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?


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.

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


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.


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!


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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

A Thurber experiment

My friend Lisa, mother of Leo the boy and Doug the dog, casually mentioned they had been reading James Thurber at bedtime.

Excellent, I thought to myself, rubbing my hands together like a Looney Toon villain.

I’ve loved James Thurber since a friend introduced me to him in my 20s. I decided to give Thurber ‘s Dogs,  A Collection of the Masters Dogs Written & Drawn Real & Imaginary Living & Long Ago a try with Max.

He loved it.

Max and Thurber

This goofball gives Thurber a thumbs-up!

I was a little surprised. Some of the stories were written in 1926 and I guessed that the language, let alone the culture, is a little dated for a six-year-old.

But Thurber’s charm and humor grabbed Max, same as it did his mama, and he asked for the stories several nights in a row. Thurber’s tales include those about dogs from his childhood in Columbus, Ohio, adulthood, and his cartoons of the dogs, many that appeared in The New Yorker.

I asked Max what he liked about the stories.

“I’m just so interested,” my little chatter box said. “I like learning about the dog’s lives and I like hearing about the bad dogs!”

Thurber dog

This Thurber dog is crabby.

One night, Thurber inspired him to reference the “dog page” from one of my childhood favorites, Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm by Alice and Martin Provensen.  It took Max’s prompting for me to realize there was a theme. Maple Hill Farm also addresses dogs present and past.

With a child’s honest curiosity about the morbid, Max told me, “I like hearing about their lives. I even liked hearing about the dog that gets run over!”

I can’t wait until he’s old enough to read My Life and Hard Times with me.

Find out more about James Thurber by visiting Thurber House. The home he lived in with his parents is now a Columbus, Ohio museum. Road trip, anyone?

A New York Minute

Sometimes you need to treat yourself to a $25 cocktail.

In New York City.

My kids and I love reading about New York. That does not mean we took them on our 10th wedding anniversary trip to the Big Apple.

But we thought about them a lot (but had fun without them.)  I had to take advantage and visit some places we had read about.

Upon arrival, after walking in the wrong direction for several blocks, we visited The New York Public Library. It was a thrill for me to see the Library Lions and visit the children’s section.

In the children's section of the NYC library, these Lego lions reign.

In the children’s section of the NYC library, these Lego lions reign.

Oh my Lawd, I also had to go visit The Plaza where Eloise lives.  (Read about her in a past blog post.)

We explored the magnificent structure and visited the Eloise gift shop where the shop attendant told me the parents are usually more excited to visit than the kids.

I found Eloise at the Plaza.

I found Eloise at the Plaza.

We then had that $25 cocktail. I sipped a pink cosmopolitan, so I could channel Sex in the City and Eloise.

Eloise lives in the tower with Nanny.

Eloise lives in the tower with Nanny.

I don’t know if Max and Calvin were that impressed that we visited the home of Eloise. They were mostly concerned with finding out what we bought them. (An Eloise highlighter and New York City bus for Calvin; a Lego Chrysler Building and Yankees hat for Max.)

I can’t wait to go back.

Here are a few of our favorite NYC books:

This is New York by Miroslav Sasek (I’ve mentioned this one a lot but we love it!)

Eloise by Kay Thompson, illustrated by Hilary Knight.

B is for Brooklyn by Selina Alko (Read a past blog post.)

The Wicked Big Toddlah Goes to New York by Kevin Hawkes (Read our thoughts on Toddie here.)

Statue of Liberty

Just for fun, here’s my shot of Lady Liberty.


We could run the city

My friend Melissa says my book club could run the city.

Among us we can count a marketing expert, a photographer, an Emmy- winning video producer, a corporate attorney turned social worker, and a writer.

These are just our day jobs.

book club

My book club enjoying a cultural event. Because we’re cool like that.

For ten years, we’ve been a consistent thread in each other’s lives. For me personally, this at times has been life saving.

We’ve intentionally kept our numbers small. It just works. We’ve read more than 76 books, attended several plays, a few movies, had one overnight, and eaten countless meals together.

We’ve shared job changes, the birth of babies, big birthdays, a retirement, and kids inching their way toward adulthood way too fast.

Book club

We met Ann Patchett! It was book club heaven.

When I say life saving, I’m not kidding. My strongest memory of these women is the day we went to the movie “The Descendants.” It was also our book choice. Afterwards, sitting in a coffee shop, the emotional movie probably got to me because I was facing my own life challenge. It was early days in my son Calvin’s chemo treatment. I remember looking at my four friends and sobbing, “I don’t know how I’m going to do this.” My friend Mary grabbed my hand and said, “We’ll do it with you.”

And they did.

Heart-jerking memories aside, I asked this smart, talented, amazing group of women (Am I bragging? Yes, I am!) to share their favorite kids’ books:

Claudia: My favorite books were anything Nancy Drew. She did stuff and solved crimes!

Carolyn Keene’s first book about Drew, “The Secret of the Old Clock” was written in 1930. The girl detective is still going strong today.

Nancy Drew

Remember these yellow books?

Mary: I loved Amelia Bedelia. She took things too literally – it was really funny. When she held a wedding shower, she took a hose out and sprayed the people.

A new series has been created based on the originals by Peggy Parish and illustrator Fritz Seibel. The official website celebrates Amelia Bedelia books old and new.


Amelia Bedelia follows directions.


Alison: The Henry and Mudge books have really stayed with me. They are about a sweet boy and his slobbery dog. So few books about boys are about things other than cars and machines. This is about relationships.

Henry and Mudge are Max and Calvin approved! Cynthia Rylant’s books are a treat.

Henry and Mudge

Kathy: I’ve saved all the Sandra Boyton books. They have something for kids and adults.

Belly button book

Max and Calvin love this book.

Max and Calvin and I always enjoying pulling out Boyton’s joyful books. See them read them in a previous blog post.

Thank you, friends!


The day I helped at the book fair

“Calvin’s mom!” “Calvin’s mom!”

My true name was revealed to me when I volunteered at the Scholastic Book Fair at my kids’ school.

“Do you like to read to kids?” asked Herr Hayes, the school librarian. (Remember,it’s a German school.)

He told me to pick out a couple of books before Calvin’s kindergarten class came in. I would read to them and then help them pick out books.


Kindergartners are squiggly. Calvin and Max with their friend Shalin. (Shalin is in Calvin’s class.)

Reading out loud to my own kids is one thing, but reading to Calvin’s class made me a little nervous.

Luckily, they were an easy audience. Or should I say, a squiggly audience. After they got the “Calvin’s mom!” out of their systems, most of them sat still and listened. (Calvin beamed at me from the front row.) There were a few in the back that couldn’t sit still but most seemed to enjoy my attempt at rousing renditions of Please Mr. Panda by Steve Antony, The Three Little Aliens and the Big Bad Robot by Margaret McNamara and Mark Fearing, and The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat.

I made the rookie mistake of letting them get up when I was done but Herr Hayes rushed over and made them sit back down and listen to instructions. I guess 22 kindergartners on the loose isn’t always a good idea.

Here’s what I learned that day: my kids are pretty normal. They aren’t the only ones who squiggle, don’t listen, and tell on each other.

One girl told me a long saga about how her friend said her necklace wasn’t as pretty as hers.

Let’s pick some books, I suggested.


This book allowed me to impress little kids with my alien sounds. It was a big day!

Once they left, I was a seasoned pro and read to the first graders. I noticed they were quieter and asked more questions. I did hear a bunch of them laughing about a book that had poop in it.

More proof that my kids are normal!

And the next time I visited Calvin’s class, a bunch of the little squigglers ran over and hugged me.

More book info

Steve Antony also wrote one of our favorites, The Queen’s Hat, featured on this very blog. He also has a new book coming out, The Queen’s Handbag.

Beekle is another family favorite and Caldecott winner! Listen to this NPR piece about it.

The Three Little Aliens and the Big Bad Robot was a great new find and illustrator/writer Mark Fearing illustrated one of out most-loved books, How Martha Saved Her Parents from Green Beans.

WordPlay – building communities

What happened with Libby Hunter saw some local teens acting out from boredom? She and friend Elissa Yancey decided to find a solution and founded WordPlay, Cincinnati’s Creative Learning and Writing Center, a place for kids to be creative and succeed.

Pippin Rush filmed Libby and I talking about WordPlay, how it’s changing young lives, and of course, books. Enjoy!

Music courtesy of David Hunter. Special thanks to Pippin Rush, videographer.

P.S. Max and Calvin have been to WordPlay and they loved it!

Word Play-HD from julia mace on Vimeo.

Unlocking memories with The Secret Garden

My Papa and I blowing out my candles on my sixth birthday. My own kids just turned six! Read about it here:

My Papa and I blowing out my candles on my sixth birthday. My own kids just turned six!
Read about it here.

On my first read of The Secret Garden, the first few pages made me burst into tears and tell my parents it was horrible.

Spoiler alert – I made it through the part where young Mary Lennox wakes up in India to find everyone she knows dead or gone.

My original misgivings aside, I fell in love with this classic by Frances Hodgson Burnett and read it several more times throughout childhood. The book was given to me my Gigi (my grandmother), who bought it in England. In subsequent years, we traveled there together.

My Gigi's inscription in the book.

My Gigi’s inscription in the book.

The story, first published in 1911, and the trip were a strong influence on my future as I later ended up living in England.

My mom and I recently saw the play of The Secret Garden at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.

“I wish Gigi was here with us,” I said, referring to my grandmother. “But she would be 106 and senile.”

We laughed. We weren’t being cruel; sometimes laughter is all you can do about the hard things in life.

I had many years with Gigi; she passed away when I was 32. She was around 91 and had dementia for 10 years. Her later years, when our roles were reversed, allowed me to make amends for my bratty teenage self.

Mary finding the door of the garden. Illustration by Charles Robinson.

I wasn’t as fortunate with her husband, my Papa, whose memory is tied up in my first reading of The Secret Garden. He was dying of Cancer while I read the book in the hospital waiting room. I was surprised when he actually died. I was eight.

The gorgeous play not only made my mom and I cry and laugh; it caused us to talk about the past.

I know it’s always made my mom sad that her children don’t have as many memories of her dad. But I do have some nice memories tucked into my brain, including the fuzzy, not-so-nice ones of him being sick.

Revisiting the past lead me to a cool revelation. I have always had pieces of my Papa, right here in my mom. She looks like him (but pretty). She has his sunny outlook and social disposition. She has his smarts and work ethic.

And she carries his memories, like when she burst out one recent Christmas morning and said, “My Dad would have loved this.”

One more of us. Gigi made the cake. The dress had a duck on it. (She bought me my beloved stuffed duck.)

One more of us. Gigi made the cake. The dress had a duck on it.
(She bought me my beloved stuffed duck.)

This is the beauty of the written word and the glory of books. Stories tie us to our selves, our loves, and help us remember.

About the book and more info
My Papa, Verne McClellan, passed way years before the Internet – 1978 – but as a small-town lawyer and community-leader in Mt. Vernon, Indiana, I thought he might show up on Google. Besides his ancestry listing, I found one mention of him in his friend Bill Goss’ 2009 obit:

“Bill and Verne McClellan arranged for the purchases of the properties of GE Plastics, BWX, and WSI, located west of Mt. Vernon.”

My mom confirms this is true. I thought that was cool.

If you haven’t read The Secret Garden, please indulge. My copy was illustrated by Charles Robinson.

My other favorite book by Burnett is The Little Princess with gorgeous illustrations by Tasha Tudor.

For Cincinnati locals, the play has left the Playhouse but check out their current season.

Things have been gross but we’re still reading

The cow takes a ride.

The cow takes a ride.

When the plague hit our house last week, my blog took a backseat. Ok, it wasn’t the plague but the throw-up bug the boys and I got sure felt like it. At least to me; they seemed to recover so quickly.

Right after I got sick, Calvin wanted me to read him a book. He carried it into me as I slumped on the bathroom floor. Max was a little more sympathetic, telling me, “Mama, I take a deep breath when I don’t want to throw up.” However, the next day he was over it and asked me, “Why are you lying around so much?”

As Max and I sprawled on the couch after he caught it, he asked me to get him some olives.

“Olives? Baby, that might upset your stomach,” I said.

“Just get the puke bucket,” he shrugged.

Grossness aside, here’s a quick recap of the books that are on our minds this week.

Moo! written by David LaRochelle and illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka. LaRochelle wrote one of our favorites, How Martha Saved Her Parents from Green Beans. (Read about it in a previous blog post.) LaRochelle successfully uses one word all the way through a book (moo) to depict a cow going on a joyride. The only other word used is baa when the cow tries to blame crashing the car on an unsuspecting sheep. The boys like it because it’s funny, they know the word moo, and can read it themselves.

These kids invite their large friend to tea.

These kids invite their large friend to tea.

If you were having a tea party what would be better than inviting T. Rex? I selected Tea Rex written and illustrated by Molly Idle because Max loves dinosaurs. The mishaps of the tea party are funny and in the end the kids get invited to T. Rex’s house for tea. They also meet his friends! Of course Max points out, “Those dinosaurs didn’t live in the same era!”

Ah, my little scientist.

Where to find the books and other info

You can find Tea Rex at Powell’s. Idle has a great website and another dinosaur book, Camp Rex. And here’s an awesome interview about Tea Rex and the process of creating it on Debbie Redpath Ohi’s blog. (She’s a great illustrator too.)

Check out Moo! The Moo-vie on LaRochelle’s website. And you can find Moo! and more on Mike Wohnoutka’s site. They won the 2014 Minnesota Book Award for “Moo!”

Here’s some other info: I’m happy to say that I had a piece published in The Mid. Please click on this link to take a look. If you’re wondering what it’s about….it’s an essay on my return to aerobics and Jazzercise. Like what you read? Please share it!