I found one of Max’s new favorite authors on a British chat show. If you’re not familiar with The Graham Norton Show, I suggest you look it up on YouTube or BBC One right away.
Graham, who long ago surpassed Ellen DeGeneres as my favorite, is a cheeky and funny host. His guests interact while sitting, chatting and drinking on a red couch. (This was prior to Covid-19) It’s looser and more relaxed than most programs and it doesn’t matter if you know the U.K. stars as they often are more amusing than the familiar American guests.
This is how I discovered David Walliams, actor, writer and comedian. (He’s wildly successful and his books are in 53 languages.) Max just finished Bad Dad, telling me I would like it.
When I pressed for more info, he said, “I just liked it. I know you’re trying to blog about it but I can’t tell you anything else.”
Fair enough. I read Walliams’ first book, The Boy in the Dress, a sweet story about a boy who …surprise…likes to wear dresses. The book captures the immediate fallout when he’s discovered and the eventual resolution that being different is a strength.
While writing about boys that wear dresses is easy for me, I’ve struggled how to lift Black and marginalized voices in this space since the death of George Floyd and many others this year. I’ve drafted a couple of posts, fretted and not posted. I was afraid of saying the wrong thing or coming across like I think I’m an expert (far from it) but decided not saying anything is worse.
Instead of looking back at the books we read when the boys are younger, I’ve turned to what they’re reading now.
I’ve found that the graphic novels Calvin likes to read are wonderful representations of the gender spectrum, Black, Indigenous and people of color and people with disabilities. These books have led to some good conversations at our house. The characters and the beautiful illustrations in these page-turning stories will stick with you.
For more resources, I recommend checking out the Kids’ Nook of my local and new favorite bookstore, Downbound Books. It’s an amazing shop with a beautiful and helpful website for kids and adults. You can have your purchases mailed or pick them up.
Calvin at Downbound the day before the world shut down in March.
I’ll confess – sometimes I’m writing a story in my head while it’s happening. I know I’m not the only writer that does this. You think to yourself, I can use this beautiful moment for content.
But that’s not how life works is it?
Since the pandemic, I’ve been visiting our local park almost daily. One afternoon, my husband and I were treated to the sight of six baby ducklings. They crowded their mama, much like my twins used to do to me.
The next day at lunch, I announce to my ten-year-old boys that we were going to do something fun and go find the ducks! It was a gorgeous sunny day without the usual Ohio humidity.
I knew when they saw the ducklings they would love them but these days (even in a pandemic!) they often moan and whine about leaving the house. I wonder if this is foreshadowing to the teen years.
Underlying this is the fact that we’ve been trying to cut down technology all summer. A friend told me her kids have to complete everything on a list before they have technology time. This was not a popular suggestion at my house and honestly, my attempt didn’t last long since I’m working from home and my husband is at work in the mornings.
Back to my beautiful moment, Max and Calvin agree to ride bikes to the park.
Calvin is riding his new bike is a big deal. I feel grateful and hopeful, emotions that are hard to tap into these days.
As they ride, Max zooming, Calvin quite cautious, I snap a photo. I think to myself, “I’m killing it as a stay-at home-working mom today.”
The universe put me in my place.
We go to lock up the bikes so we can navigate to the ducks on foot. A fight breaks out. The easiest of tasks often elicit high emotions.
We get down to the path by the pond and the rain has made it a mess. I tell them to walk around the path but this makes it worse and we sink. Calvin gets mad that his new shoes are muddy. This is my fault, of course.
We get to the dock where we spied the ducks and they are nowhere to be found. I keep up my sunny spirits and we look for turtles too. But everyone is grumpy and their lives are hard because I made them do this. They continue to bicker. Calvin cries; Max rides ahead. I keep my cool but am thinking, “I need to get back to my desk. “
I’m not having a beautiful moment.
Being a parent is like that for me. There are many times where I have no idea if I’m doing the right thing. I remember asking my friends when they had babies, “How do you know what to do?”
They would tell me, “You just know.”
I now understand how you can apply this to babies but each age comes with a new challenge and I still question myself. It’s exhausting.
You would think I wouldn’t sweat the day-to-day stuff since Calvin was diagnosed with a brain tumor when the boys were two. We’re lucky and grateful but the lasting repercussions of chemotherapy are not always easy. (Read more in a previous post.)
I get frustrated that people don’t understand but that’s probably just the pain I feel as a mother. One thing Calvin has struggled with is his balance. He used to fall down a lot and in preschool his teachers were very concerned. On the flip side, his doctors tell us they wish all kids with his tumor would do so well.
He’s improved with time. Last summer when Max got a new bike, Calvin wasn’t interested and we didn’t push it. This year, during the stay at home orders, he expressed his desire for a bike.
It hasn’t been an instant fix. He’s frustrated and wants to be as good as his neighborhood friends. He chose a pink bike and helmet. Calvin is always true to himself.
When we get home, I go back upstairs to work, leaving Max to pout about not getting the computer. Calvin decides to go out.
On his bike.
From my desk, I watch him bike up the street, slowly but surely.
I sent my neighborhood friend a text. “It makes me happy to see you walk by my house……oh, I guess that is creepy.”
She sent me a creepy clown emoji and an lol.
I’ve spent the last weeks working from home in our bedroom upstairs while Eddie tackles the schooling downstairs. Sometimes, the sound of bickering floating up the stairs stresses me out. Other times, a cute kid will pop his head in with a question or story – even if I’m in a virtual meeting. Often, I realize the privilege of my safe perch – a bay window in our sunny room, a cat snoring on my bed.
When I’m not engrossed in my screen, I’ll give myself a break and look out the window. (I have to put my glasses on or it’s all a blur.) I have a spectacular view of our street – green lawns, spring blooms and whoever is walking by.
These days, my view and my daily walks have led me to ponder (when I’m not having a pity party, let’s be frank) my good fortune to live where I do. I think of all the people nestled in their houses, sheltering in place. I consider that I’m lucky to be able to visit a park, walk in a beautiful neighborhood and have six feet conversations with my multiple neighbors.
I’m lucky to be able to walk to Burnett Woods. I wish I had taken a daily shot of this view every day of the pandemic.
Walks and chatting at a distance are a balm. My family ran into her our former next-door-neighbors a few days ago. It was lovely. Physically seeing them reminded me of how neighborhoods are made for connections.
My neighborhood friends have certainly both supported and celebrated with my family in the past. In my slice of community, I see kindness all around. My neighbors are stopping to talk as they walk their dogs (the poor dogs don’t understand why others won’t pet them) or work in their yards. Some are checking in on each other through phone calls and texts, dropping off baked goods and generally cheering each other on. I’m so lucky to be around these good people.
These are things I try to hold on to on the days it feels like too much.
Now for the books
Calvin has been cracking up at Mr. Wolf’s Class by Aron Nels Steinke. (There is a mouse called Dr. Cheese.) I think Max has started the third Harry Potter book. Honestly, we just need to get through the last week of school.
I need to recognize two special young women that are missing their senior year. My former sidekick, Meredith Morgan, and my Ivory Soap baby, Frances Porter. I can’t give them back what they are missing but I am proud of them both. (For Mariemont readers, their moms are Karen Sabo and Eloise Waters.)
“He’s special and a snazzy dresser,” she wrote. (Freddy used to wear a sweater due to his neck wounds.)
I had to take the opportunity to connect with her about cats, books and missing her students.
What are you missing about your library right now?
I am missing seeing 733 faces a week! I miss the regular students who come into the library every morning before school and exchange books.
I miss reading books to kindergarten and first graders and hearing them laugh.
I miss connecting students with books I think and hope they will love! I miss teaching students how to find books, use books for information, connect books to other aspects of their lives and I miss sharing the love of books with anyone who wants to come into my classroom. Gosh, right now, I even miss re-shelving books! Well, maybe not…
Frau Connor’s cat Oliver is 14. He’s handsome!
Any reading suggestions for students?
Keep reading! Many students have books checked out from my library and I encourage them to read them again or read them to a sibling!
They can access ebooks that we have in our collection as well as many more from the public library.
Students need to check the various platforms their schools are using; Schoology, Google Classroom, Class Dojo, etc., to find all kinds of links or postings of these sites as well as sites where authors are reading their own books. I hope to record myself reading and then post those too!
April is National Poetry Month and I have been posting poems and encouraging students to write poetry. What a wonderful way to express our feelings and emotions about this trying time with poetry. Poetry is a way to share a good laugh with poets like Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein.
Just know that your teachers and librarians are working so hard to ensure that you are connecting with them and continuing to learn and grow.
We care about you so much and want to make sure we are enriching your lives as much as possible even though we are not together face-to- face.
Maggie is 13.
Waldo is two.
Why did you become a school librarian? How long have you been a librarian?
Fourteen years now. Librarian is actually my second career. I worked in engineering for a large utility company until I married and started a family. While at home with my three kids, I earned master’s degrees in English and education and started teaching part time at a couple of universities in Cincinnati.
I absolutely fell in love with the library at Xavier University and made many friends there. I decided that I wanted to be librarian and my friend told me how. It was another master’s degree (!) but I went back to school once more. I started working at a public library as a children’s librarian and loved it. I found myself visiting schools and supplementing the need for librarians, as the need for school librarians was at an all-time high. I was able to secure a position with Cincinnati Public Schools and now have a wonderful career at a school I love.
Please name a couple of your favorite children’s books.
I’ll name some favorite authors/illustrators – A.A. Milne, Sandra Boynton, Mo Willems, Eric Carle, Chris van Allsburg, Kadir Nelson, Jerry Pinkney, JK Rowling.
Let’s talk about your love of cats – how long have you been volunteering at OAR?
I started volunteering at OAR in September 2019. I have a good friend that has volunteered with them for years and she would reach out to me if they needed supplies, towels for surgery or food. I gave when I could or donated through Amazon.
This past fall, all of my children were off to college or on their own and I found that I had time to really contribute to OAR. I decided to start small with cat care, a once-a-week cleaning opportunity. We have a set team each Sunday morning and a great leader, Liz. I love to sing to the cats as I clean their rooms and then cuddle and play with them afterward.
I feel it’s important to reassure them that they are in a place that is safe and where they are loved.
I also volunteer as an Adoption Host, which means you work at the shelter during adoption hours and talk about the various cats and try to match potential new owners to the perfect cat for them. It is so wonderful to see cats that may have been abandoned, stray or once feral, or sent to shelters for possible euthanasia, find a perfect home where they can feel safe and loved.
How did you start volunteering? What are the names of your three cats?
My friend encouraged me to start volunteering and I am so glad I did. One danger is that you want to bring home every cat you work with. I am so happy to see my little friends get adopted but have cried many happy tears when they leave the shelter because I will miss seeing them. I have always had a cat since I was seven years old. I am very partial to black and white cats because that was the color of my first!
I have had many cats in my life and currently have Oliver, 14, a big grey tom, who was dumped off with a litter at my veterinarian’s office.
Maggie, 13, adopted me as a kitten when she walked into my daughter’s school while I was hosting the book fair. Maggie loves my computer and often joins me in my virtual meetings with other teachers and librarians. She loves to play the virtual cat games on my Ipad.
A solid black grand cat, Waldo, 2, who was found in a Walmart parking lot as a tiny kitten.
My book club met virtually last night to discuss The Glass Hotel (thumbs-up). We had a surprise guest – our friend, Claudia, who moved to Woodstock, NY two years ago. A bonus of the pandemic? Claudia is picking our next book and joining us again on Zoom. It was fairly easy to pick a date this time – our calendars are open. 😉
A friend shared with me the idea that fear and gratitude can’t exist in your mind at the same time. I’ve been trying to hold on to this as I keep my “monkey mind” and anxiety under control.
(Monkey mind is often used in yoga to describe a restless mind – something I struggle with all the time.)
I don’t know about you but I’m not my best lately. Fairly often, I’m cranky, scared, stressed. I’m eating a lot of carbs.
My writing teacher, Mary Pierce Brosmer (know by some as Mary PB or Mary peanut butter and jelly) would say, there is light in the shadow moments. Here’s what I came up with when thinking about moments of gratitude and light:
Several friends, neighbors and coworkers have sent tokens of affection: a dinner gift card, brownies, cookies, a ceramic 50’s cat for me, cute mugs for the boys. A neighbor gifted the boys his old iPods after a conversation about technology and the boys wanting my phone while I worked.
Spending time one-on-one with each kid is rare and something I savor. Max and I went on a bike ride. Calvin and I chalked the driveway. We keep visiting our favorite turtles in the local park.
Calvin and I decorated the driveway with chalk.
We’ve been jumping on the trampoline. I very cautiously did a “butt bounce” today. “Mama, you’re pretty good for 50,” Max assured me.
The trampoline. Mama’s “butt bounce” not included.
Texts, calls and Zoom meet-ups have been fun. (My brother informed me his DNA is more Italian than mine! How can that be? I called him a meatball. Anyway, our Zoom call was good for my soul. I’m lucky my brother is also my friend.)
My 95-year-old mother-in-law, Martha Lee, made a homemade Easter card for the boys.
Easter card by Martha Lee.
“She’s going back to her roots as a child,” Calvin said.
“I miss Grandma,” Max added.
We all miss each other, don’t we?
Keep safe, people. Hoping you are keeping the “monkey mind” and fear away as much as you are able.
And now for the books
My book club’s April pick is The Glass Hotel, not to be confused with the amazing The Glass Castle. Max has joined Calvin in reading the Amulet books. I’m attempting to do an interview here but Max is resisting…stay tuned.
Friends, I’m not sure I have anything new to offer that hasn’t already been said. Everyone I know is worried about something – aging parents, incomes or sudden lack of incomes, those working in health care or grocery stores, isolation, parenting, you name it.
I have found some spots of humor. Who knew I would be talking to my parents about how many rolls of toilet paper they have?
I’m working from home, Eddie’s business is closed, the kids are home. Our new cat, Freddy, is loving the family time. (It’s a good time to have a new pet.) Sweet highs and hard lows give the day a rhythm.
One of the highlights of our week: Freddy got on the bed! He’s on the left, Lion is in the middle, Max is on the right. 🙂
Technology – the thing I’m usually fighting about with my kids – has been helpful. Max and Calvin had a Zoom chat with their bell choir yesterday – they loved reconnecting with these friends.
I let Max FaceTime and play a game with another friend. Listening to their conversation while I was working was hilarious.
“Should we make these two horses have a baby?” I head Max say.
Our neighborhood kids are doing a daily LEGO challenge and texting the images to each other through the parents. I connected with two friends on a Zoom chat. It’s all helping.
The day our libraries closed, Calvin and I went to our branch in its last hour. Was this smart? I don’t know. I wiped off all the books with Clorox wipes. They were already not accepting returns as that point.
Our last library hall. Lint Boy is one of our favorites.
My friend Michael says Raina Telgemeier’s books grow with age. He’s referring to the spines that crack and pages that expand with each reading.
Her graphic novels are reread because they are that good! She shares stories of her own childhood/teen years that are relatable and entertaining. Challenges with siblings, friends, dentists…it’s all there.
Calvin and agree that Ghosts, is our favorite. It deals with moving, ancestors and a delicious Day of the Dead story.
We recently saw Raina when Joseph-Beth Booksellers brought her to town to discuss her new book Guts. Calvin had been anticipating the release of this book for months.
Calvin and our friend, Iris. (Her dad is Michael and he introduced Raina at the event.)
Hearing her talk about her journey and books was a treat – for me. I think Calvin liked it. He had his head in the new book most of the time. I would nudge him from time to time but since he was content, I mostly left him alone. He was too busy devouring the book.
I loved what Raina had to say to her young fans (and old) about books.
“Graphic novels are real reading,” Raina said. “They have all the elements of a book.”
She also mentioned that reading makes you feel less alone – so true!
We went to the event with our friend, Stella! She’s a connoisseur of graphic novels and told us about Raina’s visit.
A few weeks later, my niece Margot and I had a great discussion about Guts and Raina’s other books. It was like an aunt-niece book club!
One of my favorite Christmas memories is from the fourth grade. I walk downstairs to our olive-green, shag-carpeted living room to see what Santa has left. I hear music from The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine.
This was the 70s and having a stereo was a big deal. Imagine my amazement when my dad pointed out that behind the blue suede (yes, blue suede!) chair was a record player/stereo, complete with an 8-track. Playing my favorite band, The Beatles.
That stereo brought years of enjoyment – I even lugged the enormous thing to college. My family grew our music collection through a mail order business that sold 8-tracks or for those of you from Cincinnati, trips to Swallen’s.
Max and Calvin started the fourth grade this year and while their listening methods are different – they have Alexas – they have been digging The Beatles after seeing the film Yesterday this summer. (I cried through half the movie.)
Max has been digging my newest Beatles book.
Max, in particular, has become obsessed. He asks me lots of questions, “What was the Beatles’ first song?” “Why did they break up?” “How did John die?” “How did George die?” “Did they stay friends after they broke up?”
On vacation in Canada this summer, he adopted a British accent, calling us “mate.” He tried to tell me that Abbey Road is in Liverpool…not London.
But his mama schooled him – I did take a 300 level class at Indiana University (much to my dad’s dismay) – The History of the Beatles. Best class ever, besides The History of Rock n’ Roll. I also lived in London and traveled with my brother to visit Liverpool for the day and missed all the tours because we slept so late. (But that’s another story.)
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 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.
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?
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?
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.
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:
We still go to bookstores.
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.
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.
Sometimes new books do the trick. Believe it or not, this was Christmas day.
Here’s what doesn’t work like it used too:
They no longer seem as interested in my blog. Maybe at age 9, it’s not so cool that mama has a blog.
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:
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.
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.
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!
Calvin was happy he got this book for Christmas. (Maybe I should have asked for a lampshade!)