Untouched by Time

Untouched by Time

It was a magnificent Memorial Day weekend in our neck of the woods. No special fanfare or entertainment was needed — just the joy of sweet clear air, the sight and smell of flowering trees and newly planted annuals. It felt great to be alive, blessed by nature’s gifts and the joy of seeing 3 out of 5 of our grandchildren, and oh yeah, their parents. Even the loud yapping of their adorable Westie couldn’t mar the moment. Sophie (the noisy white fluff-ball) frolicked with our Norwich a little too rambunctiously, but they worked it out.

We sat by a pool, the water still too cold to take the plunge, so the kids played with each other and the available pool equipment. I was heartened to hear a familiar flow of fantasy from the 13 year old. He was a javelin thrower — Olympic competitor — wielding a pool cleaning tool and announcing the play-by-play of his gold medal shot; he was a tennis champion with a phenomenal overhead smash; he was going out for the long pass, and all with a teenaged vocabulary accompanying the same rich pretend play resources that he exhibited at three and four, when “we were plumbers” or he was a landscaper, a pirate, a carpenter, a lover of tools and the work they each do. The ease with adults that had been there since birth was unchanged, a lifelong gift that I know will stand him in good stead. He can navigate easily between an obviously rich inner life and the real world of social challenges.

Grandparenthood is a different vantage point. Unlike his parents, I don’t focus on whether he did his homework, whether he studied for a final exam, made his bed, hung up his clothes. That splendid way he has of relating to himself and others is enough for me. He’ll do fine.

May 28, 2008

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Oh, the Librarian is a Person in your Neighborhood...

Oh, the Librarian is a Person in your Neighborhood...

A few weeks ago, I asked commenters for their opinions on libraries: why they liked---or didn't like—to visit their local library, and about libraries in general.

I have to admit, now, that I had an ulterior motive for this question: I was getting ready for a job interview, and one of the requirements was that I prepare a short presentation on this very subject: what makes a library "the place you want to be"? I know what I think about what makes people like a library, but then I'm a librarian! It was really helpful to hear from folks on the other side of the reference desk, so thank you, Catherine, Susan, Charlotte, and Cheryl, for unknowingly helping me with my interview.

Here's what I learned from you about what people (well, four people) want from a library:

Friendly service. Librarians you can connect with as people and as book-lovers are important! Cheryl remembers "times when I've gone into the library and had great discussions about children's books with the librarian," and Susan praises the librarian who helped her daughter find "a book that won an award" (which request would warm any children's librarian's heart).

Conversely, unfriendly service—or even the lack of knowledgeable, specialized librarians—can be a library repellent. Susan laments the absence of an identifiable children's librarian at her neighborhood branch, and Cheryl tells of being turned off the library by a staff member's disapproving response to a few overdue books when she was having a hard time in the first place. Catherine's comment that she was sometimes intimidated by the NYC libraries reminded me of something it can be hard for those of us who work in libraries to remember: navigating a library can be an daunting experience, even for someone who is comfortable with the printed word to the point of being a writer and editor herself.

Convenience. In some way or other, this was important to everyone who commented. Cheryl lauded her library system's city-wide hold system. Catherine likes being able to bike to the library and pick up a stack of books and DVDs. And Charlotte even picked her house because it was only four blocks from the library!

Community. Another thing that sometimes goes forgotten or underplayed is the idea of the library as a place in an of itself: aside from all the books and the recommendations and the computers and the reserves, sometimes people value what Charlotte astutely calls "the 'getting out of the house' aspect of the library," especially those who might be feeling lonely and isolated, as Charlotte was just after her son was born. Catherine hit on this also when she talked about liking the "idea" of the many community programs that her library sponsors, even if her family isn't able to attend them. I know what she means, I think—just the fact that those events are being held helps make the library feel like a community place.

All this discussion of libraries made me think (naturally) about my favorite kids' books on the subject. I'm working on a more comprehensive list, having not found one online yet, but for now I'll just recommend two relatively new titles:

The Library Lion, by Michelle Knudsen, about a lion who visits the library and soon becomes indispensable, is a great book to read aloud to a group or with just one or two kids. I love how both the story and Kevin Hawkes' charming and subtle acrylic-and-pencil illustrations depict a library that's both timeless and contemporary: there's a cozy feeling to the space, and the librarian, Miss Merriwether, feels strongly about the rules that keep the library a safe and quiet place, but at the same time it's a place that has room for computers (seen on reference and checkout desks) and exceptions to the rules, as well as for lions.

The library in Carla Morris's The Boy Who Was Raised by Librarians is a much more freewheeling place. The three librarians who are always behind the reference desk whenever little Melvin visits—illustrator Brad Sneed makes their distinctive personalities crystal-clear—are abrim with enthusiasm as well as know-how: whenever Melvin has an information need—from bug identification to spelling bee prep—they leap right in with call numbers, website recommendations, and even suggestions for the archival storage of baseball cards. Small wonder that Melvin grows up with a love of libraries, so much so that…well, if you have a child with an enthusiasm for libraries, this book just might spur him or her towards *ahem* an exciting and rewarding future.

May 25, 2008

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Solid Advice for Grandparents

Solid Advice for Grandparents

Serendipitous discoveries are often the most rewarding. I enjoyed one of those the other day. While standing in a checkout line at Borders, I faced a rack of pamphlets from AARP (free pamphlets, I might add). The one that caught my eye, not surprisingly, is called "Grandparenting: The Joys and Challenges." And now having read it, I enthusiastically recommend it to parents and grandparents. If you don't find it in your local chain bookstore, go to www.aarp.org or phone 1-888-687-2277 to request a copy.

In my experience, many such pamphlets are thin in substance, no matter how physically thick they may be. Not so this one. It is full of meaningful information to guide and encourage grandparents and to help parents understand the important role of their parents and in-laws. As implied in the script, most of us are not frumpy old creatures from another era. And grandparents have some very important functions in the youngest generation’s life. The pamphlet clarifies real distinctions between parenting and grandparenting roles; but it also acknowledges the significant percentage of grandparents who, out of necessity, are their grandchildren’s primary caregivers -- parental as well as grandparental.

I like the flexible, respectful tone, acknowledging that there are many ways to be a grandparent. "Many grandparents work hard to pass on their family’s history and traditions. These grandparents often are the 'glue' that holds their families together. They help grandchildren understand that they’re part of something greater than themselves." One way they may do that is by "telling stories about their (own) childhood and their grandchildren's parents' early years."

My grandchildren are enormously curious about how their parents behaved, how they got along with siblings, how they did in school, the funny things they said and did when they were little. I drove my oldest grandson to baseball once a week when he was in the early elementary grades. He used much of that time to ask me to tell him stories about his mom and uncle as children, and often the same stories over and over again. It took him awhile to understand that I was no longer in a position to discipline his mother or tell her what she "ought" to allow him to have or do. As the pamphlet says quite explicitly the best thing about being a grandparent is not having to act like a parent.

I applaud the respectful and informative tone of the AARP pamphlet, for example in addressing the question, "What's so great about grandparenting?" Among other things, it is true that "Grandparents enjoy seeing the cycle of life continue. They are thrilled to see physical and personality traits in their grandchildren that they've seen in themselves, their children, and their own parents or siblings."

Get the pamphlet … see for yourself … you’ll be glad you did.

May 20, 2008

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The Meme of Fives

The Meme of Fives

I was all set to follow up, as promised, on my library opinions post of a couple of weeks ago, but it will have to wait until next week, as Charlotte of Charlotte's Library has tagged me with the Meme of Five. Here it is:

1. The rules of the game get posted at the beginning.
2. Each player answers the questions about themselves.
3. At the end of the post, the player then tags five people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they've been tagged and asking them to read the player's blog.
4. Let the person who tagged you know when you've posted your answer.

What were you doing five years ago?

At work, I was a school librarian, getting ready for the annual school-wide Authors' Circles, and starting to put together recommended reading lists to send out as part of the school Summer Reading Program. At home, I was answering a running list of "why?"s from an energetic two-and-a-half-year-old.

What are five things on your to-do list for today (not in any particular order)?
(Some of these have been done, but on the other hand this day is just about over)

1. Work a 4-hour shift at one of the libraries where I am on-call (done!)
2. Write a condolence note to my elderly cousin, whose husband died recently (not done yet…)
3.  Start some laundry (also not done. What will I wear tomorrow??)
4. Make dinner (done, and it was pretty yummy)
5. Write this post!

What are five snacks you enjoy?

1. Chocolate, in any form, but especially little chocolate bonbons that come in boxes
2. Potato chips, the tangier the better
3. Cookies
4. Gelato
5. Deviled eggs

What five things would you do if you were a billionaire?

1. Buy a nice old house in Vancouver with a view of the water.
2. Buy original art by children's book illustrators like Vera B. Williams, Kevin Henkes, and Elisa Kleven.
3. Go to the beach. A lot. Also back to New York, the land of my youth.
4. Visit  friends and family who I haven't seen for years because they live scattered all over the country and the world, or else pay for them to come visit me or meet up with me someplace nice (like the beach!)
5. Give a big chunk of it away, but where? Research on electric cars and global warming? Libraries in under-funded schools? Arts education? Women in developing countries? The mind boggles…

What are five of your bad habits?

1. Staying up too late at night
2. Waking up too late in the morning.
3. Procrastinating. (I see a theme developing here…)
4. Starting a book, then bogging down because I don't really like it, but feeling like I can't start another book until I've finished the first one.
5. Forgetting to feed the cat.

What are five places where you have lived?

Manhattan, suburban New Jersey, Alaska, Seattle, Vancouver

What are five jobs you've had?

1. Babysitter
2. Trade magazine reporter on the Oils, Fats, and Waxes beat (really!)
3. Salmon cannery worker
4. Childcare teacher
5. Librarian

I now tag five people who have commented here in the past, or whose blogs I've commented on recently (though honestly, I'll understand if you choose to pass—this is not a chain letter!)

Catherine at Preschool Mom
Adele at the Grandmom Blog
Emily at emilyreads
Susan at Crunchy Granola
Cheryl at Cheryl Rainfield

And, because I have a hard time getting through a post without at least one book recommendation: If you like lists, might I suggest the picture book 17 Things I'm Not Allowed to Do Anymore, by Jenny Offill and Nancy Carpenter? The heroine's list of creative and enterprising misbehaviors ("I had an idea to staple my brother's hair to the pillow…I am not allowed to use the stapler any more.") are sure to bring a smile. This book might be best shared with kids who are old enough to get the joke and not take the heroine's antics literally, though it could also be a relief for some young mischief-makers to see that they're not the only ones. And the illustrations are lively and funny and smart and perfectly depict that certain gleam in the eye.

May 15, 2008

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From Princesses to Jocks

From Princesses to Jocks

This is a response to unsolicited e-messages I have been receiving lately from spokespersons for the "Anti-Princess Movement." Mature women, many of them mothers of girls, are uneasy about the "Someday my prince will come; only then will I live happily ever after" theme promoted in TV programming, toys, books, and revivals of classical fairy tales, aimed squarely at 4 year old girls.

Relax, friends; all that humility and overblown feminine vanity will dissipate in short order. I’ve just watched such a natural metamorphosis of my granddaughter and her friends in barely 4 years.

This weekend was all about being a mom and a grandmom, of course, topped off with the annual signs of love and appreciation — a dozen yellow roses (my favorite) and a gathering of moms and kids who love jazz, Chinese-American food, chicken fingers, ice cream, and cake. But it was also about celebrating the growth and development of our only granddaughter.

Eight years ago, my daughter’s and my best Mothers’ Day gift had been her baby girl’s arrival. In the middle of a line-up of beloved grandsons, there was a sudden interlude of pinkness and sugar and spice; a pause from pirates, trucks, tools, and action figures. So, although it was not my style, I was nonplussed by her 4th birthday celebration — a fancy tea party, where each girl donned the garments and crowns of a beautiful princess before politely munching on crustless jelly sandwiches, sipping make-believe tea poured from charming pots into delicate little cups, and then enjoying some sweets.

At that event, the girls' behavior matched their costumes. They were demure and regal. Not a voice was raised; in fact, some girls' mothers whispered to each other, 'Look how beautiful they feel!"

Our granddaughter’s 8th birthday party, held this weekend, was in startling contrast to that regal tea. The plan was the birthday girl’s own — an afternoon of bowling at a local alley, topped off with pizza and birthday cake. With images of the princess regalia still dancing in my head, I marveled at the power of the developmental process. Many of the same girls, this time outfitted in jeans, shorts, and rented bowling shoes that no prince would ever find at the end of a ball, were high-fiving, pumping fists after a remarkable score, shouting in a self-congratulatory way.

Many of these were friends from swim team or traveling soccer. The erstwhile princesses had found joy in becoming age-appropriate jocks. Moral of the story: I’d advise putting aside the anti-princess outrage. No picket signs or outraged letters to the editors needed. Just allow for the tincture of time.

May 13, 2008

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My Mother's Day Wish

My Mother's Day Wish

I've written in the past about the literary disagreements my daughter and I have had, and about some of my anxiety when she struggled with learning to read last year. In the months since I wrote those posts, my kid's reading has really taken off. I'm proud (and relieved) that she's gone from being in the lowest reading group last year to being one of the most fluent readers in her class this spring. But it means even more to me that she truly loves books. She reads under the covers; she reads while brushing her teeth; she'd read at dinner if we let her.

Mostly, she reads the Rainbow Magic books, which appeal to her magical, girly, imaginative side as well as to her love of collecting (she wants to read them all). Even though she loves these books more than I ever will, I couldn't be happier; at her age and stage of reading, it's all about volume, volume, volume, and reading same-ish series books lets her build up her confidence and her reading muscles and reinforces an enjoyment of the written word that will stand her in good stead when she's ready to tackle more challenging material on her own.

Plus, it just warms the cockles of my heart to see my child absorbed in a book. Even if I have to wrest it away from her to get her to go to school or to sleep.

When my daughter was a baby, we used to read her the Rosemary Wells book Read To Your Bunny, a short and sweet picture book about all the ways and places in which parents can read to their children. The last line is "Read to your bunny often, and…your bunny will read to you." When she was little, I took it as a given that this would happen, that she would love books the way we did and would read to us. When she was older and got so frustrated with reading, I wondered if I hadn't been a little naïve. Sometimes it felt like she never really would learn to read, or at any rate would never like it enough to voluntarily pick up a book and read it to us.

But she did, and she does.

In a recent post, Catherine at the Scholastic Preschool Mom blog writes that what she wants most for Mother's Day is time, and suggests that other blogging moms post on what they most wish for.

Me? After a week spent reading and recommending books to kids (and adults) at the library, what I'd love most on Mother's Day is to cuddle with my daughter on our couch and have her read me a book.

Any book would do; I'd even take a chapter or two of Rainbow Magic. I just love to hear my bunny reading to me.

(If you're looking for a Mother's Day book to read to your own bunny, this list of Read-Aloud books that celebrate moms is a great source of inspiration. But the truth is, anything you read together is a gift to your child that will come back to you.)

May 8, 2008
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Humpty Who?

Humpty Who? A Book I Earnestly Recommend to You

I recently discovered Humpty Who?, a wonderful gem of a book for the parents of babies and young children, especially first-time parents. I envision the prototypical reader as uncharacteristically uncertain in her (okay, it could be “his”) new role. The author, Jennifer Griffin, describes herself similarly at a loss about what to do when the visitors all left, her husband returned to work, and there she was alone with this occasionally cranky baby. She tried feeding, changing, offering a binkie, rocking, and finally singing to her new son. But all she could think of to sing were themes from TV sitcoms and Christmas songs (in the springtime). She discovered she knew just a few fragments of nursery rhymes.

As a confident and competent person, she got over her chagrin by discovering she was not alone. Her remedy was to do the research for, and write, this lovely book presenting her 80 favorite classic nursery rhymes. They are accompanied by some -- not too many -- engaging suggestions and facts about the origins of of the rhymes.

Ms. Griffin underestimates her intuitive gift for relating to young children. On her own she recognizes that “almost anything is okay to sing to a child, as long as it’s catchy,” adding “I hope that my thoughts on emoting free you to be goofy, because babies love broad humor and most of all they love you -- no matter how silly or off-key you are.” I will support her promise that “if you master even a quarter of the classics here, I guarantee years’ worth of coos and giggles and snuggles and repetitions of that magic word that proves you really have done your job well: 'AGAIN!'”

The same delightful tone encourages new parents to relax with a wonderful collection of rhymes, some with known roots; others anonymous, old, or new; and there is also an accompanying CD to get you started and comfortable performing for your tiny audience member. The first chapter after the introduction has a title that makes it clear just how much fun you can have with this book: “If You’re Clueless and You Know It, Clap Your Hands.”

Even I, who thought I was pretty well versed in the genre, having grown up during an era when most adults around me were effortlessly nursery rhyme-literate, learned a lot from this fun book. I might even suggest that you make it a standard new mother’s gift, along with 5 or 6 classic picture books. How much more practical and fun would that be than the standard pink or blue outfit?

I can’t wait to visit our 13-month-old grandson to try out what I have learned. I must not be overeager and keep in mind his current priority is not sitting still, but navigating the furniture in an all-consuming eagerness to let go and walk. I’ll practice the patience that I preach by remembering he adores being read and sung to. Would you believe his first word was “book” (pronounced “OOOK”)?

May 6, 2008

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