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.

Happy Pig Day (on video!)

I had this great idea but Max and Calvin had their own plans.

One way I get them to practice reading is “suggest” they each take on a character in a book.  This works with Mo Willem’s delightful  Elephant & Piggie books.

They love this so much,  I thought it would be cool if I could record them reading  Happy Pig Day! for this blog.

But when we would read, they would get really wound up, make funny voices and laugh hysterically. I would try to get them to “be serious.”

What was I thinking?

I realized I had to let go and quit trying to stage manage them. The end result is so much better when they are being themselves.

So here it is – scroll ahead to 1:03 if you want to see Calvin joyfully cracking up.

And do yourself a favor – adults and kids – go get an Elephant & Piggie book.

Two goofballs read Happy Pig Day from julia mace on Vimeo.

The holiday wrap-up: toys and tonsils

One of my favorite moments during the holiday was in the hospital.

After the usual presents, visits with friends and family, too much food, Calvin had his tonsils and adenoids removed two days after Christmas.

You may know we have a long (and fortunate history) with Calvin and Cincinnati Children’s. He went into his surgery like a trooper.

Initially, I think it was harder on Max. My husband told me, “I think he’s a little scared. And why wouldn’t he be?”

At 7, he may not vividly remember his twin’s formerly long hospital stays, but I wonder if it’s embedded deep in his memory.

So, we brought Max to visit Calvin during his overnight hospital stay.

The moment that was so nice was Max’s relief at seeing Calvin and his subsequent head-patting of his twin. “Is his heart ok?,” he asked. “What’s wrong with him?”

Calvin was drugged up but immediately perked up when Max came in the room. Even the nurse noticed. Calvin grinned  while receiving the head-pat and cuddle.

This reminded me of the power of twins and the beauty of my kiddos. When Calvin was really ill, it was Max that fortified him and us. It also reminded us that when something happens to one of them, it impacts the other.

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My Christmas babies sans books!

And the books

The other moment? Reading, of course! After the thrill of Zoomer kitty and chimp, legos, cars, and sugar, they secretly love their new books.

On Christmas Day, Max and I cuddled up among the chaos of toys and discarded wrapping paper and read The Day the Crayons Came Home by Oliver JeffersIn this beautiful second book about crayons, Duncan reads letters from his forgotten crayons. Both the story and illustrations are brilliant.

Here are some of our other holiday books this year – tested for you by my favorite first graders.

The Pirate of Kindergarten by George Ella Lyon, Kentucky’s 2016 poet laureate.  Calvin especially liked this story of a girl with double vision. (Thanks, Kate!)

Ballet Cat: The Totally Secret Secret by Bob Shea. This book has a great sense of humor but also a sweet message about friendship.

 

Ever the baseball fan, Max received Baseball from A to Z by Michael P. Spradlin, illustrated by Macky Pamintuan. I know it’s good because I’ve found him reading it. (Thanks Lou and Lanthan!)

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Leap your way into the New Year with Ballet Cat!

Both Max and Calvin are venturing into graphic novels. Here’s some that were under our tree:

Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea by Ben Clanton

Binky the Space Cat by Ashley Spires

 

Happy New Year all! Lots of love and keep reading.

P.S. Calvin is slowly mending.

 

 

 

Before you do your holiday shopping..

One of the best Christmas presents I ever received was the Little House on the Prairie set. It was a gift I enjoyed for years and still do since I recently pulled them out with my own kids.

Before you head out with your holiday shopping list, I asked Max and Calvin for their input:

Max’s holiday picks:

  • Maps by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski
    “It shows what people eat and what animals they love. It shows what sports they play.” A
    ll ages.
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Calvin and Max check out Maps.

Calvin’s holiday picks:

  • Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson “People might like it because they might like the roller derby.” 7 and up.
  • Happy Pig Day! by Mo Willems
    “I love it because it is very funny and I love doing the voices.” (Look out for a future blog post on this one.) All ages.
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Calvin loved Roller Girl and I did too!

The three of us agreed on:

  • I am Helen Keller by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos
    It’s amazing to read the story of Helen Keller and the book has braille in it. All of Meltzer’s books are winners. All ages.

My suggestions, Max and Calvin approved:

  • The Night Gardner by Terry Fan and Eric Fan
    This book is beautiful! One of our favorites this year. All ages.
  • The Imaginary Garden by Andrew Larsen, illustrated by Irene Luxbacher
    A lovely tale about a girl and her grandfather. We adore this book, illustrated by the author of Mr. Frank. All ages.
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The Imaginary Garden is a sweet story about Theo and her Poppa.

For ages 1 month to 100:

Anything by Todd Parr or Mo Willems.

Do you have any memories of books you received? What are your ideas for the holiday gifts?

Dreaming of Art

I’ll always be able to spot a Modigliani painting.

This is because I had an excellent elementary school art teacher. Betty Rhoades required us to name an artist before we were dismissed.

Amedo Modigliani was famous for long faces. Grandma Moses was an easy name to remember. Shel Silverstein drew funny pictures and wrote great stories.

Like Miss Rhoades, I have a secret agenda with my own kids. Hers was probably to make us into artistic environmentalists – we were only allowed to use one piece of tape when we wrapped our homemade Christmas presents.

One of mine is that I want Max and Calvin to have an appreciation for art. (And respect women, be good people……)

Here’s where writer and artist Jeanette Winter is a wonder.

I adore her. Her unique art and storytelling capture the lives of artists and their works. Some of her beautiful stories make me tear up.

Thanks to Henri’s Scissors, the story of Matisse with a focus on his late in life paper cut outs, my kids can spot and call out a Matisse any old day.

My Name is Georgia, Winter’s story about Georgia O’Keefe is a Max favorite. He loves that Georgia found and painted BONES in the dessert. After the reading the book he’s told me, “I want to be a painter too.”

I learned about Joseph Cornell through Mr. Cornell’s Dream Boxes. He created beautiful scenes in boxes. When he was discovered children remained his favorite audience. At his shows, his boxes were hung so a child could see them. He also served his favorite snacks – Cherry Cola and brownies  – a detail my kids love.

About a year ago, I had the well-intentioned desire to create our own dream boxes. But sometimes, the craft gods don’t align and that day we didn’t get very far before other things captured my kid’s interests. I was left alone at the kitchen table with my own box.*

But sometimes, good parenting intentions stick when you don’t expect it. We were at the Contemporary Arts Center one day visiting the children’s UnMuseum. We spotted an artist’s work in playful boxes.

Max yelled, “Look! Those are DREAM Boxes!”

Soon after, Calvin got up in the middle of the night. As I tucked him back in, he pointed out his nightlight shining on a book, “It looks like Mr. Cornell’s dream box.”

I hope Miss Rhoades would be proud.

Miss Rhoades passed away last February. Read the obit about this cool, unique woman.

*Check out this blog post for a craft that did work.

Max learns a fine art from Curious George

Sometimes a tutorial from a first grader hits the spot.

Max perfected a childhood art form this summer. He revisited the book Curious George Learns to Count from 1 to 100 by H.A. Rey.

One of the pages gives step by step instructions on how to make a paper airplane.

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Max went a little crazy with it.

Max and planes

Max and his planes.

Here’s a video of Max sharing his wisdom:

IMG_4702 from julia mace on Vimeo.

Thanks!