For the Parents

After my last post, about  books for children approaching the first day of school, Charlotte (of the lovely and highly civilized kidlit blog Charlotte’s Library) commented:

“Yes well. You left out the fun for the parent as she tries to buy everything on the lists--worried both about the cost (I just dropped $60 bucks) plus the anxiety of being told to get a specific brand and type of glue and the biggest craft store around not having it but they told me that what they had was exactly the same thing but what if it's not????? And I bought the 6 four inch glue sticks as ordered but glue guns come in different sizes and although Ben was pretty sure it was the big kind we are not certain. If only I had not left it all till the day before. And we haven't tried to relocate the back packs yet, or put name tags on the spare clothes, or done our summer reading. Nor have we sat down and cooperated while our hair was trimmed.

“So where's the comforting book for me????”

Let it never be said that I don’t know a reader’s-advisory challenge when I read one. It took a few days, but Charlotte, I think I have a comforting book for you:

Voyage to the Bunny Planet, by Rosemary Wells. I wrote about this title a long time ago, in a multiple-recommendation post. But now it is back in print! Yes!! In an omnibus three-in-one volume! Everyone—even parents, or maybe especially parents, and most especially parents who are scrambling to round up school supplies and supervise summer reading and trim the hair of uncooperative offspring—needs a visit to the Bunny Planet, where we can all can have the day that should have been. And the bunny queen, Janet, is just the one to take us all there.

Also, while it’s not strictly a book—okay, it’s not a book at all—the song “Orange Cocoa Cake” by Lou and Paul Berryman perfectly captures that, er, delightful and action-packed pace of contemporary family life, from a parent’s point of view. To truly appreciate the song, it helps to hear the breathless (literally—it’s a patter song) delivery that Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer give it on their album A Parents’ Home Companion. (You can hear an excerpt from the song on their website.)

Now I’m off to make lunch, unpack the kitchen, and harass my kid into cleaning up all the birthday presents scattered around the living room floor. Toodle-oo!

August 31, 2008

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The First Day of School

The First Day of School

Today I swiped a technique from Mir of Kitchen Table Reviews and interviewed my kid.

Back when you were starting kindergarten, I asked her, were you worried about anything?

YES, she said, and reeled off a vivid list: she was worried that she wouldn't have any friends, the teacher wouldn't like her, she wouldn't like the teacher, the bus driver would be mean, the bathroom would be really, really, far away…

In fact, none of that happened. She made lots of friends, the teacher was warm and wonderful, the bus driver was a jolly fellow right out of a Norman Rockwell painting, and the bathroom (not surprisingly) was right near the kindergarten classrooms.

School starts again for us next week, and my now-almost-third-grader seems totally at ease. She'll even be walking to school by herself! It's hard to believe this is the same kid as that worried new kindergartener I remember from three years ago, setting off bravely for the school bus in a hand-crocheted poncho that was almost as big as she was.

I've been reminded of that scary starting-school feeling in the last few weeks at work, every time a worried parent or helpful teacher asks books to calm anxiety about the first day of school. There's no shortage of material, but my favorites are often checked out already around this time of year. In my ideal library, with multiple copies of everything readily available, here's what I'd press into those helpful (or shaky) grownup hands:

To bolster an extra-worried kid (or parent): The Kissing Hand or Wemberly Worried

For the kid with a sense of humor: I Am Too Absolutely Small for School or The Teacher from the Black Lagoon

For the eager beaver who can't wait to jump right in: Emily's First 100 Days of School

For the family who likes to read chapter books together: Ramona the Pest (the scene where Ramona is told to "sit here for the present" has to be one of the funniest fictional misunderstandings ever)

For the teacher who wants to reassure kids that the first day is a big event for him/her, too (and provide a quick and fun alphabet review along the way): Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten

And for everyone who's starting school for the first or the fourth or the twentieth time: squeaky new markers, friendly and vigilant crossing guards, welcoming teachers, and a wonderful year.

August 26, 2008

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Night Night, Sleep Tight

Night Night, Sleep Tight

It's amazing how many picture books there are on the subject of bedtime. I just took a quick browse through my child's bookcase, and found at least twenty picture books that are either blatant bedtime promotion, or at least feature the protagonist all tucked in for the night and ready for peaceful slumber on the last page.

It turns out that lots of the classics--Madeline, Eloise, Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No-Good Very Bad Day, Make Way for Ducklings, Harold and the Purple Crayon, and More More More Said the Baby, among many others—more or less end with "…and then they all went to bed."

You'd think sleep would be the least dramatic of topics, but ask any parent of young insomniacs: it is chock-full of tension and excitement. Like my fellow Scholastic parent-blogger Catherine, I have a sleep-resistant child, and we're not so much with the consistent nighttime routines. Many's the time I've started out the evening full of energy and resolutions to get things done, only to find myself wrung out and exhausted by the time I've wrangled my kid into bed.

The last few weeks have featured especially late nights, as summer heat and exciting vacation events and visitors have wreaked havoc on whatever flimsy bedtime rules we once had. This week my daughter has summer camp, and while it's probably good for her to get used to having to be somewhere in the mornings again, the exhaustion and grumpiness is taking its toll on all of us.

Well, at least we usually are able to fit a nice cozy read-aloud session in there at night between the tooth-brushing struggles and the post-lights-out "why are you still up?/okay but just one glass of water" exchanges. Now that my daughter's reading on her own, she usually gets some solo time to read in bed before the lights go out, too. (I've even been known to look the other way when encountering some surreptitious flashlight-reading.)

One of our favorites was, and still is, Peggy Rathmann's Ten Minutes Till Bedtime, in which a troupe of hamsters invades a young boy's house and enacts the fantasy of bedtime resisters everywhere by partying it up until the very last minute. Another one I've always liked is Tucking Mommy In, by Morag Loh, which is more of a sleepy parent's fantasy (and is out of print, mores' the pity): when Mommy conks out while putting her two little girls to bed, they take things into their own hands and tuck her in instead. I used to read that to my daughter in hopes that she'd follow suit, and occasionally it even worked.

There are more excellent bedtime-book suggestions on Scholastic's Best Bedtime Stories for Babies and Toddlers booklist. Several of them were in heavy rotation during my child's own preschool years, with dubious results as sleepytime propaganda. But they're pretty swell read-alouds anyway. If they also convince your child to actually close his or her eyes and snooze, you're one lucky, lucky parent.

August 20, 2008

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Busman's Holiday: The City of Books

Busman's Holiday: The City of Books

It's true that I am a library nerd. It's true that I get a kick out of visiting libraries on vacation, and even once made a carload of people wait on a roadside in rural France while I dashed into the local library to check out the children's section, browse the French "Harry Potter" covers, and get into an excited if language-impaired conversation with the staff, who at first were under the impression that I was asking for a job (at which they were understandably nonplussed).

So I got to spend a few days in Portland, Oregon last week, just me and a college friend, no spouse or child along, and guess where I went? Three times? And then once more to the branch at the airport? 

Why, to Powell's City of Books, of course.

Powell's is to most regular bookstores what War and Peace is to The Very Hungry Caterpillar. It is huge; HUGE: a whole city block, and not a small one, either. And it's highly well-organized. Each section has its own room, and the rooms are color-coded.

Children's and Young Adult books are in the Rose Room.

I spent a lot of time in the Rose Room.

I didn't actually sit down and read anything; it was too overwhelming for that. Instead, I went for impressions: what looked good? What made me want to grab it? What, when I picked it up, gave off that ineffable "read me" tingle? (I know this probably sounds weird, but it's just something I do. I used to do it as a kid, too: run my hand along the juvenile fiction shelves until a book tingled at me. Sometimes it works, sometimes not so much.)

These are some that jumped out at me:

Rock 'n Roll Camp for Girls, by the organizers of the Rock & Roll Camp for Girls in Portland. . This looked really cool. If I had a rocker girl, I'd get it for her in a heartbeat.

Frankenstein Takes the Cake, by Adam Rex. A sequel to Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich! O Joy! O Frabjuous Day!

Does My Head Look Big in This? By Randa Abdel-Fattah . I've been seeing this around for a while, and really want to read it, but haven't had a chance yet. It's out in paperback now and I could feel the bright shiny cover and new pages calling, calling, calling to me.

Breaking Dawn, by Stephenie Meyer. It was hard to miss this one; there were displays all over the store. This 4th title in the teen vampire romance series had just been released a few days earlier, and the hoopla was far from dying down.

New Baby Train, by Woody Guthrie; illustrated by Marla Frazee. Marla Frazee does the illustrations for the Clementine books, and she gets that spirited and charming kid just right. Whoever thought to pair her timeless-feeling yet lively style with a Guthrie song was truly inspired.

The Red Tree, by Shaun Tan. This one, I've actually read; I even own it. It's a weird and beautiful picture book, one of those titles that is probably better for older kids or even adults than the usual picture-book crowd. When I first bought it, no one much had heard of Shaun Tan, but now, thanks to The Arrival, his name is everywhere, so it was nice to see this more obscure title so prominently displayed.

I did try to restrain myself at the cash register, but…well…I had a half-empty suitcase when I came to Portland, and it was a lot less empty when I returned. But, hey, how often do I get to go to a whole city of books, in person?

August 13, 2008

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Summer Rerun: Books Into Movies!

Summer Rerun: Books Into Movies!

We just moved, all our stuff is in boxes, and I don't have two brain cells to rub together. So in the spirit of summer, I offer you a rerun of a post I wrote on my other blog, back in May 2007:

It's a good time of year to do some low-key, easy lesson plans. One of my favorites for 4th and 5th grade is "Books into Movies."

First, I pull a whole bunch of books that have been made into movies and put them out on the tables (Wikipedia has a pretty good list). When the class comes in, they have to look at the books on the tables and guess what they have in common. Some years they guess and guess and never come up with the answer ("Animals!" "No, they're all fantasy!" "No, they're all classics!"), but this year someone guessed it almost right away in both 4th grade classes.

Then we talk for a while about the differences between books and movies: Have they ever had the experience of reading a book and then seeing the movie, and wondering how the two can even have the same title? What are some reasons that a movie might have to be different from a book? Why might the people making the movie decide to change things around?

This year I talked about my experience seeing the movie "Harriet the Spy" after loving the book as a kid, especially my disappointment that Harriet was so skinny and cute (I showed them the illustrations from the book as a comparison) and that the movie wasn't set in New York. I also gave them some of the scoop about the upcoming Inkheart movie.

They did some silent reading, choosing a book from one of the tables (I encouraged, but didn't require, that they pick a book they'd never read but whose movie adaptation they'd seen), and then after checkout we read Shrek, which is a great example of a book that's completely different from the movie. I thought they might think it was too young for them, but both classes were highly amused by Shrek's evil temper and by the poetry.

When asked about books and movies in class, kids will dutifully reply "The book is always better": they've learned that books are supposed to be Good for Them and movies are faintly unwholesome fun. Sometimes teachers even act like the existence of a movie taints the book, and won't let kids read books for reports if they've already seen the movie.

Kids believe this, too; I don't know how many times I've suggested a book to a kid, only to have them shrug it away with "Oh, I already saw the movie of that." This class shakes that up a little and asks them to think about the two mediums in a different way. Plus, it's just a blast to teach.

July 31, 2008

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