw their victory in the monkeys faces.

I like stories that celebrate the triumph of will and effort over talent and natural ability. I want to teach Isaac that even if he is not naturally athletic or good at something the first time, he should continue to practice and try his hardest to succeed. I also want to teach him that success is not always the same as winning. I do not want to teach him that being naturally good at something makes him better than someone else or that coming out on top, even against the odds, gives him the right to be ungracious to a competitor.

I am probably being overly sensitive about the message in this book. The author probably didn't even mean for there to be a message, he just wrote a fun song that he turned into a fun book. But Isaac is reaching the age that winning is beginning to have meaning for him, and sometimes he is not a gracious winner. And he is always a sore loser. He is also getting more involved in sports as we continue with t-ball and have started Tae Kwon Do. I want to make sure that the images he sees of competitors, winners or losers, are positive ones that he should emulate.

Our current round of library books will go back next week, and Isaac will probably ask to read The Jungle Baseball Game again at least once. When we read it, I will be sure to include some conversation about what the characters did that was good and what they did that they should change. Then I may try to sing the song.

08 August 2010

Hog Heaven

There are some books that are so visually complex that words are not necessary. Hogwash by Arthur Geisert is one of them. With his signature pigs as characters, Geisert creates a fanciful machine that washes, rinses and hangs the dirty swine out to dry.

Wordless books can be difficult to share with children. You need to have a knack for storytelling to really do them justice. And for children to "read" them, they have to be old enough to narrate them for themselves. Wordless books are very useful when it comes to developing a sense of story structure and in writing practice. But many people are intimidated by them.

Hogwash is a wordless book that has fascinating pictures. Geisert's illustrations of his imaginary machine will captivate children, boys especially, who like to look at how things work. There is a story to go along with the amazing artwork -- some young pigs go out to play, they get dirty, they go through the hogwash to get cleaned off before heading home. But the story is secondary to the pictures. Isaac would pour over each page of this book, having no idea what the story was about, just examining the machines.

Geisert's other books are equally well illustrated with detailed drawings. And most of them include his signature pigs. Another that we like is Pigs From A to Z. It is an alphabet book about a family of pig siblings building a tree house. The letters of the alphabet are hidden in the detailed drawings. Again, this book is so visually stimulating that the story could have been left out and not missed.

I have to admit, Hogwash is not my favorite book. I am not interested in machines and how things work like Isaac is, so I could easily set this book aside. But it is the perfect book for boys. There is so much to look at and examine they will never get bored with it.

06 August 2010

Bouquets of Pencils

This weekend we bought school supplies. We came home with pencils, crayons, scissors, glue sticks, markers, colored pencils, a towel for rest time, folders for homework, and a new ice pack for Isaac's lunch box. It looks like a frog.

I love buying school supplies. I am drawn to the colorful collection of brand new markers and sharpened crayons and the perfect symmetry of a pack of new pencils. The calendar year may begin in January, but a teacher's year begins at the end of August and the aisles of supplies just waiting to be put to use almost gets me excited about going back to school in a couple of weeks.

Since Isaac starts kindergarten this year we have been reading books about going to school. One that he particularly likes is Froggy Goes To School by Jonathan London. I hadn't read many Froggy books before last school year. But then I found a use for Froggy Gets Dressed for a lesson at school and Isaac discovered Froggy Plays T-Ball. Now I feel like a veritable Froggy expert.

The Froggy books are formulaic, but the stories are centered around problems children will relate to. They are humorous and simple and the familiar characters draw children in. In Froggy Goes To School, Froggy stumbles through his first day but, in the end, he looks forward to returning.

Froggy's problems with paying attention and listening will resonate with many children and parents. He gets into trouble, but he is not a trouble-maker. He is simply an excited kid who sometimes makes the wrong choices. He has a bit of every child in him.

Isaac's new bookbag is packed with school supplies and ready to go, just like Froggy's. The anticipation is building as the first day of school draws near. And just like Froggy, I hope that Isaac will be jumpy with excitement when it gets here.

05 August 2010

5 Years of Laughter

"Happy Birthday, Dear Dragon"
by Jack Prelutsky

There were rumbles of strange jubilation
in a dark, subterranean lair,
for the dragon was having a birthday,
and his colleagues were gathering there.
"HOORAH!" groaned the trolls and the ogres
as they pelted each other with stones.
"HOORAH!" shrieked a sphinx and a griffin,
and the skeletons rattled their bones.

"HOORAH!" screamed the queen of the demons.
"HOORAH!" boomed a giant. "REJOICE!"
"HOORAH!" piped a tiny hobgoblin
in an almost inaudible voice.
"HOORAH!" cackled rapturous witches.
"Hoorahhhhhhh!" hissed a basilisk too.
Then they howled in cacophonous chorus,

They whistled, they squawked, they applauded,
as they gleefully brought forth the cake.
he thundered with pleasure
in a bass that made every ear ache.
Then puffing his chest to the fullest,
and taking deliberate aim,
the dragon huffed once at the candles --
the candles
all burst

04 August 2010

Five and Counting

Isaac turns 5 tomorrow. When I started this blog a little over a year ago I included a list of books that Isaac had liked or that had been important to him/us up to that point in his life. I thought I would revisit that list today and pull out a few to highlight.

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown: Matt or I read this book to Isaac just about every night during his first couple of years. It was the first book that he could "read" along with us. We were very impressed when he started pointing things out in the pictures that we had not even noticed in all the times we read it. I especially liked reading this book in a dimly lit room with Isaac cuddled on my chest. The last few illustrations practically glow on the dark page.

Go, Dog. Go! by P.D. Eastman: This was Isaac's favorite for a looong time. It was also the first live stage production he ever attended when a traveling children's theater group performed an adaptation at the local university. He and Matt had a lot of fun reading this book over and over and over. He likes books with more complicated story lines now, thankfully, but this book will always hold a special place on our shelf.

We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen: I can recite this book, we read it so many times, not that the text is difficult to remember. What I really loved about this book was how it translated into other parts of our lives. Instead of taking walks, we went on bear hunts through the neighborhood. We still start off any new adventure or trip asking "Do you think we will find any bears?"

Curious George by H. A. Rey: This precocious little monkey (ape) is still a favorite. Our collection of books has grown in the past year, but occasionally we still find one that we have not read. And we are still looking for a copy of Curious George and the Chocolate Factory. That is one that we need to own.

Hulk: The Incredible Guide (and other super hero collections) by Tom DeFalco: Isaac introduced me to comic books and these books helped us both catch up on what was going on in the super hero world. They were books that Daddy read with him at bedtime, but I was caught more than once reading through one to find out who was who in Hulk's or Spiderman's or Wolverine's universe.

There are many more that I could mention that have been important books in the past five years. Most of them I have already written about. Some we will be reading for years to come, others will be put away and not taken out until some future point when we are "remembering when."

As I look forward to the next five years of watching Isaac grow, I hope that books will remain an important part of our lives. There are many more I want to share.

03 August 2010

A Perfectly Ordinary Day

I have to admit I am a bit distressed. I had to drag Isaac to the library today. We have not been this summer (I know, I can't believe it either) because our schedule has been kind of crazy. The few times I have planned to go Isaac was not in the right mood and I did not want what should be an easy trip to turn into public parental humiliation. Today, I told him we were going and there was some grumbling, but he came quietly and actually behaved himself. He didn't look at the books and everything we brought home I chose, but I got him there so I am calling it a "win."

Isaac used to love going to the library. But in the past six months he has not been interested. That is probably our fault because who has time to go when you are running to church and t-ball practice and guitar lessons and frisbee games and have meetings after school and just want to collapse after you have managed to throw some dinner on the table? It's so much easier to pull bedtime stories from Isaac's already rather large collection than to make the trip. So my goal for the fall is to visit the public library with Isaac at least once every two weeks. Every week would be ideal, but why set myself up to fail?

One of the books I pulled last week to write about helped push me to make a library trip. Isaac may not want to visit the library, but he does like to read the book Lola at the Library by Anna McQuinn and Rosalind Beardshaw. For a few weeks some months ago this book was in the nightly rotation. It has been pushed to the back of the stacks, but is not yet consigned to the "I'm over it" pile. As the title implies, it is a story about a little girl's weekly visit to the library, from putting her books in her backpack to story time to getting a treat with her mother afterward and walking home. There is nothing earth shatteringly unique about this book. It is a cozy read about an ordinary experience.

The everyday-ness of the story is probably why Isaac relates to it. He could be Lola, if he actually liked going to the library. I may take a cue from the story and end library visits with a trip to Feeney's Frozen Yogurt Bar (I like their variety of frozen yogurt toppings) or Chick-Fil-A (Isaac likes their milkshakes).

I will admit that when we got home from the library Isaac started digging through the bag and asking me to read to him. And that's what library visits are really about, discovering new books. It doesn't really matter if I pick them out or he does. But that doesn't mean I will stop trying.

02 August 2010

How Much Is That Doggie In the Window

Boys love dogs. That's why they call dogs "man's" best friends, right? Not "woman's" or "person's" best friends. When we were in Florida, Isaac mentioned often that he missed his daddy and Max, our dog. Max is an old mutt with a great disposition who has been sadly neglected during the last five years. But Isaac loves him.

Typically if a book has a dog on the cover you can assume that it is going to be sad. A colleague and I were sharing war stories the other day and she mentioned her group of girls that love stories that make them cry. She tells them to look for books with dogs on the front.

The Stray Dog by Marc Simont comes close to following this pattern, but stops just short of sniffling, which is why it makes the cut for this post. It is a great pet story and, while it is very sweet, it is not so gushy that boys can't enjoy it.

Isaac doesn't love this book, but he does like it. If you are thinking about getting a dog or just looking for a book to satisfy an interest, this is a good choice. However, if you are trying to squash you boy's pleading entreaties for a puppy, stay away. This book may weaken your defenses.

31 July 2010

Where Have All The Monsters Gone?

Isaac creates a "nest" for himself every night at bed time. He gets in the middle of his full-size mattress and surrounds himself with sleep toys -- literally surrounds himself, making a "U" of stuffies that he puts himself in the center of. Then he asks me to cover him all the way, so that not even his head pokes out. This makes him feel safe.

Isaac isn't scared of the usual under-the-bed or hiding-in-the-closet monsters. Nope. His most recent after the lights go out obsession was Medusa. The one from the original, Harry Hamlin "Clash of the Titans." Bears and robots have also been of concern in the past. I'll take a bear over Medusa any day.

I tried using Go Away, Big Green Monster! by Ed Emberly to help alleviate some of his fears and give him some sense of control over them. It didn't have much success, but it did become one of his favorite books.

In this book, Emberly, in his trademark minimalistic style, employs a dark background, bright colors and page cut-outs to create a Big Green Monster with each turn of the page. Once the Monster is created, the reader slowly dismantles it, removing its hair, ears, nose, face, mouth, teeth, and eyes until telling it to "Go Away and Don't Come Back," with the caveat "until I say so!"

I have used this book with kids a lot and they love participating in sending the monster away with the loudest send off possible. Isaac loves it, too. He laughs as the monster devolves as the pages turn and gives him a loud farewell. And, though the book hasn't helped him completely send his monsters away, he has found his own method of controlling his fears and keeping them at bay.

27 July 2010

Dressed for Success

I have not watched the "Charlie and Lola" TV show, and neither has Isaac as far as I know. We do, however, own a couple of "Charlie and Lola" books and I find Lauren Child's humor and voice a perfect fit for young children.

Our favorite to read is But I am an Alligator*. I picked it up at book fair one year because it looked cute and it was about a little girl who dresses up as an alligator. The purchase may have coincided with the year that Isaac was an alligator for Halloween. Have I mentioned that alligator's are popular animals around our house?

In this book, Lola, who likes to dress up, is fixated on her alligator costume. It is her "favorite and her best" dress up outfit. Lola wears it everywhere, to her bother Charlie's embarrassment, and she asserts that she is "not ever never taking it off." Charlie looks out for Lola and is rather horrified that she plans to wear her costume to school when she speaks during the school assembly. In the end, Lola manages to steal the show and teach her older brother a lesson about being confident and knowing yourself.

Lola is charming and her brother, Charlie, is patient and caring. Child's characters are real and convincing and Isaac relates to Lola's pre-school adventures. Like Lola, he often believes that he can do "everything all on my own," and he knows that, like Charlie, I am there to catch him in case he falters.

*This book is based on Child's characters, but was written by Bridget Hurst and the illustrations are produced from the tv animations.

25 July 2010

The Time Is Near

Isaac starts kindergarten one month from today. It is no secret that I am agonizing over him taking this step. I just cannot believe that we have reached this point. Has it really been almost five years since we brought him home from the hospital?

As summer was starting I would have said that I couldn't see him as a kindergartener. In my eyes he was still my baby. But, in the weeks since school has been out and I have been home with him daily, it is as if he has grown before my eyes. He seems taller, more mature, and very much a little boy -- not a baby, or a toddler or even a pre-schooler.

Isaac is starting to get excited about going to school. We try to talk about it and we have gone to see the school that he will attend. And, of course, we are reading books about kindergarten. One that we own that Isaac particularly likes is Kindergarten Rocks! by Katie Davis. In this book the little boy, Dex, is getting ready to start school, but his pal Rufus (a stuffed animal) is scared that something will go wrong -- he will get lost, or he will sleep too late, or he will not know anyone, or he will not like his teacher -- you get the picture. Of course, in the end, he loves his first day and Rufus'/Dex's fears are put to rest.

Rufus' fears in this story mirror my own more than they do Isaac's. We have been blessed to have had the support of a wonderful daycare for the past 4 and a half years. It was small and personal and Matt and I knew that Isaac was well-loved and cared for while we worked. Sending him to a school of over 600 students to be in a class of over 20 5 year-olds scares the hell out of me. How can they keep him safe and take care of him?

This milestone that we are about to reach is much more traumatizing for the parents than for the children, or so I am told. It represents a loss of control to some extent, a letting go that I am not sure I am ready for. I know that we are doing our best to raise Isaac to be confident and self-reliant, but there is so much that he is going to encounter that we have no way of preparing him for. In the end, I know that I have to have faith that everything will be okay. But it will be one of the hardest things I have ever done.

I will make a valiant effort on the first day of school to put on my happy face and send Isaac into his classroom with a hug and a kiss and a high-five. When I pick him up at the end of the day I hope I will hear him say "kindergarten rocks!"

23 July 2010

You're Full of Baloney

Isaac is developing quite a quirky sense of humor and an appreciation for the absurd. Matt and I actively encourage his odd tastes and try to introduce him to books, movies, shows and music that are outside the mainstream.

One author who fits perfectly into Isaac's growing literary tastes is Jon Scieszka. Scieszka has re-told fairy tales, written poetry for children and has an early-reader chapter book series. He also has a website and has developed a program to encourage boys to read.

Matt's favorite Scieszka book is The Stinky Cheese Man. My favorite is Baloney (Henry P.). Henry P. is an alien and a habitually tardy student. When he has been late to school for one too many times, he spins a tale for his teacher that confuses and impresses and gets him out of his punishment. Henry P. is clever, lovable and completely absurd.

What I really love about this book is Scieszka's playful use of language. Throughout the story, Henry P. uses what seem to be nonsense words to represent normal, everyday items. In fact, the words he substitutes are the names of the items in foreign languages, such as aamu (morning in Finnish) and twrf (noise in Welsh) and zimulus (pencil in Latvian). The effect is hysterical, fun to read, and educational. I learned after reading this book that uyarak is the Inuktitut word for stone. Who knew?

I admire Scieszka's efforts to promote reading to boys and I like his books for their creative wordplay. Isaac likes Scieszka's absurd characters and his boy-centric topics. We both like to read his books and laugh.

22 July 2010

Shark Attack

Isaac loves ocean life: sharks, whales, dolphins, various types of fish. He loves them all. We have non-fiction books about sea animals, counting books with fish and various other sea creatures, stories about sea otters and sharks. His library is filled with books about things that live in the ocean. He does not, however, actually love the ocean. Being from Florida, this stresses Matt and I out a bit. We like to visit the beach when we can, but have not planned to spend a vacation at the shore for the last few years because we know that Isaac will be miserable.

On my annual summer visit to see family in FL, I decided that I wanted to spend at least one day at the beach. Mom and I decided to keep the trip short, leaving early and spending the morning at Anastasia State Park, then venturing into St. Augustine for lunch and shopping. The perfect beach day, or so I hoped.

I am not exactly sure what it is about the beach that Isaac dislikes so much. He is a cautious child and the sheer immensity of the ocean and the myriad of sensations that accompany it may just be too much for him to process all at once. Whatever the problem is, he was having none of it Monday morning. He spent the first 30 minutes sitting on the towel while I watched him from the water. The next 30 minutes were spent crying and begging to leave. I finally convinced him to just walk down to the water with me. Then he agreed to take a walk toward the pier. The next step was getting him to sit on my lap as the waves crawled toward us. Finally, while I ran back to grab the camera to take pictures of my success, Grandma and Isaac started a splashing contest. It was a long tear-filled process, but I think Isaac is on his way to being a convert.

Matt would have handled the morning much better than I did, teasing Isaac out of his mood and effectively avoiding the tantrum. I tend to take the "suck it up and get over it" approach, which is infinitely more aggravating and difficult, but for some reason I stick to it. It was easy, though, to forget the wailing and the constant "I want to go's" that I heard all morning when Isaac was sitting in my lap and we were being rocked by the waves. It was one of those rare times when I could be in the moment, focused on my son, not worried about anything but enjoying having my arms wrapped around him and knowing that right then I was the most important person in his world.

After hearing me relate our misadventure, Matt has decided that we need to spend more time at the beach. Just a short trip here and there so Isaac has more opportunities to become comfortable with it. I think in preparation we will keep reading about all of the animals that live in the ocean. Although, now that I think about it, that may not be the best idea. We will also search the library for books about visiting the beach and all of the FUN things that you can do there. But, when we do go, if all Isaac is willing to do is sit in my lap and watch the waves, I won't complain. I will just enjoy.

15 July 2010

Look Before You Leap

Isaac is not a daredevil, for which I am sometimes quite thankful. He has inherited my cautiousness, which means I have not had the numerous trips to the doctor or emergency room that other mothers I know have endured and I do not have to worry about leaving the room for two minutes for fear of what he may climb or overturn while I am out of sight. But it also means that learning to ride a bike or swim will be exercises in patience for his father and I and most new experiences will be met with trepidation for him. I know this from experience.

Considering Isaac's cautious manner, it is not surprising that he likes the book Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann so much. It is full of safety tips and the main character is a cautious-minded police officer who lectures children on staying safe. And then there is Gloria, Buckle's dog who helps him with his presentations. Gloria is not so cautious, but her antics during the safety lectures are entertaining enough that the kids actually pay attention to the lesson.

What is really appealing about this book for Isaac is not the safety aspect, though he does like to look at the end papers and have me read the safety tips that are pictured there. What he really loves is the dog, as Rathmann intends. Gloria is the perfect partner for Officer Buckle and this story is about the comfort of friendship, not the security of crash helmets and knee pads. Officer Buckle's lectures work when Gloria is there because they make a good team. When one of them is missing, neither of them does their best work.

Isaac's cautious nature will probably mean that he is slow to make friends and try new things. I hope he will find his "Gloria," someone who helps him find the courage to be adventurous. When he does, I will be here to remind him to wear his helmet and knee pads before taking off.

14 July 2010


We are visiting Grandma this week, so I decided we should finally return a book to her house that we had borrowed a couple of years ago. I came across it as I was packing for our trip and smiled as I remembered how much Isaac liked it.

The Loudest Roar by Thomas Taylor is about a small, but loud, tiger named Clovis who enjoys disrupting the peace of his jungle home by demonstrating the fierceness of his roar. When the other jungle animals have finally had enough, they decide to turn the tables on Clovis and give him a taste of his own medicine. He is startled into understanding that, while his roar is impressive, he does not need to prove it to the other animals quite so often.

Isaac loved this book during the height of his tiger phase. He would enthusiastically provide Clovis' roars as we read the book and giggle when the animals tricked him. We hadn't read this book in a while, but it is in the rotation again for a few days while we are staying with Grandma. It doesn't seem like it was nearly two years ago that we took it home because Isaac couldn't get enough of it. As often happens when we are visiting family, I get shocked into realizing how fast the time has gone by and how important it is to enjoy each moment as much as possible.

11 July 2010

Making the List

Every library conference that I have attended in the past five years has included at least one session about encouraging boys to read. And in those sessions the presenters typically provide a list of suggested books. If at least one of Jerry Pallotta's books is not on that list, the presenter has not done his/her homework.

Pallotta writes for boys. Maybe that was not his intention when he began writing children's books and he may not have boys specifically in mind as he works on each book, but his topics are generally very boy-centric and his books are perfect for inquistive little men.

Most of his books are animal/nature alphabet books, but he has also written a number of math and counting books. His alphabet books can be read on two levels -- as a straight alphabet book, simply matching the letter with an object, and as an informational book, utilizing the explanatory text about each object.

As I was going through Isaac's library pulling books to bring to Grandma's house, I realized we have a large selection of Pallotta's books. The Beetle Alphabet Book made the cut to be packed into the "going to Florida" suitcase. That was Isaac's choice. Mommy would have preferred to bring The Furry Animal Alphabet book. What can I say? I'm a girl.

08 July 2010

Simply Splendid

Okay, so this book probably appeals to me more than it does Isaac, or other little boys, but it is a sweet book about friendship starring a precocious duck and a big, cuddly polar bear. How could I not include it?

A Splendid Friend, Indeed by Suzanne Bloom is about an inquisitive duck, who acts remarkably like a pre-schooler at times, and a polar bear who initially just wants to be left alone to read, write and think. But, just as Isaac refuses to leave me alone to do those activities, Duck continuously interrupts Polar Bear, always asking "What are you doing?"

The simple text in this book hides a much deeper message about the value of friendship that may make adults teary-eyed, though it will probably be lost on young children. And that is okay. All Duck really wants is to spend time with his friend and Polar Bear eventually understands and is moved by that. Children will see Duck's antics and laugh and may think the ending is sweet as they understand that the two animals really are friends. Then, one day, they will read the book as an adult, maybe to their own child, and they will see themselves in one of the characters and think about their own "splendid friend." And probably be moved to tears.

05 July 2010

Can We Build It? Yes We Can!

A lot of little boys love tools. Isaac is especially fascinated by hammers and screwdrivers. When Matt has a DIY job around the house, Isaac likes to help by figuring out what kind of screwdriver is needed and getting it for his daddy. Alphabet Under Construction by Denise Fleming perfectly taps into this boy-centric topic.

It is, as the title implies, an alphabet book. For each letter, Mouse is engaging in an action that has something to do with building or creating the letter. He "airbrushes the A," then a few pages later he "levels the L," later he "saws the S," and finally he "zips the Z." In each picture the mouse labors away with his tools. A nice touch that Fleming added on the end papers is a calendar which shows Mouse's work schedule. One thing that I do wish had been included is a spread showing all of the letters together, though there are promotional posters of the book with just that available.

Fleming's illustrations are especially engaging in this book. She creates the materials that she uses and the pictures are colorful and full of texture.

One thing that I especially like about this book is that it allows children to figure out what tool is being used with each letter. The action is stated, but the tool is in the picture. So, readers have to use the illustration to figure out that Mouse "yanks the Y" with a pulley and "nails the N" with a hammer.

While the teacher in me looks at this book as a good resource for teaching younger students about common tools and how they work, I also know that Isaac likes it because of his innocent fascination with all things construction related.

04 July 2010

For The Love of Crocs

Alligators and crocodiles are rather popular at our house. The first stuffed animal that Matt or I bought for Isaac was an alligator from the NC Zoo. Isaac's bathroom is decorated with alligators, including a poster from the Alligator Farm in St. Augustine. And in the fall, it is orange and blue and Gators every weekend. So, when I see a book about gators or crocs that looks pretty good, I tend to buy it or check it out of the library. Isaac is starting to have quite a collection.

When I saw Guji Guji by Chih-Yuan Chen for sale at a conference last fall I paid for it without reading it. It is a book from Taiwan published by Kane Miller, so I was confident that it would be worth having. Then when we read it for the first time, the value of my purchase was confirmed. It is a (very) loose retelling of The Ugly Duckling, with a rather cut throat ending.

Guji Guji is a croc who is raised by ducks. He walks like a duck, talks like a duck, but isn't quite a duck. No one seems to notice until Guji Guji meets up with a band of bloodthirsty crocodiles who try to convince him to serve up his family for dinner. Guji Guji, who would prefer to be a sweet ugly duck than a fear-invoking crocodile, gets the better of them in the end and continues his peaceful life as a "crocoduck."

Like I said, a (very) loose retelling of The Ugly Duckling. This book is funny and affirming for children who may feel like they don't quite fit in. And there is just enough suspense and bloodlust to satisfy an alligator/crocodile loving little boy.

03 July 2010

On Top Of Old Smoky

We spent last week vacationing in the mountains. First we biked the Virginia Creeper Trail (if you go stay with Miss Ginny at the Lazy Fox and rent bikes and take the shuttle with Adventure Damascus) then we headed to Pigeon Forge to go to Dollywood and spend some time in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was a week of extreme contrasts -- the calm pace and peaceful surroundings of Damascus, VA (I don't think the town has a stoplight) versus the hectic crowds of Pigeon Forge, TN (this town has enough stoplights for the entire state) versus the serenity of one of our National Parks (no stoplights here, just bears). It was nice to get away from our normal routine and nice to return to it when the week was over.

I try to be picky and practical when it comes to buying vacation souvenirs. I like mementos that uniquely represent the area we have visited without wearing a signpost that we have been there. Having a 4-year-old does make buying souvenirs a bit harder, though. We came home with a couple of t-shirts and a new sleep-toy, but just about everything we bought came from local artisans or the GSM Park store, so I feel good about where our money went.

One of the things I did buy was books. I love the Smoky Mountains. I think I could live there and work as a Park Ranger -- maybe in my next life. I want Isaac to love them, too, and learn the value of preserving them -- and maybe he will grow up to be a Park Ranger, fulfilling my dream as a good son would want to do. So I bought some books from the Park store about bears and salamanders, two animals which Isaac finds very interesting, to begin nurturing his love of the mountains. I also thought they would be useful at school. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park crosses the Tennessee/North Carolina border, so they are as much a part of my students' heritage as they are my son's.

The Troublesome Bear Cub in the Great Smoky Mountains and The Great Smoky Mountain Salamander Ball are both by Lisa Horstman. I will admit they are a bit didactic and really hammer home the point of taking care of the habitats that these animals live in. But Isaac has enjoyed them. He really is into salamanders and bears, and these books are fun stories that introduce some new facts. They will also be reminders of our visit and will, hopefully, make Isaac want to return and learn more. That would be a good thing because I foresee some hiking trips and maybe even some camping in his future.

26 June 2010

Why, Mommy, Why?

Pre-schoolers are forever asking "Why?" Sometimes I think Isaac is doing it just because he knows it drives me crazy. Legitimate queries do not bother me, but the continual repetition of the word after each explanation is infuriating. He doesn't really want to know why he has to go brush his teeth or why we need to get the sugar bugs out of his mouth or why the dentist will have to scrape them out if we don't or why his teeth will fall out if we let the sugar bugs eat them. He just wants to delay the inevitable brushing as long as possible. And, though every parenting book and discipline manual says not to do it, many times I have resorted to the standard Mom answer, "Because I said so, that's why!"

Thankfully Isaac has just about outgrown the "Why?" stage. But this book will satisfy the curiosity of any pre-schooler, or older child, who asks what is most parents' least favorite question. And it is appropriately titled Why? Lila Prap is the author and the book was originally published in Slovenia.

Each double page spread is simply illustrated with folk-like pictures of an animal. Prap begins with a common question about the animal, each question, of course, beginning with "why?" Then the fun begins. There are multiple answers for each animal, ranging from outlandish to research-based. The author explains the concept best herself on the dedication page,

"Dear curious friends,
Some of the answers to the questions in this book are silly, some are sensible, and some are scientific. (Those are the ones marked by an asterisk *.) But feel free to make up some questions, some answers, and some animals of your own. They can be silly or serious . . . whichever you like."

Isaac likes this book because it is funny ("Why are zebras striped? Zebras are horses wearing pajamas"). I like it for the humor, but also for the information. ("Why do camels have humps? Camels are perfectly suited to life in the desert. They store fat in their humps . . .")

If you are tired of explaining "why," let Prap do it for you for a while. Then maybe you will be inspired to come up with your own silly, sensible and scientific answers to those Why? questions that never seem to end.

*As a side note for teachers or parents of older kids, this would be a great book to use with a writing activity. Have children choose animals that are not in the book and pose a "why?" question for each one. Then they write their own silly and sensible answers for the question, but also research the scientific answer and create their own Why? book with their own illustrations.

25 June 2010

Is That a T-Rex or a Stegosaurus?

If your boy likes dinosaurs, he will love the dinosaur series by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague. The first book, How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?, is my favorite. The rhyme is simple and flows smoothly throughout the book, making it a fun read-aloud. By the fifth book (not including the board books), as often happens with series that rely on a repeating pattern, the rhymes become a bit forced and stilted.

What really makes these books stand out are the illustrations. Mark Teague is an artist whose style is easily recognizable and his dinosaurs practically jump off the pages of the books. He also manages to insert the scientific name of each dinosaur somewhere in the illustration without detracting from the flow of the story. The dinosaurs are also drawn and labeled on the end papers for the child who likes to classify and analyze the characteristics of these extinct animals.

Weston Woods has produced an animated movie using Teague's pictures that is a companion to How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? It adds some explanation by morphing a child into a dinosaur as the story begins, thus showing the children that the dinosaurs are stand-ins for themselves. For very young children this is an element that will help them make that connection. For school-age children, however, it would have been better left out so that they could have made that comparison on their own. Overall, though, it is a fun adaptation.

Get these books while your boy is young (pre-school age). Isaac is starting to lose interest in them as superheroes and other monsters grab his attention. But he does enjoy them now and again and I will definitely be pulling out How Do Dinosaurs Go To School? this summer as we prepare for kindergarten.

24 June 2010

One Two Buckle My Shoe

Isaac's last day of daycare was June 18th. As a farewell gift the daycare director gave all of the children a book on their last day. It was a copy of The Real Mother Goose.

I haven't actually read Isaac a lot of nursery rhymes. I remember reading them when I was little or listening to my grandmother or mother recite them to me. I can recite quite a few now from memory. And I know that Isaac has been exposed to some at school because he has referenced them or come home singing the songs. But, since we let him choose what he wants to read most of the time, we have not focused on these or the folktales that most of us grew up hearing. And we need to do better.

Nursery rhymes and folktales are part of our common culture, our common heritage. They remind us of our common history. They can also unite two different cultures as people find common themes in the stories that their ancestors have told for hundreds of years.

The collection of rhymes that Isaac was given contains many obscure ones that are probably forgotten by many people. But it also has the rhymes that are well-known and still loved by children. We are going to start reading a few each night. One day maybe he will remember reading them and want to pass them on.

22 June 2010

One Person's Trash Is a Boy's Treasure

I can't believe I have not posted about this book yet. It is the quinetessential boy book; I do not know how I have overlooked it. It has a loudmouth garbage truck, poopy diapers, stinky underwear and a trash alphabet rap. And the title is one that will appeal to any boy: I Stink! What boy could resist that?

We actually do not own this book anymore. It fell apart. After countless readings, trips to Florida and being taken to daycare for story time and being shared among all the boys in the class, it had had enough. Our copy was paperback and the pages began separating from the cover. After losing a couple it wasn't the same trying to recite the text from memory without the pictures to add context. Saying fish heads without seeing the disembodied head on the page lacked the EWWWW! quality that makes the book so perfect.

There isn't much more I feel the need to say about this book. The narrator is a garbage truck and it's gross. Boy material from the front cover to the last page.

Kate and Jim McMullan have collaborated on other books. I'm Dirty (about a front loader) is another one that hits the mark with boys. But it doesn't top I Stink! I mean, really, how do you do better than an alphabet of trash?

20 June 2010

Goats, Bears, Pigs and a Dog

Here is my first blog of the summer. Since I haven't been around much this year, my goal is to post at least three times a week until I start back to work in August. There, I have written it and will be sending it out into blogging land, so I am committed. Feel free to remind me of my ambitious plans in mid-July when I am in danger of falling far short of my goal.

Matt reminded me of a book recently that Isaac giggled over repeatedly when we checked it out of the library. This book is one that we still talk about even though we have not read it in about two years. Ivan the Terrier by Peter Catalanotto is a gem of a children's book. Adults and kids alike can appreciate the humor and it is a great introduction for young children to classic folktales.

Ivan is an adorable dog who loves a good story. He loves them so much that he runs right in and takes them over, interrupting the plot and wreaking havoc with the characters.

Catalanotto (try typing that three times fast) begins this book as a retelling of "The Three Billy Goats Gruff", but Ivan runs onto the page soon after the retelling has begun and chases the goats away. The narrator begins a new story, this time "Goldilocks and the Three Bears," with the same results. This sequence is repeated with "The Three Little Pigs" and "The Gingerbread Boy."

Ivan's antics had Isaac asking for this book every night while we had it checked out. Fractured folktales are often a hit with children because they take a well-loved story and turn it on its head. But typically this sub-genre sticks with one story per book.

Catalanotto doesn't retell the stories as much as he uses them as background for his lovable dog, but the familiar characters add to the humor because the reader's expectations are replaced by new twists and turns determined by Ivan.

Isaac and I will be visiting the library often this summer and we will be scanning the stacks for this book. I think it's time for a re-reading.

25 May 2010

The Far Side of Normal

Isaac and Matt are in his bedroom reading while I write this. Why am I not joining in the bedtime story ritual, you ask? Because they are not reading stories. They are reading The Far Side. An entire book of collected cartoons. It's not that I do not enjoy Far Side comics. I just don't enjoy 100 of them in one sitting. But Isaac does, so at least once a week I banish myself from storytime so the boys can have their fun.

Matt introduced Isaac to The Far Side a couple of months ago. He has some books from his childhood that he pulled out to share. Some of the cartoons are skipped, either due to their complexity or their subject matter. Yes, we do have some standards when it comes to what is or is not appropriate for our 4 year old. For a majority of the cartoons, though, Matt reads the captions on the comic and talks about the pictures and many times Isaac does get the joke.

Since The Far Side has entered the bedtime ritual, our collection of Gary Larson books has grown. Matt has bought a couple more at Ed McKay and at yard sales mainly out of self-preservation. Even he gets tired of going over the same comics over and over.

Typically, Isaac gets to choose his own bedtime stories. When The Far Side comes out there are some rules. First, it is the only book he gets that night. (Have you ever read a Far Side collection cover to cover? It is not a quick read). Second, Daddy reads it. If Daddy is not available, sorry boy. It will have to wait until tomorrow.

I may hand off to Daddy on Far Side nights and refuse to be directly involved in the reading, but I do not go far. Even now I can hear Matt reading and explaining and I am listening eagerly for Isaac's comments and for his laugh. It secretly thrills me that Isaac's tastes are as odd as his father's. Yes, and mine, too. It probably means that middle school is going to be much more of a horror for him than for the kids who are obsessed with every mainstream, pop-culture phenomenon out there. But, I hope it also means he is going turn out to be a pretty cool adult who can think creatively and laugh at the absurdity of life.

The four basic personality types: 1) The glass is half full 2) The glass is half empty 3) Half full... No! Wait! Half empty!... No, half... What was the question? 4) Hey! I ordered a cheeseburger!
The Far Side, Gary Larson

03 April 2010

It's been a while . . .

My last post was back at the beginning of February, almost exactly two months ago. I am not the world's most consistent blogger, but even I know that eight weeks of no activity is slacking. I would like to claim that I gave up blogging for lent, but, really, life just got the better of me these past two months and my blog took a back seat to, well, everything. But we have been reading and there are a couple of books that I have had in the back of my mind to write about when I had the time and energy to focus. So here goes . . .

One of the books that I bought on the last day of the AASL conference last November was No! That's Wrong by Zhaohua Ji and Cui Xu. It is published by Kane Miller, a publisher that only publishes childrens books from other countries. This book has many elements that appeal to boys: animals doing ridiculous things, pieces of clothing being worn in unusual ways, and, best of all, underwear!

The text is sparse, with some pages having none at all. On the first page all the reader sees is a pair of red, kind of frilly underwear, being blown off a clothesline. On the second page that same set of underwear ends up on rabbit's head. Having never seen underwear before, he assumes it is a hat, and a very nice hat he thinks it makes. The unseen narrator tells him that it is, in fact, not a hat, but rabbit does not listen. As he wanders through the forest and meets other animals, they all try on the hat, but it does not fit anyone as well as it fits rabbit. All the while the narrator is insisting that it is NOT a hat. Donkey is the only one who also knows it is not a hat and shows rabbit how the underwear are supposed to be worn. But they just do not fit his hind quarters as well as they do his head. On his head there are two holes for his ears, but as underwear there is not hole for his tail. And, of course, all of the other animals think rabbit looks ridiculous wearing his HAT on the wrong part of his body. So, back on his head they go and rabbit pushes the narrator out of the story and affirms that it is indeed a wonderful hat!

There is a message in this story about being true to yourself. The rabbit is happy and carefree when he has the underwear on his head, but confused and uncomfortable and even scared when wearing them "correctly." Then he is joyful at the end when he has decided to trust his instincts, even if it it means doing something "wrong." Coming from China, there are also cultural and political lessons in the story. You can discuss these themes, or just enjoy the story.

The text is repetitive and children will enjoy taking on the parts of different characters. The illustrations are watercolors, but they are not muted or faded. The colors are vibrant and help set the rabbit's mood. The end papers add an additional plot line to the story as the other animals, inspired by rabbit, seek out their own unusual hats.

Isaac enjoys this story and laughs at the animals antics, as I am sure many other boys will do. If boys must read about underwear, then this is a book to pass on to them.

05 February 2010

It's All About Mindset

Matt had to read Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. Normally, neither of us read "self-help" books and we both have a rather cynical attitude about them. But, he delved right in, to get it out of the way, and was surprised by how he was relating to the book's message. So, when he finished it, I began reading it to find out for myself what had caught his attention.

In a nutshell, the premise of the book is that there are two types of mindsets that people adopt: the fixed mindset in which people believe that their abilities are finite and the growth mindset in which people believe that they can become smarter, more talented, better at something, etc, through effort. I am sure you can guess which mindset is the better one to have.

Matt and I agree that some of the examples in the book are a bit simplistic and the author repeats her points ad nauseum. The book is also a few years old and some of the people she holds up as examples of the growth mindset have since fallen from grace. But there are lessons to be learned from it, especially for teachers and parents.

Dweck divides the book into chapters about business, sports, relationships and teaching/parenting. While the earlier chapters were enlightening, the teaching/parenting chapter was the most relevant from my perspective. It examines how we can instill a growth mindset in our students or our children and encourage them to learn for the sake of learning, rather than to appear smart. Dweck asserts that fixed mindset people shy away from challenges for fear of failing and proving that they are not smart. Growth mindset people, on the other hand, seek out challenges because they know that it will help them learn and grow. Teachers and parents can lead children along either of these paths depending on the message that we send through our teaching and how we model the mindsets in our own lives.

One way to instill a growth mindset is to take care about how we praise children. The parent modeling the fixed mindset tells her child how smart he is when he does well in school or solves a puzzle. A parent who models the growth mindset, instead praises her son's effort in attacking the challenge of learning new material or working through a difficult situation. According to Dweck, the fixed mindset praise teaches children that being smart is what is most important and causes them to only attempt something that they are assured of doing well at. Conversely, the growth mindset praise teaches children that the effort is what is valued, whether or not it is successful, and causes them to see learning as the sought after goal rather than gaining others' esteem.

Dweck accepts that this praise message may be difficult for many parents and teachers to buy into. We have been conditioned to build children up and worry about their self-esteem being dampened rather than to focus on what effect this unearned praise has on their ability to approach life's challenges. I never thought that by telling Isaac he was smart that he would fear that I would not love him if he failed at something.

I took a couple of messages away from this book. Personally, I have often shied away from trying something new because I believed that I did not have the ability or I could not learn it. After Isaac was born, I began changing this mindset on my own. I want to set the example for Isaac that it is important to face new challenges and that perfection is not what is important, but learning is. Professionally, I want to have a growth mindset in my approach to teaching. I want to help my students learn that success or failure on a test or project does not determine their academic ability. Their willingness to learn from their mistakes and use their failures to grow does.

The mindsets are not black and white. You are not either or. Many of us are probably a mix of the two, depending on what the situation is. The key is understanding what our mindset is and how we can change it if we choose to.

Matt and I are trying to be conscious of the mindset that we are modeling for Isaac. We are praising him for the effort he is putting into learning his numbers and letters and when he masters a task we are challenging him to move on to a harder one. But most importantly we are showing him that we love him whether he fails or not and helping him learn that failure is part of growing. He is going to struggle with some things that he tries. It is how he handles the struggle that will be important.

31 January 2010

Snow, Snow, Snow, Snow!

For some reason I feel compelled to write about a snow book. Possibly because there is over 6 inches of the stuff outside my door right now.

Isaac loves the book Snowmen at Night by Caralyn and Mark Buehner. It is the prequel to Snowmen at Christmas. Have you ever wondered what snowmen do at night? What causes them to sag and look lopsided the morning after they have been created? In this book, the boy asking these questions imagines a world where the snowmen come to life once the town is asleep. They gather in the park to play, skate, sled, and have snowman races. They return home as the sun comes up, a bit worse for the wear, but grinning from snow ear to snow ear.

The text has a nice rhythm for reading out loud and Isaac enjoys seeing the snowmen act like little kids as they throw snowballs, make snow angels and generally frolic in the snow. But what really makes this book great are the illustrations. Buehner's pictures are computer generated, but they are much more layered and textured than most computer generated illustrations I have seen. The colors are vibrant, even though the setting is the middle of the night. The pages almost come to life as you turn them.

There us a bit of a gimic with the book. Buehner has hidden small images in the pictures that the children are challenged to find. They do not have anything to do with the story, but children will want to spend time looking for them, which can be fun and frustrating. Some of them are not easy to find.

I think we will be digging this book out tonight for story time. I would much rather read about snowmen than go out and build one right now.

30 January 2010

ABC's and 123's

Lately monkeys and penguins have been popular at our house. Makes a lot of sense, actually. Penguins are one of my favorite animals and monkeys are Matt's. I love the fortitude of Emperor Penguin mothers as they leave their families to search for food and the faithfulness of the fathers as they stay to take care of the egg. Matt loves the playfulness of monkeys and, well, just that.

Two books that Isaac has chosen recently at bedtime are Counting Penguins and Naughty Little Monkeys by Jim Aylesworth. It just so happens that these books focus on learning and recognizing numbers and letters, something that we have been working on as Isaac gets closer to entering kindergarten.

Counting Penguins is a counting book, as the name implies. Each page shows a different species of penguin, the number of penguins in the photograph getting larger with each turn of the page. Matt lets Isaac say the numbers as they turn the pages. When they get to the end, he has Isaac read the numbers in reverse order as they go backwards through the book. Going forward is much easier because Isaac can say his numbers past ten, but is having trouble recognizing the number symbols past 5 or 6.

Naughty Little Monkeys is an ABC book. The parents have 26 monkeys, each one having a name that begins with a letter of the alphabet. When the parents go out for the evening, all 26 create havoc at home, each action matching the letter with which their name begins. Isaac thinks the mischief the monkeys cause is hilarious, from sliding down the banister to cutting up Dad's newspaper to breaking the window with the yo-yo. As we read this book, we have Isaac name the letter before we read the rhyme that goes with it.

We realized a couple of weeks ago that Isaac did not know as many of his letters and numbers as we thought he did. He has been able to recite the alphabet and say his numbers for a while, and we both thought that the recognition was coming along, as well. We were wrong. I talked with his teacher to get her perspective and she reminded me that he is a boy, and boys take longer to tackle these skills than girls. He is also the youngest in his class, but is probably in the middle as far as progress, so he is doing pretty well. All of this I know rationally. But my parenting nerves kicked in.

So Matt and I have been focusing on helping him with these skills. We are trying to make it as fun as possible, using books and games. We are also trying to praise the effort that he makes to help him begin to value the act of learning.

Kindergarten is not what it was when I started school. Students are expected to know more coming in and accomplish more before the year is over. I want Isaac to be prepared and I want him to value learning for learning's sake. I also want him to be able to have fun and enjoy the social aspect of school and time with his friends.

A good friend just had to decide whether to enroll her son in a traditional 4 year old part-time preschool program or in a full-time pre-k program. As a parent, I understand her wanting her son to have one more year to enjoy the freedom of a less structured environment. But as a teacher, I see the value of pre-k programs and the foundation they give students before starting school. It is a difficult decision for parents who have the choice to make.

I know Isaac will be fine when he starts kindergarten in the fall. If he struggles, he has Matt and I to help him and support him and teach him to learn from his mistakes. But I still worry and probably always will. For now, we will keep reading and working and learning. And we will have fun.

22 January 2010

This Year's Winner

I originally intended my post about the Newbery Medal to focus on this year's winner. But I started ranting and decided to do a separate post for those people who gave up before reaching the end of that last one. The soap box is hard to climb down from sometimes.

I am deviating a bit with this blog from my usual focus on books for boys. As ambivalent as I tend to be about the Newbery, I really liked this year's winner and feel compelled to write about it to get the word out, assuming anyone really reads this blog. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead is the 2010 Newbery Medal Winner. The main character is a girl, and the themes are mostly girl-centric, but I think there is enough science-fiction, mystery and just plain good story telling in this book that boys would like it, too.

Miranda is the heroine. She is at that awkward age of 12, not quite a teenager, but not a kid anymore. She has had one real friend her whole life, Sal (a boy), who is suddenly not her friend anymore. At the same time weird things begin to happen. A semi-crazy, sometimes nude man has taken up residence on her street corner and she begins to receive mysterious notes in disturbing places. The notes point toward a pivotal event in her life that has yet to happen, but of which the writer seems to know the outcome. As she tries to decipher their meaning, Miranda is also on a journey of discovery as she forges new friendships and finds herself.

This book has been called The Time Traveler's Wife for kids because of it's circular plot and themes (minus the nudity and the sex). There are also many parallels to A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle, which is Miranda's favorite book and is referenced a lot in the story. I started When You Reach Me last night after dinner and read it in one sitting. (Well, actually two sittings -- I took a break to put Isaac to bed and run about three chapters in.) It is saying a lot about the hook when a parent of a four-year-old can read a book that is longer than 32 pages in one night. It is one of the best books I read this year, for kids or adults, and in my opinion the most well-rounded, universally appealing Newbery Medal winner in a long time.

But will boys like it? If they can be convinced to overlook the fact that on the surface it is a "girl" book, then I think the science-fiction and mystery elements to the plot will pull them in. There is a little bit of a girl-boy relationship theme, but less than there was in the 6th Harry Potter book and a lot of boys, and grown men, managed to get through that. The cover is fairly gender-neutral, so when the boys judge it by its cover, literally, they shouldn't see anything off-putting.

Librarians and parents will have to work to "sell" this book to boys, but I think it can be done and is worth doing. I am making Matt read it this weekend, so maybe he will weigh in with his perspective when he is finished. In the mean time, happy reading.