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!)

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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.

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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!”

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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:

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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?”

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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?

Charlotte’s Web and Patrick Swayze

I made Max cry.

I didn’t mean too – he just kept badgering me – about the end of Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, illustrated by Garth Williams.

He wanted to know what happened at the end of the story. His teacher was reading it to them at school.

Spoiler alert. I told him Charlotte died.

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Max’s first grade class read this beloved book.

My sensitive boy burst into tears and I felt terrible.

“Why did Charlotte have to die?” he wailed.

“Well, spiders don’t live very long and it ends up ok,” I said. “She left behind lots of babies and some of them stay with Wilbur.”

I tried to empathize with him by saying I cried as a kid when I read that Jack the dog died in one of the Little House on the Prairie books. This didn’t help.

Did I mention he has a tender heart? The other day he cried because he accidentally killed a cicada he was playing with. This is the same day I had to break it to the kids that our favorite rabbit, the infamous Patrick Swayze and resident of the coffee shop Sidewinder Coffee, had died. This one got to me too. Patrick was a regular in our lives – Mama gets coffee, kids get to see Patrick. Both kids cried when I told them and I got teary too. I think squashing a cicada the day he found out about Patrick was a bit much for Max.

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Max and Patrick about four years ago.

He buried the cicada and put it in a hole with a post-it that said sycada.

We also put a peony on it. While I consoled him, I wondered to myself what Patrick’s owner Kim did with the stuffed bunny he used to hump. (You have to find humor, right?)

When I told Calvin about Patrick he cried and said, “I didn’t care when Patrick’s girlfriend died.” For a short while, Patrick had a girlfriend named Eppie who wasn’t as friendly.

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Patrick and Eppie in their salad days. 

I eventually calmed Max down about Charlotte and we talked about how maybe it was better to find out at home than in class – that was my spin on it.

I asked him about it later in the week and he said a couple of kids cried when they got to the end of the book in school.

I think this is beautiful. I’m glad kids are getting emotional about books – it tells me something is working.

And we’ll always miss Patrick Swayze.

Baking with Sarah Varon

We bought a lot of butter last week.

After reading Sara Varon’s delightful and touching graphic novel Bake Sale, the kids and I felt hungry for baked goods.

Varon’s book features Cupcake, owner of a bakery, and friend Eggplant. It’s a story about dreams, friendship and a lot of baking in Cupcake’s shop. Her illustrations are both charming and funny.

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Eggplant and Cupcake inspired the Rush kids.

Calvin suggested we follow Varon’s recipes and it seemed like a good Saturday morning plan. Of course, Max and Calvin couldn’t agree on a recipe, so I let them each pick one. Max chose cupcakes and Calvin chose the brownies – both requiring a lot of butter.

We set out to Clifton Market to buy the ingredients. Before we left, we read the recipes and made a shopping list.

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Calvin checks out the brownie recipe.

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Max made our shopping list.

Baking with little kids is an adventure and I summoned my most yoga-like self as they cracked eggs and helped me measure. We started with the cupcakes.

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Calvin tests the cupcake batter.

By the time we started mixing up the brownies, the kids lost interest but I carried on like the sugar addict I am.

The results were delicious. Max thought the cupcakes were best, Calvin liked the brownies. I think the cupcakes may have been my favorite.

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Success!

We love this story and its adorable illustrations. Here are the recipes below:

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Cupcake recipe.

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These brownies us a lot of butter! Yummy.

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Varon also has a recipe for peppermint brownies in the book.

I’m not the only blogger who has featured this book. Read Jama’s Alphabet Soup for a very charming description of this book.

 

Ghosts make for a great bedtime

What’s the sign of a good book – fighting over it with your kid!

After starting Raina Telgemeir’s Ghosts at bedtime, Calvin and I both wanted to take it to bed with us. (Yes, he sneaks reading after hours – just like I did as child.)

This graphic novel’s mix of realism and fantasy are compelling. Sisters Catrina and Maya move to a new California town because it’s better for Maya’s Cystic Fibrosis. They find out that it’s also home to a lot of ghosts and the townspeople don’t seem to mind. In fact, they celebrate their dead with Dia De Los Day Meurutos (Day of the Dead) celebrations.

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Our new favorite read.

There is a lot under the surface of this book – life changes, friendship, and mortality. I’m not sure if Calvin picked up on all of this but the important thing is he loved it.

We had different reactions – Calvin found the ghosts “a little scary at first” and wants to know, “why do ghosts like orange pop?” These ghosts are friendly and love orange pop.

Being hugely sentimental, I’ve always been attracted to the Day of Dead tradition. I’m the girl who still misses her grandparents.

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I’ve always been fascinated by Day of the Dead. Check out my glamorous skeleton.

Here’s what’s also different – when talking about the book, Calvin can rattle off the names of the characters. His 40-something mama had to look them up for this post.

We’ve both read it more than once and are looking forward to Max’s take.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this great read comes out in conversation at our house. We’re also reading Telgemeier’s book Sisters. Stay up late and read these books.

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These friendly ghosts like orange pop and Maya.

Using books for the tough stuff

Parenting can be heart wrenching.

Right?

A few weeks ago, Calvin and I were snuggling as I tucked him in for the night.

He shared some tough things. We all have tough days but to hear it from your seven-year-old…ouch!

He told me was sad because at recess his friends like to jump rope and he found it hard.

I took a deep breath and told my oldest twin, “You know what, Calvy? You had to learn how to walk TWICE and I bet none of the other kids did. You are really strong! But when you were sick, it might have made it hard to jump rope, but that’s ok. You’re still awesome and don’t forget that.”

Then I told Calvin that it was my job and his dad’s to take on the hard things, so he could go to sleep and forget about them. Ok, I didn’t make this one up – I borrowed it from an essay Glennon Doyle Melton wrote about an interaction with her son.
(Thank you, G!)

Calvin hugged me hard, seemed ok, and went to sleep.

I’m not bringing this up to show that I’m some superhero mom – because I’m not. We all have our stuff and one of Calvin’s is that he had a brain tumor at two and there are some residuals. But he and Max don’t remember or know the details (right now) and just live their lives.

I’m sharing this because I think parenting is tough and coming up with answers is hard and seeing your kids hurt is the most difficult of all. But maybe if we keep reading and sharing, we can all help each other.

After this happened, I thought about some of the books we’ve been reading. Many children’s books about famous people share the obstacles they’ve overcome.

Max and Calvin seem drawn to these books. My hope is that they are internalizing these messages.

Here are some of our favorites:

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Alta wants to be like Wilma Rudolph

The Quickest Kid in Clarksville by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Frank Morrison. In this story, young Alta wants to be like her hero, Wilma Rudolph, the fastest woman in the world, from Alta’s hometown. Alta and her rival Charmaine, who has new shoes, eventually join forces and watch Wilma in a victory parade. Not only did Wilma overcome polio and poverty to become the fastest woman in 1960, as an African American athlete, she insisted that her homecoming events be integrated and open to everyone. (This story is important on so many levels and it’s Black History Month!)

Hello, My Name is Octicorn by Kevin Diller and Justin Lowe, illustrated by Binny Talib lures my kids in by its seemingly silly illustrations and subject matter. Who has ever heard of a half octopus, half unicorn? But sometimes it’s hard to be Octi – he’s the only of his kind and sometimes he gets left out because he’s different. He’s different on land and on sea. But Octi points out all the things he’s good at – making s’mores, eating cupcakes, and hugs. He makes a great friend.

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Octi’s family tree.

Brad Meltzer’s books have become a constant in our lives. After Calvin and I had the aforementioned conversation, we read his book I Am Helen Keller. The kids were pretty amazed by Helen’s achievements and there is braille in the book which they loved. I Am Albert Einstein shares that he wasn’t thought to be very bright! And even Lucille Ball had to be persistent. I Am Lucille Ball‘s  message helped me with something I was going through at the time.

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Great advice from Lucy.

“This isn’t a joke: Don’t let other people change you. Be true to who you are.”

My friend Ryan had a great suggestion for Calvin – trying to turn the rope for his friends. When I told Calvin this, I could see the wheels turning in his head. Whatever happens, I’ll keep trying to say the right thing and I’ll keep turning to books for help!

Our country’s history and saying thanks

If you want to have an interesting conversation with your children, read President Barack Obama’s Of Thee I Sing, a Letter to My Daughters.

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I pulled it off our shelves as a personal way to recognize our 44th President. I bought this book for my one-year-old twins when it came out in 2010. (Cincinnati friends – it’s illustrated by a local – author and illustrator Loren Long. How cool is that!?)

Now that Max and Calvin are first graders this book really makes an impression. When we read Obama’s beautiful tribute to his daughters, they are thrilled that they knew the people in history he referenced.

“I love this book because I know all these people!” Calvin exclaimed.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Albert Einstein, Jackie Robinson, Helen Keller… to name a few.

They’ve been learning about Martin Luther King Jr. and love talking about him. It’s important and sometimes difficult  to talk about our nation’s history and I find that books (and their school) are helping me navigate this.

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Martin Luther King Jr. by Calvin.

Rosa Parks (not in this book) was during Martin Luther’s time,” Calvin commented.
“People stopped riding the bus for awhile.” (People stopped riding the bus in solidarity.)

“He had a dream and he got killed for that dream,” Max said solemnly.

We talked about this. And we talked about why George Washington’s “barefoot soldiers crossed wintry rivers, forging ever on.”

Calvin asked me about Maya Lin, designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I explained that it honors those who gave their lives in the war his Pop Pop fought in. I’m not sure he totally understood – he wanted to know why MLK’s name wasn’t on it. But it’s a process.

This book’s text, message, and illustrations are gorgeous.

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“Maybe I’ll be one of these kids and be famous,” said Max.

Thanks President Obama – for everything.