So much of our holiday celebrations center around food that it is hard to separate the day from what we eat. When we learn about other holidays, one of the facts that we learn is what they eat. For Christmas, a lot of the food we look forward to is sweet -- cookies, cakes, pies. The turkey and mashed potatoes are nice too, but it is the treats that we really want.
When Isaac learned about other holidays in school, he came home talking about latkes. So I thought it may be nice to try to make some of the foods that are mentioned in books about the Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. I got up this morning to chop apples for apple sauce and grate potatoes for latkes. I sliced chicken breasts for coconut chicken chews and everything was ready to cook at lunch time. We followed the recipes in A Hanukkah Holiday Cookbook and A Kwanzaa Holiday Cookbook. Our lunch was multicultural . . . and pretty good. But, of course, Isaac ate none of it. I should have expected as much, but I tried. We will have leftover latkes and coconut chicken chews at some pint in the next couple of days.
The Christmas Eve service at church is one of my favorite services of the entire year. Each year we have communion. Again, food is central to our celebration, but this time the food reminds us of the sacrifice that is to come. We are focused on the surprising gift that we receive, but the ultimate gift is yet to be given. Tonight, as we lit our candles and sang "Joy to the World," I watched Isaac hold up his candle on the last verse and had to stop singing. I was too choked up to get the words out.
It has become a tradition for us to go out to dinner after church on Christmas Eve. This year we chose "The Melting Pot." We thought Isaac would like cooking his own food, though we weren't sure how much of it he would eat. He refused the cheese, liked the steak, and loved the chocolate. He was funny and talkative throughout dinner and it was one of the most fun experiences that we have had this season. We may have to go back next year.
We will be going to church tomorrow morning, so in the interest of time, Matt and I decided we would open family gifts tonight and leave Christmas morning for Santa. I thought Isaac would love this idea. What six year-old wouldn't? His response was that he wanted to wait until the morning so he could be surprised. His father and I are flabbergasted . . . and a little proud of his restraint. So, we will leave the milk and cookies out for Santa, with some carrots for the reindeer. Then we will head to bed after checking NORAD one last time.
Tomorrow we will wake up and see Isaac's excitement, explore the presents that Santa left, then go to church. I like that Christmas is on Sunday and we can celebrate the birth of Jesus with our church family. Afterwards, we will come home and have a smaller version of the traditional Christmas dinner. We will cap off our holiday with some of our favorite foods. And lots of sweets. It's been a pretty good Christmas already. I think Isaac would agree.
One of my new Christmas traditions is going to see "White Christmas" at the Carolina Theater downtown. They play a classic film series and have played "White Christmas" and "It's A Wonderful Life" for the past couple of years. This year they added "Miracle on 34th Street" to the repertoire. They have had a good response to the movies and plan to add more viewings next year.
Last night, I attended the movie with a friend and her daughter. We ran into a couple of people that we knew in the crowd and sat in the balcony of the old-fashioned, two-story theater. It was a packed house. After watching "White Christmas" throughout my childhood on a television screen in my parents' living room, it is fun to see it on a big screen in a full theater. The audience applauded after each musical number, laughed in unison at Danny Kaye's antics and sang along with the finale. It was one of my favorite things that I have done to celebrate Christmas so far this year.
Isaac did not go with me (he was playing laser tag with Matt and a friend). I didn't think he would like it and I wanted to be able to enjoy the movie. I may take him next year. We will definitely see "Miracle on 34th Street" again next year -- that will be a tradition that he and I will have together. But "White Christmas" is for me. Having him join me would be nice, but not necessary.
Apparently the debate about whether or not parents should let their children believe in Santa is much further reaching than I had assumed. I have tried expressing my opinions, but I find it hard to articulate why we have chosen to "do" Santa with Isaac. Then I read a friend's blog on just this topic and he expressed my feelings more clearly than I have ever been able to. So, please, read what he has to say. And know that I couldn't have said it better myself.
To be honest, I don't know that Matt and I really made a deliberate decision to let Isaac believe in Santa. I know people who have debated this topic with spouses and friends. To Matt and I, it just didn't seem like that big a deal. My parents were not very religious so Santa didn't contradict beliefs in my home. I grew up having believed, as did Matt. If I catalog all of the things that scarred me as a child, and there are many, having believed in the magic of a benevolent man who made children happy wouldn't make the list. Matt and I are very deliberate about avoiding what we see as mistakes that our parents or others made and try to raise Isaac as honestly and with as much integrity as possible. To us, Santa wasn't a mistake and we don't feel like cultivating Isaac's belief in him is dishonest or lacking in integrity.
So, Wednesday evening I took Isaac to see the ultimate pro-Santa movie, Miracle on 34th Street (the Maureen O'Hara, Natalie Wood version). I wasn't sure how he would like it, since it is black and white, and I was actually a little concerned that his belief in Santa may be compromised after seeing it. But his faith held up and may even be stronger than it was before he saw the movie, though if you ask him he would say he didn't like it. But it was funny when Santa got bubble gum in his beard.
I left the movie with a new appreciation for its message after hearing the debates about whether or not Santa is good for kids. Santa and other fairytales that we tell children aren't just for them. They are for us, too. Because sometimes to deal with our reality, we need to have faith in the magic and the impossible and the things that seem silly. It may be all that gets us through some days. Like Susan, we repeat to ourselves, "I believe, I believe. It's silly, but I believe." And, sometimes, our belief is rewarded.
So, Isaac will wake up on Christmas morning and look for signs of Santa's visit. We will play along, having eaten the cookies that were left out and piled the presents under the tree. Dave the Elf will have disappeared, having gone back to the North Pole until next year when Santa needs his help again. Eventually, the time will come when Isaac knows that it is all a game and that the gifts come from Matt or me or other family and friends. I don't think the realization will be traumatizing and I hope that the memories he will take away will allow him to continue to believe that there is magic in our lives, even if it is only the magic that we make.
I read a cute book to my students today that I intended to bring home to share with Isaac. Alas, in the hustle and bustle of trying to finish up work before the winter break, I left it at school. But I will share it here anyway because I think he would like it.
Santa Claus the World's Number One Toy Expert by Marla Frazee details Santa's efforts to match the right toy with the right child. He inspects them, tests them, and inventories them all before wrapping, packaging and delivering each one. If a pogo stick or trampoline cannot withstand his weight, then the kids don't get it. 99.9% of the time his gifts are the perfect match. But no one is perfect, so there is always one or two that aren't quite the right fit. At the end of the day, after all of the gifts have been opened, Santa has saved one for himself. And, of course, it is exactly what he wanted.
This is a really fun book and a nice addition to the Christmas storybook cannon. Marla Frazee wrote one of our favorite books and her style is light and engaging. I want to say I am confident that Isaac will like this book, but he surprises me often. There is no guarantee, but it's a pretty good bet this one would be a hit.
Isaac and I read a Kwanzaa book last night, My First Kwanzaa by Deborah M. Newton Chocolate. In his concert last week, Isaac and his classmates sang a Kwanzaa song, along with songs from various other cultures and holidays. As we read the book last night, Isaac recognized many of the African words and sang the song that he had learned in music class.
I won't pretend to really understand Kwanzaa, but I respect the fact that the people who celebrate it do so in order to feel connected to their ancestors. I teach the basics of the holiday to many of my students each year, along with other holiday customs from other traditions. When I do this, I focus on what all of the celebrations have in common -- the importance of family, giving, faith. We also talk about how each celebration is unique and why it is important to understand each other's traditions.
In the school concert, children from different backgrounds shared what holiday they celebrated with the audience, and before each song a brief introduction was read by one of the first graders. I appreciate that Isaac attends school with kids from other cultures. I hope that he learns from them and can teach them. We know people whose families, though they are Christian, have celebrated Hanukkah with friends. I would love for Isaac to be able to do that sometime, as well as have the opportunity to see what a Kwanzaa celebration is like.
There is a lot more to understanding other cultures than learning about holidays and festivals. But it is a place to start and this time of year seems like as good a time as any.
One of Isaac's chores is to feed the animals. We have two outdoor cats, one indoor-outdoor cat, and a big, lazy dog. Isaac gives them water and food each morning and is responsible for making sure they have enough water throughout the day. This is not a job he enjoys, though I think his dissatisfaction in his work stems more from the fact that it has to be done shortly after he gets out of bed than with the actual act of doing the chore.
This afternoon Isaac told me we needed to get a stocking for the dog and that I needed to take more responsibility with the animals since he was the one doing all of the work. We had a discussion about where the food that he gives the animals comes from (namely the paychecks his father and I bring home) and that we had the responsibility of taking care of him so that he would be able to take care of the cats and dog. Then I nixed the idea of getting a stocking for one of our pets. We are just not that kind of family, and Max doesn't like the rawhide chews that were in the stockings Isaac was looking at anyway.
Since Isaac is such a grump about doing his chore for our rather low-maintenance animals, I wonder what he would be like if we owned a cat like "Bad Kitty." Thankfully, the closest we have come is when our oldest cat urinated on our Christmas tree shortly after Isaac was born. (Hence the reason we now have outdoor cats.) In A Bad Kitty Christmas by Nick Bruel, the aptly named cat goes much further after not getting everything he wanted for Christmas. But, as often happens in Christmas stories, Bad Kitty is humbled by an encounter with a sympathetic character and repents of his bad behavior in time to celebrate with his family and his new friend.
Isaac laughs at Bad Kitty's antics, but would be horrified if one of our cats or dog so much as stepped on his jacket (which is usually somewhere other than the peg upon which it should be hanging). Just another example of how fact can be much worse than fiction.
I have been lazy with our elf this year. He has spent more than one day in the same spot and we have had to make up excuses about why he didn't move overnight. The first time was after Isaac had had his color changed at school, so we said that he was waiting until he could take a good report back to Santa. After that, I gave up trying to find a good excise and just said that "Dave," the elf, was too tired to travel. We have made more of an effort to move him around each night, but it has definitely not been his best year.
Isaac is fascinated by Dave. He looks for him every morning. Elves are a big deal to him right now. He came home excited the other day because his teacher had read a book to the class that we have at home. The Littlest Christmas Elf by Nancy Buss is about an elf who joins Santa's crew, but is unsure of his role as the littlest member of the crew. He is befriended by an old elf who helps him get settled, and turns out to be Santa himself.
It is a story that appeals to a kid's desire to fit in or to be important. And Santa is an image of friendship and caring. I like that Isaac is enthralled by his elf and I like that he is still young enough to believe in Santa. I want to hold on to this time of innocence as long as I can . . . so I guess I had better go move Dave.
It doesn't feel like winter. It has been in the 60's here this week, so the wool coat stayed in the closet with the gloves safely tucked in the pockets. We have had a couple of bone-chillingly cold days this month, but for the most part the weather has been very mild. And the forecast does not give the impression that it will feel like Christmas when it gets here.
Yet, we continue to read about snow because every kid dreams of a white Christmas. Missing Mittens by Stuart Murphy was the latest book that we read to try to get in the mood for winter. It was an appropriate choice as I tackled matching mittens and gloves in order to be prepared should snow ever actually come.
Everyone on the farm is missing a mitten and the book explores the concept of even and odd numbers as the animals and the farmer search for the missing winter wear. This book is part of the Math Start series which is typically a good choice for introducing math concepts to younger students.
Now that he has learned about even and odd numbers, I think I will have Isaac go and match up the gloves and mittens to practice. I am sure he will be thrilled.
Isaac has had a big week. It started with Taekwondo testing (he was trying for his yellow belt), then there was a soccer game, it continued with the church Lovefeast (in which his choir and the tone chimes performed), and ended today with his school concert. Matt and I were there for each event and, as each one passed, I learned something about myself.
I do not expect Isaac to be an excellent athlete. Neither Matt nor I were involved in sports growing up, so my main goal is to help Isaac find a physical activity that he feels confident doing. It may be Taekwondo, it may be soccer or t-ball, or it may be something we have not tried yet. I don't care if he is the slowest or least coordinated player on the team, as long as he participates and has fun. Not so for other endeavors.
He had a speaking role in the skit his choir did during the Lovefeast. We had practiced saying the lines for a few weeks to make sure he was ready. He knew them by heart, though he did lack fluency and expression in his recitation. It is a small choir and I think all of the kids who wanted one had a speaking role. I was proud of his effort and his performance, though I will admit to a bit of parental jealousy as I watched the other kids perform who had bigger roles.
Then today, during the school concert, some of the students had speaking roles or solos. There are 116 first graders at Isaac's school, so highlighting every child is logistically impossible in a thirty minute program. But when I saw Isaac stuck up in the back corner of the risers, I felt that twinge of parental jealousy again. Logically I know that my stage-shy child would not be the best choice for a speaking part, but that didn't stop me from wondering how the music teacher chose the soloists and what she has against Isaac.
Matt was a drama nerd growing up, and I was a band geek and debate dork. So one might expect that Isaac would have a flair for the dramatic, the acting bug, or at least be comfortable in front of a crowd. In private he cuts up and plays the fool and sings in the shower -- but once he has an audience, he clams up. I know that him not having the biggest part, or any part at all, is not a slight on him but a reflection of his lack of desire for the limelight. If he wanted the attention that performing brings, he would seek it out.
I would like to think that my jealousy is actually a manifestation of my desire and hope that Isaac will one day find something that he is good at and that makes him stand out, in a good way. I want him to find a hobby or a vocation that he enjoys, that fulfills him and that brings him the attention that as his mother I think he deserves. I want to be able to point to him and proudly state that he is my son. Not that I don't do that now, but I would like to be able to do it to a bigger crowd.
We have a village that loves Isaac and I am overwhelmed at times by their support. And I love all of the children who were in the church skit (the school kids I don't know well, so I can't say I love them), and I thought they all did an excellent job in the play, much better than Isaac would have. It was disconcerting to realize I harbor these kinds of feelings, though I am pretty sure that I am not the only mother who does. I would like to think they will go away, but I fear they will only get stronger as he gets older. It's a good thing I look good in green.
If you teach elementary school, grades K-2 especially, then in the weeks leading up to Christmas you read books and teach about what animals are doing to prepare for winter. There are some standards that we use -- Time to Sleep by Denise Fleming, Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson, and Leavesby David Ezra Stein are some of my favorites. Finding a new book to throw into the rotation is always nice.
Isaac and I read Hibernation Station by Michelle Meadows last week. In it, the animals don their pajamas, gather their blankets and pillows, and prepare to board the hibernation express on which they will spend their winter slumbering in a special train car designed precisely for their hibernating needs. Of course, there are grumbles as everyone gets settled and finds their spot, but eventually everyone drifts off to sleep for the winter.
This book will not be at the top of my list next year when it is time to read about the bears, skunks, turtles and ladybugs who are getting ready for their winter slumbers, but it is a fun one to have on hand to reinforce what the students learn from the other books.
If it weren't for the cold and the wet, Isaac would love building snowmen. He talks about making one as soon as the first flakes fall. We have never been very successful in our construction of the perfect snowperson, but we have made a couple of valiant efforts. As we try to teach Isaac, you only get better if you practice.
Our snowmen would probably look much more impressive if we actually had the proper materials on hand when they are needed. Instead, we scramble to find something for the eyes and mouth, being woefully lacking in our coal supply. And since we are not very fond of carrots, we never have a large one for the nose. I am always jealous of the people who have perfect snowpeople in their front yards.
Maybe our not-so-stellar performance in the snowman making department is why Isaac likes Pip and Squeak by Ian Schoenherr. It is about two mice searching for the perfect gift for their friend, who happens to be a rabbit. They finally find it on the face of a fine snowman specimen. I won't be surprised if Isaac begs me to buy carrots the next time we are at the grocery store so we will have them just in case.
I guess I should start looking for recipes that use carrots. But I draw the line at buying coal.
The sentimental story is more appealing to parents than children, but the reassurance that your parents will keep you safe is a message that is good for them to be reminded of. And penguins are just cute.
Bear Snores On will always be my favorite of Wilson's and Chapman's collaborations, and Isaac is too much of a boy to love this story, but it's a good choice for a snuggle-by-the-fire-and-read kind of book.
Some of my colleagues are already wishing for a snow day. I understand their need for a day off, or even a day to get work done without students at school. But they lose sight of the future ramifications of a snow day -- a day off now means one less day off later in the year. Personally, I will save my day of for a few months from now when I will want to be outside enjoying the weather.
I have never been fond of outdoor winter sports. Even as a kid, sledding was only fun for a little while and I hated having cold hands and feet. We have gotten a couple of big snows the last few of winters. Enough to have taken Isaac sledding on a nearby hill. He was miserable. Snow got in his boots and his feet were cold and he cried the whole way home after only going down the hill one time. Poor little southern boy.
Snow looks like so much fun in books. Everyone is laughing and having a good time and no one looks like they are bitterly cold. One of the books at Book Fair was Ten on the Sled by Kim Norman. It was a cute book and has math applications for younger children. Ten animal friends get on the sled, but only one is left when it reaches the bottom. They slip, slide, bounce and roll off as the sled careens down the hill. No one is hurt (how realistic is that?), everyone is smiling, and they go back to do it again.
If we get enough snow, we will probably try sledding again. We will wear multiple layers in an attempt to keep our fingers and toes from turning blue. And we will gladly go back inside when we are done to have our snow day hot chocolate.
Isaac turned in his Hanukkah research project last week. He had to write out two facts about the holiday and draw a picture. He also has to be able to read his facts to his class and explain the holiday. We read a few Hanukkah books to prepare. Some were full of facts, some were way too schmaltzy, and one or two were just for fun.
The problem I have found with Hanukkah and Kwanzaa books is that the authors feel the pressure to teach the traditions of the holidays rather than just write a fun story, whereas Christmas books can be about Santa and not much else because the traditions surrounding the Christian holiday dominate our culture. Many of the "other" holiday books either simply build a story around the holiday's traditions or are painfully didactic, hammering home the moral lessons so people unfamiliar with the traditions will have a better understanding.
The Hanukkah Hop by Erica Silverman was one of the few that we read that was mostly just for fun. I know that Hanukkah is supposed to be a happy holiday, but this is the first book that I have read that left me with a feeling of celebration and joy. It was about a family gathering for a party during the holiday, written in a jazzy rhyme. It mentioned dreidels and latkes and menorahs, but it was fun to read and it made the holiday look fun to celebrate. It was a much better literary ambassador for Hanukkah than yet another book cataloging how and when the candles are lit and what the Jews will be eating throughout it all.
I am glad Isaac had to learn about Hanukkah. I hope he remembers some of what we read. I make a point of teaching my students about all of the December holidays each year, emphasizing their similarities and overlapping traditions. I hope that we see more books like The Hanukkah Hop written for Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. We can go to dry non-fiction books to get the outline of the traditions, but the joy comes across best when the reader has as much fun reading the story as the author had writing it.
My goal this month is to post about a different holiday book each day, so I am doubling up today since my book fair post didn't actually mention a specific book. There were quite a few holiday books on the book fair and I brought most of them home to read with Isaac before everything is shipped back to Scholastic. One that he thought was particularly funny was Mrs. Greenberg's Messy Hanukkah by Linda Glaser.
I only occasionally bake with Isaac. Baking is not my favorite thing to do and baking with a six year-old requires a level of patience that I do not possess. The aspect of baking that frustrates me the most is the mess -- and I can never bake anything without there being a mess. Add in Isaac's help and the mess is multiplied by ten. Matt and Isaac have baked together quite a bit, even making a few things for me. The mess doesn't bother them as much. I probably don't need to mention how I feel about the mess they make.
Mrs. Greenberg's Messy Hannukah is about the mess that is created when a little girl tries to help her neighbor make latkes. Isaac laughed when the flour and the oil and the potatoes spilled all over the floor. I could relate all to well to the frustration of the neighbor as she got out the broom and then the mop and finally gave up on the cleaning.
But this book reminds me that I used to tolerate baking enough that I would spend a weekend every year before Christmas making goodies and that some of my favorite memories are of baking with my grandmother. Each fall Isaac and I (mostly me) make an apple or pumpkin pie from scratch, but the big Christmas marathon baking has been pushed aside by all of the other activities that have taken over our weekends.
I also brought home a Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Christmas cookbook from school. I would like to take some time before Christmas to make at least one of the recipes from each of the books with Isaac. We may end up with a floor covered with oil and flour, but we will hopefully have some good memories, too.
I just finished up my first book fair at my new school. I have struggled with book fair the past few years -- was it worth the effort and fair to the kids who couldn't afford anything? I came close to saying "never again." And I think I would have taken at least one year off had I stayed at my former school.
My situation is different now, though. I am at a school where more families can afford to buy books, and do. I also rely on the book fair for my library budget, which was not the case for me before. Now I will be doing two fairs each year, rather than one. So, while the stress of worrying about the students who cannot buy anything is lessened (though not gone altogether), I now have the stress of worrying about how much money we will make and how many books for the library my profit will buy.
Quite a few of my colleagues commented on how calm I was leading up to and during the book fair. I guess after eleven years I have figured out what to stress over and what isn't worth the emotional effort it takes to fuss about. I actually had a pretty good week, though I was dog-tired by the time the books were packed up and ready to ship back. I enjoyed talking with parents about what books would or would not be good choices for their children and it was fun to see the students that I am still getting to know come in with their families and get excited about their new books. We were able to use donations to give books to students who wouldn't otherwise have been able to afford one and I saw many of my colleagues show a very generous spirit, buying books for their students who were not able to benefit from the donations.
It is hard to know what is a "good time" to have a book fair. December can be "good" because parents buy gifts, or it can be bad because families have so many other financial demands at this time of year. Regardless of what time of year is better or will make me more money, last week was a "good" week and, while I may not look forward to the next book fair, I will be able to approach it with a much more positive attitude.
A lot of children this time of year wonder what would happen if Santa decided not to come. They imagine the despair they would feel on Christmas morning if there were no presents under the tree. A few ask the question of how Santa gets it all done in one night, and some may even think about how tired he must be when Christmas Eve is over and everything is delivered. But how many of them are magnanimous enough to say that Santa deserves a year off because he works so hard? I can't think of any that I know . . . Isaac sure wouldn't.
Every child's fear comes true in this book when Santa decides he is too tired to deliver toys and he needs a vacation. An announcement goes out letting the children know not to expect him. Most react as expected, but one stands up, says Santa deserves a break, and begins a campaign to reverse the ususal roles and give to Santa rather than get something from him. The children of the world respond and Santa receives so many gifts that he needs to clear off his toy shelves to make room for them all. What does he do? He takes a ride on his sleigh and hands out the toys that he has no room for.
This isn't the greatest Christmas book ever written, but it's a nice change to have the giving being done by the children with Santa as the recipient. There are Christmas TV specials based on the original version of the book. This new Santa makes his decision for less grumpy reasons than the one in the TV versions, though. Santa just needs a break. Who doesn't at this time of year?
David is back in his very own Christmas book. Kids who loved him in No, David!,David Gets in Trouble and David Goes to School will like this book. And many parents of little boys (and girls) will be able to relate.
It's Christmas, David! finds the lovable mischief maker sneaking into closets to look for presents, waiting in line with a very long list to sit on Santa's lap, playing with the ornaments rather than decorating the tree, and worrying that maybe he has been too naughty for Santa to bring him anything but a lump of coal. Anyone who reads this book will feel his anxiousness when he wakes up from a bad dream of an empty stocking and his joy when he sees his presents on Christmas morning.
While the David books seem to be written for the youngest children, they are enjoyed by anyone who remembers what it is like to be a child, especially at Christmastime. And for those who are really hard to impress, David runs down the street naked and even pees in the snow. Who can resist that?
There is now a third Snowmen book, Snowmen All Year. Isaac insisted he did not like it, but he had a rather suspicious smile on his face when it was over. Again, not as good as the first book, though. Snowmen at Night was different when it was first published -- the story was clever and tapped into a childhood question that had never really been explored, and the illustrations seemed to glow making it seem like that was really snow on the page illuminated in the moonlight.
With each successive book the charm loses its appeal and the illustrations now seem ordinary, especially when most of the story takes place in the daytime. The one thing, however, that the story has retained is the sense of loss that children feel once the snowmen have melted away and their fervent wish that they could last forever.
It may not become our favorite winter story, but this one has its place, if only as a reminder that winter will come again and the snowmen will return.
"The Gingerbread Man" is a popular story to read to primary school children at the beginning of the year. I know teachers who have used it as a tour of the school (walk around looking for the Gingerbread Man and see all the different parts of the school) and it is a great story for sequencing. The students at my new school love the story and I have at least one request for it a week.
It is not necessarily one of Isaac's favorite stories, but we read a story recently that he liked that is a loose retelling of the folktale. The Runaway Latkes by Leslie Kimmelman was one that we read for his Hanukkah research project. It was Isaac's second favorite, after D is for Dreidel.
The main character is making latkes for her temple's celebration when three jump out of the pan and run away. What ensues is a merry chase around town, involving more and more people, until the latkes are finally caught in a river that miraculously turns into apple sauce.
After reading this book, Isaac and I may try to make some latkes. I think we will buy some apple sauce though, rather than searching for a river to dunk them in.
When leaves are brown
And red and gold,
That's when you feel
When skies are crisp
And clear and still,
That's when you feel
When autumn winds
bend ends of trees,
That's when you feel
Matt and I had Children's Worship duty this morning at church, so we were in the Sunday School Classroom/ Children's Library with eight very wiggly children. Part of me thought that I might be able to settle them enough to read a story, so I searched the bookshelves for some Christmas stories. I pulled out what I found and made a stack, but by that time the boys had started a game of indoor soccer and the two girls were drawing. No one was crying or fighting, so I thought I should leave well enough alone and maybe read the books another time.
I did find a gem among the books I gathered, though. The Joy of a Peanuts Christmas: 50 Years of Holiday Comics! came home with us and I started reading it to Isaac during dinner this evening. We made it through the first two decades before Isaac finished his grilled cheese sandwich and are saving the other thirty years for another time. We both chuckled at various comics collected in the book.
At some point this season we will watch A Charlie Brown Christmas and Linus' speech will move me close to tears as it does every time. I will hum along with "Hark the Herald Angels" sing at the end and marvel again at how succinctly Schulz was able to sum up the message of this holiday.
Many of the cartoons we have read so far in the first twenty years of the collection blend the secular and the spiritual aspects of what is Christmas in America. And, while they point a finger toward what has become gross over consumption and the commercialization of the day, they also bring out the wonder and innocence of what it means to be a child at Christmas-time -- the anxiousness of wondering what Santa will bring, the Christmas plays and pageants in which children play the stunned shepherds or the awe-inspiring angels, the excitement of waiting for it to finally arrive.
I guess Christmas would come without Charlie Brown and his gang, but having them around reminds me to put away my wallet, not worry about how the tree looks, and think about where and how it all started. That's a message that doesn't become out-dated.
We are easing into the Christmas season. The tree is up, but not completely decorated. No other Christmas decorations have left the boxes they were packed in last January.
Christmas music is on the radio, though I am already tired of the same ten songs the dj's are compelled to play. I keep saying I am going to load my Christmas music on my mp3 player, but I have yet to do it.
This evening we took Isaac and our friends' daughters to a Christmas pageant that some of my students were in. After the program we drove around looking at lights and went downtown to see the city's Christmas tree.
Tomorrow we have the church children's Christmas party and I have bought our Angel Tree gifts and pajamas to donate to Foster Friends. I am also making plans to take Isaac to see "Miracle on 34th Street" when they play it at the theater downtown.
Tonight Matt and I said while driving down our friend's street to look at lights that it seemed like just last week we were trick-or-treating at those same houses. I know that in a few weeks we will wonder where this time before Christmas went. I want to slow down and enjoy it. I am trying to think of some different activities we can do this year to help make the time special. Mostly, I just want to have quiet time to relax with Isaac and Matt during this hectic season.
Isaac has to research Hanukkah, write down two facts and draw a picture of a symbol of the holiday for a school project this month. We don't have any Hanukkah books at home, so I brought a non-fiction book from school and Matt borrowed some fiction books from a co-worker. In an effort to avoid procrastination, Isaac and I read the Hanukkah books this afternoon and he wrote down his facts after we discussed what we learned from the books.
His favorite of the books we read was D is for Dreidel by Tanya Lee Stone. He said it had more information than the other fiction books. He thought we needed to read the non-fiction book, though, to get better facts.
D is for Dreidel is an alphabet book, which is probably obvious from the title. Each letter is accompanied by a key word and a rhyme. The common Hanukkah terms are covered, along with throw-ins like neighbor, uncles, and xylophone. Never new those were Hanukkah words, huh? Me either.
I was actually thankful for the books when I saw them on the counter this afternoon. Since I am trying to write about a holiday or seasonal book each day this month, I need some variety. I plan to also read some Kwanzaa books to Isaac over the next few weeks. We will need a break from Santa and his reindeer.
I made it through the National Blog Posting Month challenge. It was much easier, and more satisfying, than I thought it would be. I had fun deciding what books to write about and picking out new ones to read to Isaac. I found myself being much more intentional about what we read together, rather than just grabbing something at bedtime. I am glad that I took the challenge of writing about something each day.
I actually don't want to stop posting, but I know that in the hectic pace of our daily lives this blog will get pushed to the background, behind the 100 other mundane tasks that need to be done each day. I have liked having the daily time to reflect, but I know myself well enough to predict that just wanting to do it is not enough. I need a challenge or a goal to keep me going.
So, I have given myself one . . . continue to post each day until Christmas about a seasonal (winter or holiday) book. I have already started my list of books to write about. My challenge will be to find enough new books to post here -- ones that I have not written about previously.
I am also giving myself this challenge the week before my book fair begins. I am not sure if that proves how much I really like doing this or if I am just a glutton for punishment.
So, here we go again. And to get us started, enjoy this poem.
I write about books for boys, but I always like coming across a book that has a cool girl character. This book has a cool girl, but lots of stuff for boys, too. The premise -- two students are paired up to write a report about their favorite fairy tale. When they cannot agree, they write their own. And it is obvious which parts of the story each of them writes. There are ponies and princesses in the girl's version, but the boy adds in motorcycles and explosions to spice things up. When the girl doesn't like how her princess is portrayed, she takes back over and kicks some butt. They manage to agree on an ending that satisfactorily defeats the pony-kidnapping/eating giant.
What really makes this book unique is the collaboration of three illustrators on the pictures. Each adds his/her own flavor to sections of the book, matching the pictures to the character narrating. The effect is visually stimulating and really fun to read.
Isaac and I had fun reading this book. We have had fun reading most of the books that I have written about over the last 30 days. Thanks for hanging in there with me this month. I hope you have been inspired to read something new.
Another from Matt on what he and Isaac are reading . . .
I have a love/hate relationship with school library book fairs. On the plus side they raise money for schools, give kids who would not normally spend time in a book store time to browse, and generally have some really cool books that I would never pick up otherwise. The bad things about book fairs include the metric ton of poorly written books based on licensed characters (Clone Wars, Disney, and Marvel), over priced toys and posters, and Nancy is usually frazzled the week before and the week of her library’s book fair.
At Isaac’s school’s most recent one, he picked a few of the beginning reader character paperbacks heavy on the illustrations and plot summaries of movies that we have seen a dozen times. Nancy picked up a few more substantial books, and on the way out a book caught my eye -- Guys Read…Funny Business. It was a collection of 10 funny short stories written by and for guys.
The idea intrigued me. I knew that some of the humor would be over Isaac’s head, but he would have fun grappling with the ideas. The introduction of the book says, “Guys Read believes that humor is seriously one of the best kinds of reading. Humor is important. To get why something is funny, you have to first understand the thing itself, then understand why changing it in an unexpected way is funny. Your brain is doing some great work when it is laughing.” How could I say no to that? The book also offered the challenge of reading without pictures, something that I am anxious to get into.
So far, we have read about half of the stories with mixed results. “Best of Friends” is a remembrance of a childhood friendship based on greed and a lie. “Will” is the story of a school where all of the children discover that they have different magic powers and are attacked by a villain in a robotic exo-skeleton. “Artemis Begins” by Eoin Colfer tells a real life story from his childhood and how his brother inspired the character Artemis Fowl. “Kid Appeal” is a slap stick story of two boys trying to win a contest celebrating the history of their town in a way that would only make sense to someone who had been a young boy at one time or another. “Your Question For Author Here” is a series of letters between a bored young school boy and a no nonsense author that form a very unusual friendship over a classroom assignment.
There are five more that we have not read yet, but I am looking forward to them. Isaac understands the stories and even laughs at some of them. The “Guys Read” website has volumes of cool guy books in “guy friendly” genres like Dragons, War, Apes/ Monkeys, at least one explosion, outer space but without aliens, and people being transformed into animals.
I realize now that I opened a whole world of cool things to read with the boy by picking up a strange looking book at the book fair.
The library book that Isaac brought home from school the week before last was Souperchicken by Mary Jane and Herm Auch. It is a book that celebrates reading. Most books do, I suppose, but this book's plot is centered around a chicken who learns to read and uses her ability to save her coop-mates from becoming chicken soup.
The message that "reading is important" can come across rather flat, but this book escapes that pitfall through humorous, computer generated pictures and lots of wordplay, most of which went over Isaac's head but got chuckles from me. The Auchs have teamed up on more than one book starring poultry and their trademark illustrations make their books immediately recognizable.
Computer generated pictures can be tricky. In some books, I feel like they lack depth and detract from the story rather than enhance it. But, in others, the artist manages to add layers of interest and soften the effect. The Auchs' books are some that I like the computer generated illustrations in.
Isaac enjoyed Souperchicken so I think I will bring a couple more of the Auchs' books home to read. After this one, though, I doubt I will look at a can of chicken soup the same.
Isaac and I are reading The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. There was a lot of buzz about this book when it came out. It is hard to define what genre it is -- it is a picture book in the sense that the story is told with pictures as much as it is with text, but it is also a novel. It even won the Caldecott, which was rather controversial, since it doesn't fit the category as neatly as some would like.
I read the book the first time soon after it was published. I remember being fascinated by the format. Last summer, when we went to see the final Harry Potter movie, there was a preview for a movie called "Hugo." As soon as I saw the title, I knew what was coming. And, of course, I was conflicted. I knew that the movie could never live up to the book, no matter how much I would like it to.
When it was originally reviewed, people likened the experience of reading the book to seeing a movie -- Selznick used cinematic-like methods in his illustrations to make it almost feel like the reader zoomed in to the pages and much of the story is told without words. You watch the characters as much as you read what they are doing.
I had been planning to read Hugo to Isaac at some point, but the movie opens this week, so I decided now was a good time. Even though I expect to be disappointed, I would like to take him to see it. It is a fast read and we are moving through it quickly. Isaac seems to be really enjoying it. We are only a quarter of the way through, though, so we will see if it holds his attention.
Many librarians, and others who love the book, would argue that making a movie of a book like Hugo defeats the purpose of the book itself. It is as much experience as it is literature. I have not checked, but I was wondering if the book is available in an electronic format and how that would change the experience. These are the kinds of questions and debates I am sure that we will be engaging in more frequently. For now, though, Isaac and I will finish the book and then decide if we will see the movie. It will be his call.
I read my first comic book/graphic novel after reading Michael Chabon's book The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Well, maybe not my first, but my first in a long time. The plot centers around a comic creating duo and I loved the book. I was curious enough after reading it to seek out some comics. I didn't become a devotee of the format, but I can appreciate a good graphic novel.
I also read Chabon's YA book, Summerland. This book's plot revolved around baseball. I was not as much of a fan.
Now Chabon has written a picture book, The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man. I was excited when I saw a colleague with it a couple of months ago. Chabon and superheroes -- it felt like he was going back to what I first loved him doing.
We bought our nephew the book for Christmas, so, of course, I read it to Isaac to make sure it would be a hit. He liked it. I will not give away the end, there is a bit of a twist. After finishing it, Isaac and I looked back through the illustrations to see if there were clues to Awesome Man's true identity that we missed. There were, and it was fun to see the clues now that we knew what they meant.
For a boy who likes superheroes, this is a great book. It's a nice change from the Marvel and DC heroes that I have been learning so much about these past few years.
This book seems appropriate for the day after Thanksgiving, when many of us are still eating turkey sandwiches and leftover sweet potatoes, green bean casserole and apple pie.
Ogres, Ogres, Ogres: A Feasting Frenzy From A to Z by Jos A. Smith is an alphabet book. But don't think that it is meant for non-readers. The vocabulary is advanced and the ogres are not limited to eating apples and bananas. Instead they feast on hummus, kumquats, oysters and vichyssoise. The illustrations are fun and each letter is accompanied by an ogre with a name and action matching the letter. (Abednego adores anchovy butter and Queenie quaffs quantities of root beer.)
Don't assume that alphabet books are just for the littlest of kids. Authors and publishers know that adults buy and read the books, too. This one is especially tempting. I probably won't get Isaac to eat anything mentioned in the book, but I may have to hunt down some parsnip quiche once the Thanksgiving leftovers are gone.
I shared this last year during Women's History Month. I originally wrote it for The Girl Museum two years ago. Aunt Sarah turns 100 years old today, so I thought I would share it again. I cannot be with her today, but I hope she knows that I am thinking about her and love her and that she was a very important influence in my life.
As a young girl, I devoured Nancy Drew books. I thought Nancy Drew was amazing. Not only did we share the same first name, but she was independent, resourceful and smart. I often imagined I was her.
In my small town, there was a used book store with a bookshelf that held nothing but Nancy Drew books. My great-aunt Sarah often took me there to choose one to add to my personal collection.
Aunt Sarah reminded me of Nancy Drew. She was independent, having never married in an age when marriage was one of the few options women had for security. She was resourceful, having taken care of her dying father while maintaining a career of her own. And she was smart, able to debate the most domineering men on any topic thrown her way.
Aunt Sarah showed me that women didn’t have to follow the rules of society and always do what was expected. She lived her life her way, taking less than ideal circumstances and making the best of them. And she loved me unconditionally.
I still have my collection of Nancy Drew books. When I look at them, I remember the two women who taught me as a girl that life is an adventure and the path that I chose to follow could be of my own making. They showed me how to define my own life, rather than let the circumstances of my life define me, and that is lesson I will always treasure.
It seemed like it took fall a while to get here this year. Not the actual date, but the colors. The weather stayed warm and the leaves stayed green longer than in past years, or so it seemed. But when they did arrive, they were glorious. The oranges and yellows looked especially vibrant.
Isaac and I were driving home one afternoon close to 5:00, after Daylight Saving Time had ended, so dusk was only about 30 minutes away. It was one of those perfect times when the angle of the sun was just right and hitting the leaves at just the right spot that it almost seemed as if they glowed. I should have stopped to take a picture, except I don't do things like that and I wouldn't have been able to capture the image well enough to do the colors justice. But I can still see them when I close my eyes, so maybe they will stay with me long enough to get me through the long, gray days ahead.
I realized, now that the leaves have fallen and been raked and bagged, that I had not included any fall books in my posts this month. While we were raking leaves in our friend's yard over the weekend, a couple came to mind as I watched Isaac hesitantly jump into the piles that we had made.
Fall Leaves Fall By Zoe Hall and It's Fall! by Linda Glaser are two that I like to read to my classes each year. They celebrate the colors and the changes of the season. It's Fall is especially lovely, with its collage art illustrations. Of course, they include the obligatory science connections (animals hibernating or migrating or otherwise adapting to the colder weather, temperature changes, how humans adjust). But they are fun to read and pretty to look at.
So put them on your list for next year when you are waiting for colors that don't seem to want to show themselves. Or read them at the end of January when you need an infusion of color in those long gray days.
Matt reads some things to Isaac that they have really connected with as only a father and son can, so I asked him to write about them . . . here is the first.
I collected comics when I was a young teen. Where my buddy Don would read more traditional books like "Wolverine," "Punisher," and "Power Pack," I preferred "The Nam," "Groo the Wanderer," and "The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones." I collected whatever I could get my hands on even if I didn’t read them because I liked the art, the characters, and the ads aimed at 12 year old boys promising a bounty of riches if I became my own boss and sold “Grit” magazine door to door.
The major comic book labels realize the importance of developing brand loyalty early and have been aiming toys, comics, and video games at younger and younger children. Usually Isaac enjoys them, but they are pretty awkward. (Kid versions of "Hulk" and "Wolverine" on a playground with a childish version of “Abomination?”)
Last year when I was out of town at a conference, I stopped by a comic book shop near the hotel to pick up some goodies for Isaac and a copy of the recently published “Emma” for Nancy. I asked the clerk if there was anything new for young boys and he pointed me to a comic that had just been printed for the first time that week called “Axe Cop."
It is written by five year old, Malachai Nicolle and illustrated by his 29 year old brother Ethan. It had existed as a web comic for a while, but made the move to print last year for a three issue run.
Reading the books is like listening to a child who has just eaten an entire box of Count Chocula tell you the story of what he dreamed last night. The stories involve Axe Cop and his team of friends including Uni Baby, Sockarang, and Wexter (Isaac's favorite), his flying dinosaur with robot machine gun arms. New good guys join the team, though, whenever Malachai thinks of them. Axe Cop’s team usually fights against bad guys which can include ninjas, robots, vampires, zombies, poop monsters, sharks or any combination. Jesus, the devil, the Queen of England, Abe Lincoln, and Army Chihuahua all make cameos in the stories from time to time.
One of the things that I love about Axe Cop is that any character can change allegiances between good and evil two or three times in any given story. A character’s powers change as they die, come back to life, have a spell cast on them, or get blood on them from decapitating a bad guy.
There is violence in these books, but it is so absurdly over the top, that I never feel like it is going to scare Isaac. On the contrary, these books take the things that would normally fascinate but scare a child and make them funny. Malachai’s imagination seems to know no limit, a characteristic that I would encourage in any child.
We often tell kids that they can grow up and do anything that they want. After reading "Axe Cop," Isaac knows that even a kid his own age can create stories and worlds that other people want to read about.
I encourage parents to take their kids to a comic book store and see what is available. It can be daunting walking in for the first time, but most of the clerks are knowledgeable, friendly, and are more than willing to point you in the right direction to find something that you and your child will both enjoy. The owner of our local store, Acme Comics, actually saved the last copy of "Axe Cop" behind the counter for us when it looked like it was going to sell out.
I close with one Axe Cop’s prayers. “Dear God, Why did you make sharks evil? I would like them to be on my team.”
If you want a book to read for the upcoming holiday, here are some suggestions . . .
The Firefighters' Thanksgiving by Maribeth Boelts is a perfect book for tying together the holiday and some of the people for which many of us are thankful. The firefighters are continually interrupted while preparing their feast but, of course, everyone eats in the end.
One is a Feast for a Mouse: A Thanksgiving Tale by Judy Cox is one that I read to the EC class last week. They had a great time listening and counting along to how many scraps the mouse collected, even though he insisted one was enough for a feast. His eyes are bigger than his stomach and he loses his feast after a run-in with the cat, but there is a bright side when he finds one pea waiting for him in his hidey-hole.
Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving by Laurie Halse Anderson tells the story of Sarah Hale who campaigned for over 30 years, writing to numerous Presidents, to get Thanksgiving named a National Holiday. This is not a dry non-fiction text. It is a fun, witty, very readable portrayal of the woman who gave us our four day weekend, holiday football games and Black Friday.
I have written before about myfeelings on gunsand questions of whether or not to include them in the library or how I would handle a serious challenge. This week my mettle was tested and I am facing objections toa bookthat I want the school to use for a community read. I really believe in the book, but there is one illustration that depicts soldiers with guns in their hands. I am treading carefully, trying to refrain from getting into debates about personal feelings in order to provide a solely professional perspective and encourage my colleagues to make an informed decision. It is going to be difficult for me; I am not known for holding back my opinions. I understand the concerns being expressed, but I also believe that as educators we cannot avoid issues with which we are not comfortable. More importantly, as a librarian, I believe that we should not censor a book without judging the entire work out of fear of how a few parents will react to one picture. This issue will play out over the next month and I will respect the decision that my colleagues make, whether or not I agree with it.
We watchedAladdinwith Isaac last night. I had wanted to watch it last weekend when Matt was out of town, but Isaac refused. We ended up watchingAlpha and Omegainstead. But last night Matt decided we were watchingAladdin. I am not sure why Isaac was against watching it -- I think he thought it would be too scary. What I have realized in the past two weeks watching movies with him (Alpha and Omega andRealSteellast weekend andAladdinthis weekend) is that he is starting to pick up on emotional nuances. Before, he never really reacted to the possibility of a character dying or leaving. But inAlpha and Omegawhen the female dog is injured in the stampede, I looked over and he was sobbing. Then inReal Steelhe cried, as did I, when the father was leaving his son. Last night, he cried at the end ofAladdinwhen the genie was leaving. I guess I never really thought about when he would begin reacting emotionally to something he watched. But for some reason seeing him cry at a movie breaks my heart, more so even than when he cries because he has hurt himself. Maybe it is because I can do something to make the physical hurt better, or I know that it won't last that long. But the emotional hurts that he will experience as he grows up will be harder to get over and will last a lot longer.
We spent this morning working in the yard of an elderly church member who needed her leaves collected and bagged. Isaac came along and there was a group of about 10-12 people working throughout the morning. Isaac jumped right in, literally, and helped rake, bag and haul leaves to the curb. He worked alongside the adults without complaint, occasionally taking a break to drink some more milk and eye the donut box. When we had stopped for donuts, Matt was approached by a guy holding a license plate that said “JESUS.” I am not sure what the guy was trying to talk Matt into doing, but Matt informed him that we were on our way to do Jesus’ work at the house of a friend and wished him luck in his endeavors (I am paraphrasing, of course). As we worked, I thought about that and that Matt was right. This was what Jesus would have done . . . helped his neighbor, not proclaimed his name on a license plate or a bumper sticker. And that is what I hope Isaac will remember when he is older.
After raking leaves, Matt had promised Isaac we would go to The Lost Ark, an old-fashioned arcade and used video game store. They have a wall lined with pinball machines and some other older shooting, driving and assorted arcade games. I will admit, reluctant as I was to go, that it was fun. But I couldn’t help but notice that some of the pinball machines had release levers shaped like gun handles. And of course there were the games with the rifles and the violent fighting games. Then I saw the front page of the paper when I returned home, with a color picture of a Swat Team, rifles out, arresting two suspects. I sighed and folded the paper up to go watch football.
Thursday night we had our first "Boys Love Books" club meeting at school. Our PE teacher spearheaded the effort to get boys and their male role models to school to read together. The turnout was great and will hopefully continue, or grow, for future meetings. I was allowed to attend even though I am a girl.
We wanted to have a theme each month, partly to have a focus, partly to come up with a hook to get people there for this first meeting. We chose comic books and graphic novels because we knew it was something that the kids would get excited about. It just so happens that one of our parents knows someone who draws for comic books so the artist came to speak briefly before we let the boys and their dads/granddads/uncles/friends/mentors loose with the books. The boys loved hearing him talk about his work and I got a couple of questions afterwards about how long it would take to get a book published.
Meetings like this are energizing rather than exhausting, especially since I fill a supportive role rather than having to lead. I am reminded of what the real purpose of my job is - to bring books and kids together.
I asked Isaac what book I should write about tonight and this was his pick . . . I'm the Biggest Thing in the Ocean by Kevin Sherry. It is about a giant squid who spends almost the whole book bragging about how he is, well, the biggest creature in the ocean. Until he is swallowed by a whale. But he quickly regains his composure when he realizes that he is now the biggest thing inside the whale.
The illustrations are really cute and the squid's exuberance is contagious. Even when you are sure that he is totally crushed by the circumstances he finds himself in (being swallowed by a whale would depress just about anyone, I would think), he manages to find the silver lining and bounce back.
This was actually a good book for me to reflect on tonight. It's been a bumpy couple of days, but there is always something positive to reflect on and it is always better to focus on the good stuff than the bad. For a realist like me (I don't like the term pessimist -- too negative) that is a message that cannot be repeated often enough, especially during the times when it feels like you are in the belly of a whale.