An Ode To The Authors Who Raised Me

I can't ever remember  not being able to read; I think I was four when I picked up the skill.  And when I finally got my very own library card, you may as well have crowned me Queen and given me a million dollars.  All those books! I loved the smell, the feel, the organization of the library.  And living in a home without many books to call my own, I felt like the library was such a God-given treat to visit.

In retrospect, I wasn't a very discerning reader as a child—I pretty much read whatever I could get my hand on, be it the back of cereal boxes or my mom's medical encyclopedias. It didn't matter.  But I began thinking recently about which books and which authors really were formative for me as a young girl. I though that there MUST be some consistent element of taste there considering how particular I am today! And there was. As a young reader, I didn't know much about single, excellent works of fiction in the picture book world (and I regrettably never explored the non-fiction side of the picture book world) but I did know about authors I liked and I stuck with these authors whenever I could.  This is quite a different list from another post I want to write someday on the "books my Mama read to me" —which occupy an entirely distinct dimension of love in my heart.

* * * * * * *

Whenever I walked into the old Fort Vancouver library (which looked nothing like their current, incredible, state-of-the-art facility), I made a beeline straight to the P section to see of there were any Bill Peet books I hadn't read yet... or any old ones I felt like revisiting. I don't know what it was about Bill Peet... but I loved everything he ever wrote.  He was my very favorite and I adored his illustrations. Some of his books rhymed—but they were so well done that it never felt contrived. That man had an imagination! It's no wonder he was one of Walt Disney's early animators.  I can't remember one particular standout of his clever books, but I do have a special soft spot for Buford The Little Bighorn and Kermit the Hermit.  

After I had a handful of Peet books, I marched straight over to Maj Lindman to see if there were any new Snip, Snap, Snurr or Flicka, Ricka, Dicka books. These were rare and my particular branch only carried a few titles at a time it seemed. When I read Flicka, Ricka, Dicka and Their New Skates for the first time, I couldn't think of anything more wonderful in the world than being a triplet. I had 3 sisters but no matter how hard I tried to imagine, none of them were as perfectly sweet as these girls... but that didn't stop me from pretending. 
Next, I'd push and shove my little brother out of the way to be the first one to score any Richard Scarry books. We didn't care that the stories were simplistic or not even stories at all sometimes, we just spent hours looking at Richard Scarry's What Do People Do All Day and picking characters to be and naming all our siblings and friends according to their characteristics... Mom was the Mother Bunny who lived in a boot and my brother always claimed Huckle as his own.

Two authors who kept me in their clutches long after I had technically outgrown them were Syd Hoff and Peggy Parish—famed authors of "readers books".  Syd Hoff had a way of making Danny and the Dinosaur and Sammy the Seal much more than just a learning to read books, but fun and comfortable adventures that made you forget they were designed with simplistic plots and easy vocabulary. Then there was the endearing and iconic housekeeper: Amelia Bedelia. I thought her language and literal foibles were hilarious even after I was already reading longer chapter books.  I use Amelia Bedelia today just to demonstrate figures of speech with my own children.  A comparable figure in children's literature is Minerva Louise, the hilarious and beautifully simplistic hen who makes other toddler books look so asinine by comparison.

Almost everyone knows about Stan and Jan Berenstain.  I don't make a point to read the Berenstain Bears to my children much now... they're just a little thin on the plot and heavy on the virtue for my personal level of tedium. (And I get allergies to books whose characters get made into cartoons or movies!) I tend to only read books that I enjoy reading also (which narrows our choices tremendously, let me tell you!)... but that's not to say these aren't good books. As a child, I fantasized living inside the world of Brother and Sister Bear in a cute little tree house.  I loved how golly-gee quaint everything was (and wondered why Mother Bear never changed her frumpy housedress?).  Since I was a serial reader, the sheer volume of Bear books really hooked me in and kept me happy for a very, very long time, especially since I read most of them numerous times.

Virginia Lee Burton has a very soft spot in my heart for the specific reason that I have never outgrown her.  She faithfully entertained me with The Little House and Katy and the Big Snow as a child and continues to win me over with all her nostalgic other tales and extraordinary machines too.  I was giddy when I found out there was a real live "MaryAnn" steam shovel parked in field in the tiny town of Chimacum, WA near me. I wish I had a picture to show you... but my kids and I were practically breathless with joy in seeing this remnant we've always loved from Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel.

Last is an author who is responsible for my journey into chapter books.  He is the one I sought .  Today, before I start getting all up on my pedestal on what wonderful taste I had, I remember that I also read pretty much every single Babysitter's Club and PeeWee Scout book ever written also, not exactly Newberry Prize Winners. But still... Burgess was my heart-warmer through good times and bad because there was always a new animal adventure to entertain me:  When I was a kid, titles like Blacky the Crow only came in dull-covered hardbacks. But you can get that same title for only a buck with Dover's thrift editions!  And other titles can be easily collected in affordable box sets today too; I'm slowly grabbing them up for my children today—who I am proud to say also enjoy the easy, satisfying feel of these books also.
Thornton Burgess

Thank you wonderful writers for bringing up a little book-starved girl and fostering in her both a love for reading and giving her some very good friends in books when those in real life during this time were hard to find... {insert heart emoticon here}

A Giveaway: WINNER!

I don't know about you guys but I find these little giveaways with a 1 in 7 (one was on FB) chance and a toddler picking the winner to be just delightfully giddy and entertaining!  The winner of this one is "The Herring Family" — you'll be getting your book soon, congrats!

In honor of my ridiculous foray into starting a Facebook page, I'm giving away a book. Not just any book but one of the single most influential books on me as a child: Blueberries for Sal. I'm hoping you already have this book (you should) but if so, save it for a gift for someone else.  I chose this one as a plea to the universe to let summer come this way... and no summer is complete without Sal. All you need to do is comment here saying "Yay!" or some other exclamation of enthusiasm... 

"Liking" me on Facebook is not necessary to enter this giveaway... but I encourage you to like my page anyway... if you actually do so you can receive occasional bits of news and giveaways and the like...

You have until the 31st to enter... happy days to you!

How to Make Your Children Hate Reading

I had an experience the other day that broke my heart and made me angry and inspired me to write this post.  I'm going to call this a direct companion to my post aimed at getting children to love reading:Overcoming Reading Resistance.  This is the necessary corollary: How to make children HATE reading.

 I was at the thrift store doing my usual scan of the shelves when a mother and daughter came into the aisle to look for books too.  I smiled at the girl (who was, by my estimation, 7-8 years old) excited for her as I heard the mother ask her to find some books she'd like to read.  She immediately started pulling out some picture books with excitement when her mother immediately grabbed them from her and shoved then back on the shelf, "Those are for little kids; you've already learned that stuff.  You need to pick out some chapter books you like."  The girl obediently abandoned the picture book section and dejectedly went looking for a chapter book... which brings me to point number one on how to make your kid hate reading:

1- Push them to start reading. Then push them through the early stages of reading. Then keep pushing and never let them linger.  Picture books are emphatically NOT just for the 8 and under set! I have one child who reads Tolkien one minute but is happy to revisit Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel (recommended for "children 4-8") the next. Another son of mine reads at a 7th grade level and will still pull out Go, Dog. Go! just for kicks sometime. I have one friend who told me (when her daughter was 10) that she loved reading this blog but that she felt like they were "done" with the picture book stage. (Okay, in my defense, I post about the occasional chapter book! And another thing, since when is someone like Shaun Tan, just for kids?! Finally, if a person of ANY age does not enjoy reading A Hole Is to Dig... they simply have no humanity in them. And I'm not interested in persons with shriveled up raisins for hearts reading this blog anyway.) There is a familiarity and warmth in picture books that helps to build confidence for struggling readers. Reading isn't about who can do it the fastest or stressing about your 3 year old not knowing all his letters yet. It's the building of a relationship with the written word. And I don't care what your teacher says, that is something that can't and certainly shouldn't be rushed.  Acting like reading is simply a skill that has to be mastered is a surefire way to kill any kind of lasting relationship with books.

2- Never buy books. "A house without books is like a body without a soul..." Kids see what we spend money on. We spend money on what is important to us. Period. What are the most important things in your home? Demonstrate that books aren't nearly as important as your Netflix membership, new iPhone, or stylish leather boots by simply not buying them.  And the hierarchy of value will be very evident when you gift your young children with lots of light-up, bleeping toys but not any books.

3- Never read books.  Children mimic their parents. If I spend all day glued to my iPad, they get itchy wanting electronic time too. If they see that I spend my leisure time reading a book, they get the hint that there is something valuable there. Parents whose children hate reading might consider taking a look at their own habits.  Here's an article with pretty good insight about that. If you don't like reading, learn to. That's really the long and short of it.

4- Insist on your own tastes and never explore other types of material. Maybe your child doesn't want to curl up to a lovely Beatrix Potter tale and would rather consume Garfield comics instead. Oh wait. That is my child. My children don't have a finely cultivated taste yet. I see some signs of thoughtfulness when we discuss what makes a "good book" or a book that they would want to read again or keep forever. They are being trained to look for certain qualities. Still, they love Garfield and Captain Underpants. I know parents who absolutely refuse this sort of reading because they are determined that little Jilly dear will just LOVE Anne of Green Gables and darn it! She WILL read it, or else! Listen... I was broken-hearted when my son started snoozing through The Wind in the Willows. I tried twice but he felt like it was torture! I almost felt personally offended over it and mourned the lives of Mole and Mr. Toad that would never be experienced!  But I swallowed my hurt and moved on to something else. This happens. Some kids want to read comic books. Some might want to read how-to manuals. Some will go through a joke book phase. Be patient. Be creative. Find what interests the child. I'm not one who believes all children should be reading Harry Potter and the Twilight series just because "any reading is good reading." Not at all.  There is an important value in reading longstanding, classic novels and for reading books that don't immediately grab you and interest you. But there is time for that yet; we're building a relationship remember? You can't put a ball and chain on the kid before the courtship has properly blossomed.

5- Watch lots of TV.  Play lots of video games. Be smartphone addicted.  I'd like to think this is obvious. But it bears an important reminder. Okay so not only does excessive electronic media damage attention spans and literally rewire important brain neurons needed for reading (check it out), but it trumps the feelings of an inspired stillness in a child.  If there is "nothing to do"—media saturated kids are bored. They are waiting to be entertained or distracted by a screen. But if media is severely limited... and I'm afraid I do mean severely... kids who have "nothing to do" learn to entertain themselves. They invent games, create possibilities out of nothingness and most importantly... find a friend or an adventure waiting for them in a book. If you struggle to get your child to settle down enough for a book try getting some large muscle movement outside first— 20 minutes of hard, red-cheeked play will often buy you an hour of calm. (See the Overcoming post for more ideas)  One disclaimer worth mentioning: if you just had a baby or are newly pregnant or have sick children or need 30 minutes of peace, please don't feel guilty about the TV thing. You are in the season of life where you desperately need the electronic babysitter effect from electronics and don't beat yourself up over this thinking you're failing all your Waldorf or Montessori ideals and what would the other Attachment Parenters think?! Gasp! It's a season; get over it. Sometimes you just have to survive. It's okay.  My toddlers spent many, many hours glued to Kipper the Dog episodes after I had my last child and they still love books. But I really do try for electronics to be the exception, rather than the norm... but I don't get all bent out of shape when I want to take a shower in peace...

6- Obsess about reading comprehension. One of the quickest—and sadly most commonly employed—ways to kill the natural love for reading is to insist on children always looking up words they don't know, telling or 'reporting' about what they read, analyzing what the author meant and nitpicking away at the style and structure of a piece of literature. I'm going to say something shocking: it's okay if you don't understand everything you read!  In school, some of the classics I was forced to read were The Odyssey, Lord of the Flies, Catcher in the Rye, Jane Eyre and The Scarlet Letter.  Guess how many of those I enjoyed?  Zero. And knowing what I know about myself and about the plot of Jane Eyre, I'm pretty convinced I would love that book if I read it under my own volition. And I read The Children's Homer: The Adventures of Odysseus and the Tale of Troy with my children last year and we all loved it. But I have been scarred from the original tale. Yet, when I was 13 years old, I read Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead over the summer just for fun and absolutely loved it. I didn't understand most of what I read in that book and some of it went totally over my head, but the way Ayn Rand wrote just grabbed me and challenged me and made me want to think a little bit deeper about life. All of that wonder and excitement would have been obliterated if I was asked to do a book report on it.
      Forced reading and forced judging is an intrusion on the natural relationship between a reader and author. It's like an arranged marriage... being put through some kind of reality show.  As an adult, I enjoy almost every classic book I read now and I can understand why they've endured the test of time—speaking to the universal and shared experiences of humanity. But as a kid, I hated, hated, hated having to dissect every bit about a piece of literature. I quickly learned to scan through books and anticipate questions teachers would ask just so I could get on with my life.  I really like what John Holt had to say about reading comprehension... highly recommended.

So there you have it.  Six of the very best ways to ruin a love of reading in a child!

“We ask children to do for most of a day what few adults are able to do for even an hour. How many of us, attending, say, a lecture that doesn’t interest us, can keep our minds from wandering? Hardly any.” 
-John Holt

Bargain Book Roundup

Sorted through the chaff of Amazon's Bargain Books to find some wheat... quantities limited!

Sweet autumn book... beautifully illustrated.
Philip Stead again?! Why are his books discounted?
Only a small discount but this is my FAVORITE Guadalupe picture book; so it's worth it.
Perfect for spring... save it for next Easter?
This has been in the Bargain Bin for some time now... I don't know why! It's one of our very favorite Christmas books!
I had to purchase this immediately.  It took my breath away last Epiphany-time.

The First War

We've been studying World War I lately.  Seems like we spent forever on the Civil War and then just breezed right through the Industrial Revolution and immigration before going back to war again.  We are a bloodthirsty people... Lord have mercy.

In the literature world, World War I is often eclipsed in the horrors of World War II... but I still believe that picture books offer one of the best way to explore the issue with children.  They offer the perfect level of understanding whilst maintaining the dignity and compassion necessary to view war from a child's perspective. World War II is a much bigger issue, with more literature options so we are saving it for next fall. Our entire study of this period of time is comprised of picture books:

Where Poppies Grow: A World War I Companion (an overview)
War Game: Village Green to No-Man's-Land
The Language of Doves
The Letter Home
One Boy's War
The Donkey of Gallipoli: A True Story of Courage in World War I (my favorite)

One book in particular Wings for Per — spans the timeframe of both the world wars in a unique way that offers a bit of continuity from a young Norwegian boy's life.  It is very overpriced now, out of print, but I promised I'd post some pictures of the inside from my own, tattered copy:

S is for Salmon... and Sadness and Suspension

This is me today:

I earned a tiny commission check from my essential oil business today.  I proudly deposited it with the responsible intention of paying library fees that have reached their limit (after $25 you can't check out books anymore).  Cleared that slate and then remembered with disgruntledness that my toddler had ruined a book recently which we will now have to buy. And then the kicker: I noticed on my account that I had 13 books a week late.  In dollar terms that's about $26 at this particularly stingy library. Crimeny.  Boo. Wail.  Lament. So now, when all is said and done... it's a $70 day at the library.  This is no bueno. 

My usually supportive husband may put us on library suspension for a while again (I've been there before... it was a deserved sentence... but not one fun to serve!).

 In other news, I'd like to suggest a lovely, lovely little new book: S is for Salmon: A Pacific Northwest Alphabet.  If you live in the Northwest, or know someone who does or are studying the area... this is a wonderful book to own or give as a gift.  I love paper cutting artwork and Hannah Viano does an excellent job in this.  This is a REAL alphabet book, designed for little ones with the perfect amount of text.  It is not the encyclopedic or contrived type of state book that you'll find in the  "Discover America State by State" series (like E is for Evergreen: A Washington State Alphabet ).  (As a disclaimer, there is reference to a plant being millions of years old... Creationists may object to this. I personally present such "facts" in books as simply "theories" while staying happily within the boundaries of what my faith allows.)


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