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.