Her sister was a witch

I recall reading Witch’s Sister on a hot summer day and being chilled to the bone. It wasn’t our air conditioning – it was Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s tales. The stories were the perfect combination to feed the imagination – two young girls, a strange old lady, a creepy house on a hill, a menacing cat, stalking crows and an ancient cemetery.

Set in the 70s, these books remind me of my own childhood.

Lynn and Mouse, the heroines, had the freedom to roam their small town as my friends and I once did. Lynn has a brother and sister; Mouse’s parents are divorced and she lives with her dad, her mom has moved away. There’s also a creek, the mentioned graveyard and family dinners.

drawing of graveyard.

Lynn and Mouse hang out in an old graveyard.

I still find these books spooky as an adult. In the first book, you are left to wonder if old Mrs. Tuggle is really witch who is trying to bring Lynn’s teenage sister Judith into her coven – are these coincidences or Lynn and Mouse’s active imaginations?

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Lynn and Mouse and the scary Mrs. Tuggle.

A group of crows start to follow Mouse in Witch Water and you’re pretty sure the girls are spot on. By the third and very creepy book, The Witch Herself, you have no doubt. It all came back to me when I reread the books, as well as Gail Owens’ perfect illustrations. I still love Lynn and Mouse and it takes me right back to my own childhood friendships.

In my hometown, there was a creepy and ancient graveyard; rumor had it that it was haunted by Sarah Farris.

graveyard and school

This is where the scary incident in the graveyard happened. My elementary school is behind it.

I don’t know why her name was picked from the old markers but kids talked about it. The graveyard was adjacent to our elementary school playground and adding to the mystery and fear was the time a man was sitting there during recess. We watched in awe and fear as the police came and took him away. In my memory he was dressed in robes like Obi-One Kanobi and for weeks I refused to walk past the graveyard, much to my parents’ irritation since it was near our house.

My brother lives in our old neighborhood and we walked over on Easter Sunday to take a look at the graveyard. In broad daylight, this ancient and very small space no longer unnerved me. We talked about the fear of Sarah Farris and her so called hauntings from the grave. Looking around, we only found the grave of Sarah Jewett – the Farris House was one of the original houses in our village, so somewhere the names must have been mixed-up in our elementary school lore.

Gravestone

The only Sarah we found in the graveyard was Sarah Knapp Jewett.

I recently asked my friend Jeanne if she remembered the books. Her eyes got wide.

YES! You loved them!

Still do. My only regret is I reread them so quickly.

And I still find crows suspicious.

*After writing this post, I realize there are two more books in this series I didn’t know about – I’ll be checking them out!

You can’t force memories

You can’t force your kids to take a trip down memory lane.

I’ve tried.

A few weeks ago, on an impromptu visit to the Cincinnati Art Museum, my family caught the second to last day of a Robert McCloskey exhibit, Make Way for Ducklings.

What a treat!

Blueberries

An image from the exhibit.

As we perused the art, I babbled to the kids about Blueberries for Sal, a favorite of mine. I read my copy to them when they were little.

“I’m not sure I remember it,” one of them said.

I don’t know why it surprises me what I remember and what they don’t.

Meanwhile, Eddie had his own memories of McCloskey’s Homer Price, remembering that the boy’s uncle invented an amazing donut machine.

My brain was tickled by images of The Man Who Lost His Head, written by Claire Huchet Bishop and illustrated by McCloskey. I had totally forgotten this book until I saw it in the exhibit. In the story, a man wakes up without his head and tries to replace it with a pumpkin, a turnip, a wood head. As a child, the whole thing struck me as a bit horrifying as a child.

Turnip Head

The man tries a turnip for a head. See why it freaked me out?

When we got home, I dug out our McCloskey books, including Blueberries for Sal.

“Oh yeah!” both Max and Calvin said.

A few nights later, I tried to get them to read it out loud with me. Together.

Bad idea.

They wanted to read in goofy voices and made each other laugh so hard there wasn’t any reading going on.

I couldn’t get too annoyed because I remember cracking up like this as a kid. And I realized I was trying to force my memory on them. I liked the book, they liked the book but at nine weren’t ready to be nostalgic.

But I do recommend checking out this Hamilton, Ohio native’s work.

signed copy

My 1975 copy of Sal that was a gift with Don Freeman’s classic Mop Top.

 

 

Books by the Banks & Mama has a Secret

The kids and I went to Books by the Banks this fall. They enjoyed the crafts and we picked up some new books.

The best part was our conversation.

When we sat down to have a snack, Calvin asked me if you could get married more than once.

I decided to take the opportunity for full disclosure.

“Yes,” I said. “You know your dad was married before and I was too.”

They know their dad was previously married  because their brother Ben is the evidence but it hasn’t come up that I was married too.

“YOU have a secret!” Max said, scandalized and excited.

“It’s not a secret,” I said, trying to sound casual. “It just never came up.”

Calvin had already turned his attention to his new book but I could tell Max was mulling it over.

“Well, then what happened?” he asked. “Did you meet Dada on a dating app?”

This is hilarious if you know Eddie.

He lost interest and went back to looking at his new book.

Kids with Ben Clanton

Meeting Ben Clanton.

A few days later, Max said, “I mean, I knew you had lots of boyfriends but I didn’t know you were MARRIED!”

What gave him this idea, I wondered, thinking this would make my friend Fernando cackle. A few more days went by and Max asked me, “Did you and this boy you were married to have a house?”

“Yes,” I said. “And you know, baby, sometimes things just don’t work out…blah blah blah,’” I tried to explain it and said way too much.

“Uh, huh,” he said, losing interest.

He hasn’t asked me about it again.

We did buy some books.

We met Ben Clanton and he signed his new book Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt. (He was super nice!) We’ve since checked out his book Rot, The Cutest in the World, about a rotten and very cute potato.

We also discovered a new series for Max: Behind the Legend Books by Erin Peabody. To date, he’s read about the Loch Ness Monster, Zombies, Werewolves, Big Foot, Unicorns. And here’s a fun fact: she’s from Cincinnati.

Fiona – Cincinnati’s favorite baby

Fiona

My encounter with Fiona.

It was love at first sight. Sure, I knew Fiona was cute, but when I saw her floating serenely during a snooze, I was hooked.

My kiddos? Not so much.

“Look at the cute fish in there with her!” they shrieked, rushing past the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s 570 pound baby.

I thought they were crazy but maybe they were on to something. In WCPO community reporter Lucy May and WCPO cartoonist Kevin Necessary‘s new book, “My Best Friend Fiona” Trixie the Tilapia is the narrator. The book will be published by WCPO and a portion of the proceeds go to the Zoo.

book mockup for website copy

I’ve had the privilege of working with WCPO community reporter Lucy for many years. She’s an excellent writer and fair reporter. I jumped on the chance to talk to her about the book about Cincinnati’s favorite baby.

Here’s our converstion. (Kevin said Lucy covered my questions and gave this a thumbs up!)

How did the book come about?
WCPO’s General Manager, Jeff Brogan, came up with the idea. He sent an email to one of our bosses that basically said: Wouldn’t it be cool if we could do a children’s book on Fiona and have it ready in time for the holidays? Lucy could write it, and Kevin could illustrate it. And the idea took off from there.
 
Do you have a favorite Fiona story? Any personal interactions with her?
I have been a Fiona fanatic since the day the zoo announced her birth. I was lucky to go to the media preview that the zoo hosted one evening when Fiona was first starting to swim in Hippo Cove. I was trying to get a selfie with Hippo Cove in the background, and when I turned around, I was face-to-face with my favorite hippo!

She was staring right at me, and I literally squealed and fell to my knees, losing any appearance of journalistic objectivity.

I know she’s too big for it now, but I would still love to get in the pool and swim with her. 
 
Have you and Kevin worked together before?
Yes! Kevin and I first collaborated in 2016 on a comics journalism style story called Childhood Saved. That turned into a series of three stories, and we completed the third one earlier this year – just weeks before we started on the book.
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Kevin and Lucy bring a stuffed Fiona to the office.

Did you get to work with Cincinnati Zoo as part of your research process? 
Our editor, Tasha Stewart, coordinated with the zoo from the start to make sure the folks there were on board with our telling Fiona’s story in a children’s book. People at the zoo got to read the story and see the illustrations before anyone else outside of WCPO. Fortunately, they decided to carry the book in the zoo’s gift shops after it is published. But honestly we didn’t need to do too much additional research because the zoo has been sharing so much information about Fiona, and I have been following her story closely.
Fiona book

Fiona was only 29 pounds at birth.

 
What’s your favorite thing about Fiona?
My favorite thing about Fiona is that she has been able to give people hope – hope about how preemies can beat the odds and how communities can come together for a common cause.

She has been a daily dose of happiness and hope at a time with a lot of division and nastiness in the world.

What do your children  think about your book?
My daughters are 21 and 16. They both love Fiona and are excited about the book. Trixie the Tilapia, who is the narrator of the story, is actually named after my younger daughter. My younger daughter’s middle name is Beatrice, and my husband calls her Trixie. My older daughter seems to be taking that pretty well.

Kevin shares that his cats, Huckleberry and Grayson aren’t big readers, no matter how much he tries to get them interested.

Please share one of your favorite children’s books.
I have soooo many favorites. One of my favorites for sure is “The Paper Bag Princess,” written by Robert Munsch and illustrated by Michael Martchenko. It’s a great girl-power story that turns the tables on fairy tale conventions. And the illustrations are terrific, too.

 

Thanks, Lucy and Kevin. Congratulations!

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the zoo’s recent loss. Henry, Fiona’s dad, passed away a couple of weeks ago. Thanks, Henry for all the smiles!

Tortoise Love

I told Max not to stick his hand in the water.

Of course he did it anyway.

We were at Spring Grove Cemetery looking for turtles in the ponds. We hit the jackpot when several swam up to us. Others must have preceded us on our turtle hunt; the turtles seemed like they were expecting us in food and swam towards us eagerly.

“He bit me,” Max squealed. “He loves me!”

The skin wasn’t broken but there were two lines on his finger. We left because the geese were starting to descend on us.

I can’t pinpoint when Max and Calvin became obsessed with turtles and tortoises but it’s lasted about five months. They have a special tortoise voice that they use when they play. They have tortoise tea parties.  I was thrilled to come home and find they played turtle school with their babysitter Colette. She even made them turtle worksheets. They kept talking about Mrs. C – and I finally figured they were talking about Colette. Mrs. C is her  turtle school name.

They really want a tortoise/turtle for a pet but I’ve read they can carry diseases; I also don’t want to take care of anything else. I will let them indulge their interest by watching funny videos on YouTube. Did you know turtles will chase a house cat, nipping at their feet? It’s their way of showing affection – I think our Henry would faint.

Turtles

Here’s what you do when your mama won’t let you get a turtle. You make your own terrarium.

I took advantage of the tortoise rage at my house and hit the library:

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Max reading about tortoises.

We like:

One Tiny Turtle by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Jane Chapman.

National Geographic Kids Turtles by Laura Marsh.

National Geographic Kids Mission Sea Turtle Rescue by Karen Romano Young and Daniel Raven-Ellison.

National Geographic Kids Sea Turtles by Laura Marsh.

We celebrated all things turtle on their eighth birthday. (Hard to believe they are this old!) Here’s their birthday cake:

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I’ll have to remind Max that he once made a card in preschool that said I was special, “because my mama saved a turtle in the road.” My friend Annette and I were walking – in Spring Grove – and diverted a little guy back back to his pond.

Ah, turtles.

Happy Birthday Nell!

What do you give a girl on her first birthday? Books, of course! What do you do when her mamas are well read? You choose wisely.

My little friend Nell turned one this month. Her moms are my friends Andrea and Hope.

I met Andrea first when we taught girls’ writing classes together at Women Writing for (a) Change. Andrea is an excellent teacher – her day job – and a loyal friend. She shows up with food in times of celebration and struggle, drops off flowers, sends a card when you need cheer and brings coffee and muffins when your kid is in the hospital. She’s also a great hostess. Nell’s first birthday was quite the impressive Eric Carle extravaganza. (You could try every food from  The Very Hungry Caterpillar!)

Nell party

Nell’s birthday was straight out of The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Hope is also a cool and talented mama. Performer, writer, yogi, teacher, she is wickedly funny and rocks a Boden dress. She helped me during my last job search by editing my resume and letter. She made me laugh too.

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The birthday girl.

I’ll enjoy watching this family bloom. It will be lovely to see Nell grow.

Here are the Max and Calvin tested books we bought Nell.

The Library by Sarah Stewart, illustrated by David Small. Elizabeth Brown is an obsessive reader who one day donates her book-filled home to her town to create a library.

The Library

I can relate to Elizabeth Brown in The Library. She loves books, cats and her stuffed bear.

Brave Girl. This gem by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, who also illustrated one of our favorite books about Horace Pippin. Clara is an immigrant girl who works as a seamstress in horrid conditions in a factory. She bravely organizes a “revolt of girls” who strike for better treatment. My kids were captivated by the story, based on true events.

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These girls mean business.

Rad American Women A-Z by Kate Schatz and illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl. Brother Ben bought this one and it’s fascinating for adults and kids. From A is for Angela Davis to Z is for Zora Neale Hurston is introduces “rebels, trailblazers and visionaries who shaped our history and our future!”

Rad women

So many rad women to learn about!

Happy Birthday Nell!

Eric Carle and Books about Mom

At the end of the school year, Max was talking about something other than baseball.

He kept bringing up writer and illustrator Eric Carle.

Like most families, his books are a staple in our collection and the kids’ early childhood. Carle’s bright colors, great art, fun stories make for good fun.

Max told me they were working on their own Eric Carle books at school and I could see it at Young Author’s Night. I asked his first grade teacher Ms. Brown about it.

“We have been studying the collaging technique used by Eric Carle,” she said. “The students can see that it is okay to see artwork in a non-realistic way.  The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse (watch Carle discuss on video!)  is an example of Eric Carle’s  passion for “thinking outside of the box” with his artwork.  To me, this is how most children start off thinking as well so I’m very excited to foster that!  Why not paint a horse blue or a giraffe green?  Right?”

The results were spectacular. Max’s book was The Very Energetic Komodo Dragon.

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The komodo dragon is one of Max’s favorites.

Young Author’s Night is one of thing that makes Fairview-Clifton German Language School special. The teachers and students work so hard and it’s a time to see their work.

This year’s books included books they made about me for Mother’s Day. I think most of my mom friends can vouch that these are hilarious and a sometimes a little embarrassing.

Besides stating that “win” is my favorite drink, here’s what I do with my free time, according to Calvin. When I relax, I like to lie on the couch.

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Art by Calvin. Note that I’m wearing pink!

A lot of it was sweet, like Max’s picture of us reading together:

Max and Mama reading

Max and me reading. Yes, we have a pink bed. It’s fabulous!

Eddie and I cracked up at Max’s take on what bugs me. He said, “Really? Isn’t it you guys that talk back?”

Talking back

Eddie is not the one who talks back!

You can bet these books will always be cherished!

What’s your favorite Eric Carle book? Better yet, what did your kids share about you at school?