Book reports are the worst but reading is cool

These days, it’s hard to get my kiddos to succumb to an interview about why they liked a book.

(They aren’t as interested in my blog and there’s some attitude sneaking in. Help!)

So, I try to pay attention to what’s popular at my house.

In the last two months, Brad Meltzer’s “I am” books have made a resurgence. This was thanks to the school assignment to present on a famous woman or African-American at school.

Honestly, I hate these school reports. It’s a constant exercise in nagging and vigilance.

And even with these supreme parenting skills, I still found myself working on a PowerPoint when I had the flu in December. That’s right – lying in bed, looking up information on rocks, trying to make my kid do the work but get it done.

But I digress.

This last report was a little better because Rosa Parks (Calvin) and Helen Keller (Max) are pretty interesting. (Not that elements aren’t interesting.) It also revived their love for Meltzer’s books, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos.

Max and Calvin requested that I get ALL THE BOOKS from the library (we own a few). They couldn’t get enough.

“Who wouldn’t like them,” Max said. “They are addicting to read.”

Max and Meltzer

Max checks out the latest haul from the library.

Calvin had no comment but he would read these books in bed learning about Sacagawea, Billie Jean King, Neil Armstrong, Harriet Tubman, Abraham Lincoln, Lucille Ball and more.

I like these books because they often tackle tough subjects with a simple and straightforward approach. I’m pretty open with my kids about the tough stuff but sometimes a little help is welcome. Civil Rights is addressed in “I am Martin Luther King, Jr.” Gender equality in “I am Billie Jean King.” Slavery is discussed in “I am Abraham Lincoln” and “I am Lucille Ball” addresses how she persevered over a tough childhood.

That’s the beauty of these books. The subjects – Jackie Robinson, Jane Goodall, Albert Einstein – overcome obstacles and succeed.

I enjoy reading them myself. As Max says, who wouldn’t want to read them?

But I am happy summer is on the horizon and that means no more reports.

 

 

Technology is the enemy and how I (still try) to get my kids to read

Can I have the phone? Can I have the phone? Can I have the phone?

This common refrain around our house drives me nuts, leads to fights, general grumpiness and lectures.

As a family that has avoided technology with our kids – at some point the lure of video games and my phone became a part of our daily life.

Do I regret this?

Yes.

Do I admit that sometimes it gives me time to get things done or just have some peace? Or time to read my own books?

Yes.

I want my kids to read – after all, I have a book blog and reading is my favorite pastime. But its something we have to work on.

Calvin reads in bed every night – just like his mama. I love how he keeps his favorites/current selections in a pile at the end of his bed. Max sometimes reads in bed but often falls asleep when his head hits the pillow.

I recently revisited my 2015 post How I Get My Kids to Read because I was thinking about all this.

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A good day – we stopped at the downtown library and they read on the streetcar!

It seems back then the TV was my obstacle. This made me feel better.

I realized I use some of the same tactics:

  1. We still go to bookstores.
  2. We still go to the library but now the library computers beckon. I combat this by picking out books for them or making them get a book before using the computer. Or we visit the downtown library to mix things up.
  3. I used to pick them up from school with surprise books tailored to their interests. I no longer pick them up so now I stop on my way home from work. Calvin loves graphic novels. Max loves animal, sports and Jeff Kinney’s Wimpy Kid books. They both love Guinness Book of World Record kid books and anything with amazing facts.

Sometimes it works.

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Sometimes new books do the trick. Believe it or not, this was Christmas day.

Here’s what doesn’t work like it used too:

  1. They no longer seem as interested in my blog. Maybe at age 9, it’s not so cool that mama has a blog.
  2. We still read together in my bed but when I tried it last week, they fought about needing more space for their growing (and more stinky) bodies.

It’s a series of successes and failures:

  1. Fails – I tried to get them to listen to me reading Harry Potter out loud. Calvin would rather read to himself. Max, I think, was doing it just for me.
  2. Win – Sometimes they bring up books in real life. Calvin and I read Little White Duck  by Na Lui and he brought it up one day when we were talking about China.
  3. Win – Christmas morning they actually cuddled up and read their new books.

I think that equates to technology – one, mama – two.

What do you do to get your kids to read? Let me know – maybe it’s another blog post!

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Calvin was happy he got this book for Christmas. (Maybe I should have asked for a lampshade!)

Going home again with the help of books

They say you can’t go home again but you can visit.

This is what we did with my mom on a recent trip to her hometown of Mt. Vernon, Indiana. I wanted Max and Calvin to see where she grew up and where my brother and I spent a lot of time during our own childhood.

It was magical. My mom brought along a book of photographs she had bought her parents; she had marked for us various places we might see on our trip.

We started the day in the lovely and historical New Harmony, Indiana, which was as fascinating to the boys as it was to me as a child.

Gigi and Calvin

My mom (Gigi) and Calvin with her book about Southern Indiana.

We then drove on to Mt. Vernon where we visited my grandparents’ graves, their former homes and my mom’s friends, Susan and Will.

When we stopped in front of the house where my mom grew up, I was also interested to see the house of her former neighbor, Mrs. Ruth Hanshoe. I remember going into her kitchen as a child and she had a world map on the wall. Pins marked the many destinations she had visited.

Mom on Walnut St.

My mom and her childhood home on the left and the Hanshoe house on the right. Walnut Street in Mt. Vernon remains lovely.

Last year, Calvin and I read a book Mrs. Hanshoe had given my mom for Christmas as a girl – Eleanor EstesThe Hundred Dresses. Illustrated by Louis Slobodkin, this is an evergreen story about kids being mean and learning that there are consequences.

When Calvin and I first read this book, I asked my mom about Mrs. Hanshoe. I was curious about this woman who was a world traveler and encouraged children to read. My mom shared that she was a second grade teacher and her husband was a farmer.

“They had a cottage on the Ohio River and we would go there for pitch-in suppers,” my mom, Mary Alice, said. “She was a wonderful neighbor and teacher. She was sweet and kind and liked kids.”

My mom recalls that she was so tiny that the day they first met her, my uncle thought she might be a child. When my mom graduated from high school, Mrs. Hanshoe came over to visit wearing her own high school graduation dress and it still fit!

Signed book

I don’t know what year Mrs. Hanshoe gave this book to my mom but the book sold for $2.50. “Her printing was beautiful,” my mom remembers.

I’m so glad we took this trip with my mom. My husband and kids were interested or at least patient with this sentimental trip and seemed to enjoy hearing our stories about our childhoods and my dear grandparents.

When I asked them what their favorite part of the trip was, here’s what they reported:

“I liked seeing Gigi’s house and the Ohio River and the swings there,” said Calvin.

“I liked the cabin with the hole where you could see the world upside down, “said Max.

(He is describing a pinhole where you really could see the outside projected upside down once your eyes adjusted to the dark.) I found a blog post about New Harmony that mentions this cabin; I recommend it.

When you give a book, sign it! Some day a writer or reader may find it and be curious about you.

(As a sentimental writer, I’ve written about my grandparents in the past. Check out this post about them and the book The Secret Garden.)

Mrs. Hanshoe

Mrs. Hanshoe, left, with my Papa (Verne McClellan) and Gigi (Alice McClellan).

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!

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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.

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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.