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!)

Ruthie and the werewolves

I met ten-year-old Ruthie for the first time last May. This is hard to believe since she is the daughter of my dear friend Eloise.

I traveled to Greensboro, NC this fall to visit the Porter clan  – Eloise, Logan (dad), Mary Mac, Francis, Logan (son) and Ruthie. It may have been difficult for Ruthie to contribute to the conversation since her mom and I DO NOT STOP talking when we see each other, plus her three older siblings were with us as well.

three girls

Mary Mac, Francis and Ruthie.

Ruthie does have a lot to contribute and a cool haircut and engaging personality to match!

Fortunately for me, I got some time alone with her when we went to a local bookstore, Scuppernong Books, on Saturday night. We visited the graphic novel section together and compared notes.

Ruthie picked out How to Slay a Werewolf: Professor Van Helsing’s Guides by Miles Teves and sat down at dinner and didn’t look up. That’s the sign of a good book and a true reader! (I picked up Anne Hood’s Morningstar: Growing up with Books. I recommend it and anything she’s written.)

Ruthie was kind enough to answer some questions her new book.

What made you pick out this book? 

I picked it because I have an interest in fantasy, but not cutesy fantasy. It isn’t dark and creepy but something kind of inbetween.

It seemed like you couldn’t put it down – you read it all through dinner – that’s the sign of a good book!  What made it so interesting? 

It’s a funny reference book about werewolves. It talked about a lot of things I didn’t know about werewolves. I like how the book’s werewolves compared to werewolves in different fantasy realms. Like in Harry Potter, werewolves cannot change on command and cannot be killed by silver, but in this book they can. I like how there are illustrations.

Did you have a favorite part? 

My favorite part was the advertisement for a silver trap. It was funny because it said things it contained and none of them are silver.

Can you tell me about some of your other favorite books and why they are your favorites? 

The Harry Potter series because I like the mix of fantasy and real life problems. Harry was struggling with a lot of the same issues kids do …. Like trying not to be self centered, and getting angry at people without understanding they sometimes cannot control it.

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo is one of my favorites because it shows the power of animals in a family, but that change doesn’t happen straight away. It also shows that friends can be found anywhere. I like how the author just shows Opal’s everyday life without forcing problems on her. For example when the librarian told her about her grandfather’s candy (Litmus lozenges).

G-man graphic novels by Chris Giarrusso are some of my favorite reads because they are funny yet realistic about being the youngest child. He gets pushed around but he has super powers .. which is not normal.

I also like the Mighty Skullboy graphic novels by Jacob Chabot because they are super funny because he’s a little Kindergartner who wants to be a villain, Skullboy. But when he comes to class his teacher thinks the name Skullboy is french.

G-man and Skullboy books

Ruthie showed me some of her favorite books.

Why do you like reading? 

It’s a mix of the standard generic answer and my reasoning:  It’s not like the book takes me places, but it allows me to experience things in fantasy that I could never experience in real life.

Anything else you want to share? 

Books don’t just help you academically they also help you with your imagination which is needed not only as kids but also as grown ups.

Even businessmen, which sometimes seems boring, need imagination. For better advertisements when they need more business.

Thanks, Ruthie!

Ruthie’s mom, Eloise, was my first guest blogger when she wrote about Fly High! The Story of Bessie Coleman.

a girl and a woman

Ruthie and Julia.

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).

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.