Nothing But the Tooth

Because what better day to write about teeth than on Halloween, the Scourge of Dentists?

Also, because my kid had extensive dental work done yesterday. Poor little muffin. She was really anxious and scared beforehand, and then the appointment took over an hour; the dentist discovered an unexpected cavity as well as the other hole we’d already known about. He also “shaved” some other teeth that are getting in each other’s way (ow!) and pulled out one stubborn long-rooted baby tooth.

I wasn’t terribly surprised about that extra cavity. My girl has quite the sweet tooth, and dental care, especially tooth brushing, is a constant struggle in our house. We’ve tried nagging, sticker rewards, sparkly pink toothpaste …and still she weeps and stalls and carries on as if we’ve demanded that she stick needles in her mouth, not a fancy motorized Hello Kitty toothbrush.

Finally, earlier this fall, I gave bibliotherapy a shot, and brought home a few tooth-related books from the library. She brushed aside the factual and didactic titles, but glommed onto Open Wide: Tooth School Inside by the inimitable Laurie Keller. Not only is it packed with fascinating (really!) tidbits about teeth, but also with sly and silly jokes, puns, and sarcastic asides. For several days I was able to convince her to brush her teeth just by promising to sing the Tooth School anthem (“We are the teeth, we do the chewin’…” sung to the tune of “We Are the World”) while she brushed.

Another story that tickles the funny bone is Sweet Tooth, by Margie Palatini, wherein Stewart’s tooth tries to take over his life, demanding cake and candy at every turn, until he fights back with (argghh!) crunchy vegetables. Palatini has a light touch and is good with the funny stuff, but it’s Jack Davis’s illustrations that take the cake: his goofy, slapstick riffs on proportion and perspective are almost surrealistic, as befits the whole concept of a obnoxious, bullying tooth.

Throw Your Tooth on the Roof: Tooth Traditions from Around the World, by Selby Beeler, is one of my favorite tooth books. Dozens of kids from all over the globe briefly explain what they do when their baby teeth fall out. The Tooth Fairy doesn’t fly everywhere, it emerges (though sometimes a mouse or another spirit might be involved in tooth pickup) and teeth don’t always go under a pillow; they’re just as likely to be thrown on the roof, buried in the ground, or even fed to a dog! This book would make a perfect nonfiction companion to Penda Diakite’s I Lost My Tooth in Africa, in which the African tooth fairy visits Anima while she’s visiting her family in Mali and leaves her two hens!

No hens were left at our house last night, but we did awake this morning to the cry of a jubilant—if still swollen-lipped—girl. Let’s just say the Tooth Fairy is very generous in compensation for surgically extracted teeth.

Wishing everyone a sweet and happy Halloween…and don’t forget to brush!

October 31, 2008

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Happy Halloween!

What fun! H is all dressed up in her comfortable lion costume. So far she prefers "I'm a lion" over "roar." On the train she turned to me and said, "I'm a lion and you're a giraffe." Sounds good to me! Upon entering her room this morning she rolled over and told me "it's the October month"!!! How the heck does she know this stuff? She also pointed to the 7 on our subway stop and said, "7 days in a week." Good grief. I can't keep up with this girl!

Last night we carved our pumpkin and roasted the seeds. It's the first time we've done that with her and we all really enjoyed it. That whole concept about how you get to enjoy special things again through your child's eyes is spot on. It made me excited for dying eggs in the spring -- and also made me want to mark ideas on next year's calendar like "go apple picking" "find a pumpkin patch" that, because we don't own a car and because we're not particularly adept at planning, we won't do if it's not marked down in advance.

So here are my Fall Resoulutions for 2009:

  • Go apple picking
  • Find a pumpkin patch
  • Visit a petting farm/hay ride
  • Jump in the leaves
  • Drink apple cider

There have to be more great things I'm not thinking of -- what's on your list?

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Is Your Child Gifted?


In the November issue of Scholastic Parent & Child Magazine, the editors asked psychologist Sally Y. Walker, Ph.D. how  parents can tell if their child is gifted. Walker said the answer is complicated, but one thing is clear: all children have gifts, although they tend to emerge at different times and in different ways.  With that in mind, I'd like to know what makes your child gifted.

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Five for Fall

Here are five fun mini-activities we've enjoyed recently:

H points out the pumpkins everywhere we go -- and there are a lot of them to see: in store windows, on stoops, a mini and a big one on our own table. We talk about the color and size. She gets so excited about them.

2. Walks in the Park
We are lucky enough to live near a major New York park. Often we point ourselves directly for the playground and see nothing else, but this weekend we veered off our usual path and romped through vibrant leaves and grassy slopes. The trees are magnificent and the magic of being in the middle of big New York parks is the city falls away and leaves you with that real feeling of quiet and nature that everyone needs a little of every now and again.

3. Cooking Cookies
H loves her own play kitchen and I've started having her help me cook by dumping in measured cups of flour or water (they don't always go directly in the bowl) and helping me stir. This weekend we made raisin and dried cranberry oatmeal cookies together. Yum! She ate a bunch of raisins as they baked and only had a bite or two once they cooled, but the experience of cooking together was great. She loves to smell the cinnamon and vanilla -- and there's something so fall, and so good, about these simple treats. 

4. Books Under the Blanket
My sister-in-law crocheted a snuggly purple and white afghan for us a few years back and it's perfect for a stack of books and cuddling while staying warm in the fall chill. Recently we've enjoyed the Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems.

5. Getting Ready for Halloween
H's first year, she was a baby skunk (she was two months old and slept right through the parade). Last year, she was a bumblebee, and this year she'll be a lion. There's a clown coming to her daycare (I'm hoping/assuming this will be fun, not terrifying) and we're planning to attend the parade again. We've observed all the Halloween decorations in our neighborhood (especially the pumpkin! See number 1). I think this is the first year she'll really get it. We've talked about what's going on, that Halloween is coming, that she'll dress up in a costume (and hopefully roar a lot). I think she's going to love it, but we'll have to wait and see.

I do love fall. Don't you?

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Cybils Nominees, Part I: A Smattering of Picture Books

If you're looking for a list of great new poetry books, science fiction and fantasy, graphic novels, or just about any kind of book for kids, check out the Cybils website. Nominations for the 2008 Cybils are now posted for all ten categories (from Easy Readers to Young Adult Novels, with lots of good stuff in between).

Some categories have a mere few dozen nominated titles, while others (hellooo, Middle Grade Fiction!) clock in at a hundred or more. And every single one of them is a book that, in at least one person's opinion, deserves a "Best of 2008" award in its category. Now the hard-reading panelists get to narrow each category down to a list of finalists by the end of the year. I'm not sure whether to envy them or feel sorry for them—a little bit of both, I guess!

Some of the nominees for younger kids that caught my eye:

Fiction Picture Books:

Chester's Back! by Melanie Watts.
The first book in this series, Chester, was pressed it into my hands a few months ago by a fellow-librarian who insisted that I read it. It's just that good, and that funny. Can't wait to see the sequel.

Ladybug Girl, by Jacky Davis; illustrated by David Soman.
The story of a girl with imagination!

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, by Mem Fox, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury.
I paged through this collaboration between two picture-book greats at a baby shower last week, and you've never seen such cooing and ooh-ing as when this book was passed around a room full of library workers. Awww! So cute!

A Visitor for Bear, by Bonny Becker, illustrated by Katy Denton.
A perfect story-time read-aloud about a mouse who won't take "no" for an answer.

Non-fiction Picture Books:

Trout Are Made of Trees, by April Pulley Sayre, illustrated by Kate Endle.
I really want to see this one—it makes environmentalism look so interesting!

March On! The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World, by Dr. Christine King Harris, illustrated by London Ladd.
What I wouldn't have given to be there on the Washington Mall that day. As it is, I'm itching to get my hands on the book.

Underwear: What We Wear Under There, by Ruth Freeman Swain, illustrated by John O'Brien.
And from the sublime to…well, to underwear. Who doesn't like a good book about underwear?

I was going to go through all the categories, but there's just too much! So, selected nominees for older readers will follow in the next post. Until then, enjoy the lists!

P. S. Lest I forget about Halloween…(and how could I, with candy and costumes everywhere): here's a list of scary-but-not-too-scary chapter books that are perfect for the season.

October 24, 2008

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I Love Lazy Sundays

I love lazy Sundays. There is no reason to bolt out of bed at the unwelcome sound of my alarm. I love them especially because they are rare. There are far fewer than 52 of them in a year. On those precious lazy Sundays, the phone rarely rings; the email is sparse, largely ads; and I have time to read. I read every day, of course, but on lazy Sundays, I read primarily for pleasure, rarely novels any more, since that is pure self indulgence stretching over into weekday hours if the book is any good.  When I read my favorite sections of the Sunday New York Times and a few choice articles from New Yorker Magazine, I view it as part of being an informed citizen.  It’s an election year, after all; and it doesn’t matter that I long ago made my choice. Reading the Op-Ed page and feature stories or cultural commentary about the presidential race is reaffirming, no matter which side one is on.
            Lazy Sundays are special too because I can allow my mind to wander, to connect disparate things. This Sunday, I wandered into the Arts section of the paper and chose to read an article about Angelina Jolie, of all people. Maybe the title was what drew me to it: “Master of Her Mommy Track”; comfortably familiar territory—for all the dimensions of my own life. Jolie, at least according to this feature story, has it all calmly figured out. She has 6 young children and fully intends not to stop there. Most impressive is her putative acceptance of her children’s view of her as “uncool”. The children like to challenge her with comments like, “’Mom, you can’t play this (video game). You won’t know how”.  She is quietly certain that some day those children will see how capable she is.  Not likely, Angelina, if my experience is close to typical. Do my adult children view me as “capable”? What a silly idea: I am still  “Mom”.  But, be of good cheer, Angelina. One day, your grandchildren will discover your precious gifts, both the ones you bring along on visits and the ones you have personally possessed all along.

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Sisters and Brothers

Sisters and Brothers

There's a song on the album "Free to Be You and Me" (I'm middle-aged, so I can still call it an album) called "Sisters and Brothers" about how everyone in the world is brothers and sisters and we can all look out for one another. My little brother and I used to belt it out in merry unison…when we weren't bickering or tattling on each other.

In reality, the relationship between brothers and sisters—as my brother and I both knew quite well—is more complicated. My daughter's an only child, without either the stresses or the comforts of having a sibling, but she's getting a small taste of the experience this week, with my no-longer-so-little brother, sister-in-law, and 4-year-old niece in town.

Mostly, she's reacting pretty well to being upstaged by a charming and verbal preschooler; she even shared her brand-new circus Playmobil set (a gift from them) without (much) balking. She and her cousin are both pretty set in their ways, though, and after their week together I bet they'll both have a new appreciation for these books about life with a sibling:

Picture Books:

  • 101 Things to Do with a Baby, by Jan Ormerod
  • A Baby Sister for Frances, by Russell and Lilian Hoban
  • Big Sister, Little Sister, by LeUyen Pham
  • Do Like Kyla, by Angela Johnson
  • How to Be a Baby (By Me, the Big Sister) by Sally Lloyd-Jones and Sue Heap
  • Julius the Baby of the World, by Kevin Henkes
  • My Mei Mei, by Ed Young
  • My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother, by Patricia Polacco
  • No More Kissing! By Emma Chichester Clark [out of print]
  • On Mother's Lap, by Ann Herbert Scott
  • Titch, by Pat Hutchins
  • Zelda and Ivy, by Laura McGee Kvasnosky (oooh, that tricky Zelda!)

..and a Few Chapter Books:

  • Beezus and Ramona, by Beverly Cleary
  • George Speaks, by Dick King-Smith
  • Snarf Attack and the Secret of Life, by Mary Amato
  • The Stories Julian Tells, by Ann Cameron (I especially like the chapter where Julian tries to fool Huey about the meaning of the word "Catalog" and Huey waits in vain for the Catalog Cats to arrive)

There's also Mail Harry to the Moon!, which I haven't yet gotten my hands on in person but which is reviewed most recently at Charlotte's Library. As a big sister, I can sympathize with the narrator (Sorry, bro)...though, like him, I wouldn't really want my little brother on the moon; it's too much fun having him (and his family) here on Earth.

October 20,2008

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Three Things for Friday

Hi All,

Happy Friday to you out there in blog-reading land. My brain is feeling scrambled so I'll offer my thoughts as a little list:

1. Tent in my living room

I have to give props to my husband for this one. We have this cute little tent that was supposed to be a perfect spot away from the sand at the beach. Well, guess what? It heats up like a little oven when it's sitting in the sun, so for two years it's lived under our bed. For who knows what reason, a few days ago my husband was inspired. He pulled it out from under the bed and set it up in the living room and H is having a great time with it. She reads in it, parks her doll stroller in there, zips down the zipper then crawls out the bottom flap -- it's super cool. Currently, I believe there's a pumpkin in there. See? It's even seasonally appropriate. 

2. Mommy versus Amy

H knows my name is "Amy" and she sometimes calls me by it, which is cute. I do prefer Mommy though and I actually have no problem being branded as "H's Mommy." I remember dropping H off at daycare a couple months ago and a little boy piped up: "H's Mommy's here!" My heart swelled with pride. "Yes!" I thought, "that's who I am." We're all different in this world of ours and I understand how some folks might feel their own sense of identity or self slips away a bit when they're known only as someone's mom, but... boy, it feels good to me. Maybe it's a part of still marveling after two plus years of it that I get to be a mom -- and to someone so lovely, fantastic, and fun. I do feel privileged to wear that badge. 

3. Didn't know that'd be hard
And from the "didn't know that'd be hard" column, which turns out to be surprisingly long: back before I was a mommy it never occurred to me how complicated it would be to decide what to do when your baby is sick. H woke up hot to the touch and low energy this morning (in our bed, but that's another story). At first we figured we'd send her to school. We've passed the point of totally freaking out every time she has a cough and now, I admit, we push the limit ever so slightly on what's acceptable for daycare attendance. She is getting molars and that can cause fever, but yeah, probably not the case here. I felt wiggly about it, but for one reason and another, it seemed the best and only choice. I actually left the apartment and walked down the block before realizing what needed to happen.

I came back and met hubby and H in the hallway, just leaving, and wound up taking her in a car service to my Dad, who is both retired and wonderful, and then hopped on a train to work. I was about two hours late, but I also did get work done today. Yeesh. She's had a good day (though she woke up with a fever after nap) with her Papa and we'll stay over tonight. This was definitely the right decision for this episode, but never did it occur to me that it would be complicated to figure out.

OK out there in blogosphere land,
Have a great weekend and may all your babies be healthy and happy,

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It’s been a startling 10 days since I was first asked to advise parents and teachers about how to talk to children about the tanking economy. Reassurance has grown more illusive. When first asked, I was not in favor of broaching the subject to children; although, of course, I recommended responding honestly to any question any child might ask. Now that worry is spreading among adults and the bad news just won’t seem to go away, I wonder whether parents who are visibly under stress should provide some very simple explanation such as, “We didn’t make as much money this year as last, so we won’t be going away for the holidays”.  Add something reassuring such as “We can have a lot of fun at home, though.” What children this young care about most is the mood in the family. If they sense unusual anxiety, they may get upset. So parents can help everyone by doing their best not to let the bad economic news get them down.

It is very difficult, really impossible, to give universal advice about what to tell children about tough times. Every family’s situation is unique; different children’s level of concern or even curiosity varies by age, personality, and so much more. So, of course, there isn’t one right answer to the question about what to tell the children at a time like this. I do feel that for young children whose parents are not consumed with worry, in families that have not had to make radical changes, such as giving up their homes, there is little reason to broach the subject. Answer any questions that the children ask in as simple terms as possible. Especially for children age 8 or younger, make your answers very concrete and specific. If you go on and on about the subtleties, you’ll lose them.  All they really want to know is “Will our family be o.k.?” and “What will I have to give up?”

When describing what may have to be given up, point out that most of their friends are in the same situation. There is not enough money for such luxuries in most families right now. Things will get better, but it may take awhile. The good news is “we are all fine and together; and we will stay fine”. (Needless to say, when the facts about health and/or separations are different, this form of reassurance will need to be modified.)

If, on the other hand, a parent has lost her job or her home and is very anxious or irritable, young children, in particular, are inclined to personalize that mood change—blame themselves; so explaining that you have this specific worry on your mind can even be a relief. If you’ve lost your job, assure your child that you will get another one and be o.k., even if you are not convinced about that yourself.

In sum, I don’t think that news stories are likely to alarm most children, unless their parents are palpably troubled by the economy. Older children are going to be focused on what they have to give up and some may show some purely intellectual interest in the issues once they feel they themselves are safe. History can help to show them that ups and downs are a fact of economic reality. Personalize your discussion by mentioning any important family safe guards, such as savings, insurance, rainy day funds or extended family’s readiness to assist.

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Rhyme Time: Going Bananas!

Rhyme Time: Going Bananas!

One of the best things about being a children's librarian is that you can spend a few hours in a room with a couple dozen other adults, all of you jumping up and down and making total fools of yourselves, and call it professional development.

See, most story times in libraries don't just consist of stories: to keep things lively, and because singing and rhyming and having fun with words are all amazingly good for building literacy skills, the books and puppets and flannel board stories are interspersed with rhymes, songs, fingerplays, and sometimes even dancing. Most librarians have a tried and true repertoire of favorite rhymes. But your favorites can get stale after a while.

To keep the kids, not to mention the librarians, interested and energized, it's good to learn new stuff. There are great resources out there for parents and teachers looking for rhymes, like Jane Cobb's What'll I Do with the Baby-O, or Mother Goose's Storytime Nursery Rhymes, but nothing beats learning in person from someone who loves what they're doing.

So this week I went to a "rhyme time" workshop sponsored by a local librarians' organization. Like most workshops, it was in a windowless, carpeted room, with presenters and hosts and handouts and rows of chairs and a table with coffee and muffins over on the side.

Unlike most other workshops, as soon as the introductions were over we moved the chairs out into one big circle and immediately commenced to sing and jump up and down.

The structure of the workshop was simple: each participant presented and demonstrated the two rhymes, songs, or fingerplays they'd sent in ahead of time, we all repeated them a couple of times to make sure we had the motions and/or the tune, and then we moved on to the next person. A few people brought props—flannel pieces, puppets, a guitar and even a ukulele—but mostly it was just people in a room. At the end of three hours I left with a 35-page packet of material that was mostly new to me, and a head stuffed with music and rhythm.

Here's the first rhyme we started out with—which incidentally was one of my favorites; I'm eager to try it out on actual kids at the family story time I'll be leading next week:

  • First we pick, bananas
  • Pick, pick, bananas
  • Pick, bananas
  • Pick, pick, bananas [picking invisible bananas off trees]
  • Then we peel, bananas
  • Peel, peel, bananas
  • Peel, bananas
  • Peel, peel, bananas [hold up one finger and "peel" it with the other hand]
  • Then we eat! Bananas!
  • Eat, eat! Bananas!
  • Eat! Bananas!
  • Eat, eat! Bananas! [tossing invisible bananas into mouth]
  • Then we GO! BANANAS!
  • GO, GO! BANANAS! [self-explanatory…]

P.S. Don't forget to nominate your favorite 2008 kids' books for the Cybils—nominations close on Wednesday the 15th! (And if you're looking for suggestions for terrific books, check out the list of nominees; there's some great stuff up there.)

October 12, 2008

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