Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Beyond Happily Ever After: Discussing Books

It can be a bit of an art form, learning how to talk about books with children. Ask the wrong kind of questions, and you'll get eyes like glazed doughnuts, and answers like "yeah," "no," and the ever-charming-but-deadly "good."

I hate the word "good" when used as an answer in conversation. It's just ... not good. Not good at all.

So if book talk is an art form, I'm really no Vincent Van Gogh (his birthday is today!). Maybe not even a Mark Rothko. But by gum, I take up my brush with alacrity, day after day, and I splash some color onto that canvas. And I get my kids to do it too. One of these years, we'll have Sunflowers.

Here's what we're reading together these days, currently and recently:

The Moffats (Read to the girls; good fun!)
Premlata and the Festival of Lights (Reading aloud to the girls as part of our India study. Reminds me of my tender adoration for Rumer Godden; we came away with four of her books from yesterday's library trip)
Hatchet (Reading to Ian; the girls often listen in. Perfect for a Bear Grylls wannabe.)
The World of Columbus and Sons (Reading to Ian for history. Ms. Foster always makes history comes alive by painting it as a montage of people's stories. I don't read every chapter aloud, but I read them all to myself!)
Ink on His Fingers (Reading aloud -- historical fiction, based on the story of Gutenberg and the printing press)
The Biggest Bear (Read to Caroline, who wanted a repeat and a repeat ... a twist of an ending saved the day just as I feared we were headed for tragedy. The author, Lynd Ward, did the pictures for the old favorite The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge, which of course we had to dig out and reread.)

Here's a list of questions I like to ask the kids at the close of a chapter or a whole book. Not all at once, mind you. We'd call that a firing squad. No, just a mix designed to hopefully draw some insights out of their little brains.

- Who would you say is the main character of this story?
- Where and when does the story take place? (If it's not explicit, we look for clues in the text or illustrations)
- What does the main character want most of all?
- What is the main character's biggest problem? How did that problem come about?
- Does the main character get what he or she wants?
- What does [a different character] want most? (Especially if that character is in conflict with our hero)
- Which character do you like the most? Why?
- Is this story fiction or fantasy?
- Do you feel like the story has a satisfying ending? Why/why not?
- Can you imagine the story ending a different way?
- What does the main character learn that he didn't now when the story began?

These questions could be asked and answered of nearly any worthy book with tearable pages, from The Tale of Peter Rabbit to The Hobbit to Jane Eyre and beyond.

Eliza commented today that in "all little kids' books," the problem always gets solved. I asked her about that, and we ended up coming to the realization that without some sort of resolution, we don't really have a story. Of course, as the reading level becomes more sophisticated, so does the resolution.

Kids learn without being told that "happily ever after" is sometimes something that happens to you, and sometimes something you make happen, day after day, with no promises of tomorrow. Just another reason why great books make great mentors.

For more nitty-gritty on sharing books with kiddos, check out Bookie Woogie's blog. Written by a dad!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

I'm a Lancaster. Is that OK?

So, fellow Grammarians. I submit the following for your consideration. It was posted in the women's restroom at our city's central library. 

(Are you wondering why that photo looks so funkified? Well, it's because SOMEONE monkeyed around with the settings on my phone so he could take self-portraits like this one: 

But we're not mentioning any names. Nope. Love covers.)

So, anyway. In case that first photo's a bit ambiguous, let me translate:

Facilities has been notified."

Except that someone (and I guarantee you, it wasn't the same someone who monkeyed with my phone) had taken up the pen of outrage and modified the sign to read: 

Facilities have been notified."

I really get my kicks, imagining a passive-aggressive battle  unfolding between two prim librarians, both smug in their respective towers of Proper Grammar. 

"Facilities HAS!" 
Tsk, tsk, my ignorant colleague; it's "Facilities HAVE!" 

It's like the Wars of the Roses all over again (Ian and I just read about that infamous affair again; gosh, what a writhing mess of Richards, Henrys, and backstabbing Edwards). The Lancasters confidently assert that Facilities is an entity, an office, a singular body to be notified in the case of malfunctioning hand dryers. The Yorks rebut that no, Facilities ends with an "s," is a plural word, and therefore must always be treated as such.

Where do you stand on the issue, gentle readers? 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Alphabet Glue for YOU

It's been ages since I've done a giveaway, but what better way to kick off the week?

The talented Annie at Bird and Little Bird has created a literary magazine of sorts for parents and craft-minded kiddos. It's all digital, so you can print and print to your heart's content. The premiere issue of this quarterly goodness has not only an ample spring booklist, but also the right amount of activity ideas to get your creative juices percolating without making you grab your hair in both fists and wail, "Who does she think I am? Martha Stewart?"

I know at least two persons in this house under the age of twelve who will be ALL OVER these little accordion-style mini books. 

Not to mention these book-bracelets, perfect for recording genius ideas, poetic thoughts, and the pantry staple you just ran out of!

And wait 'til we make like my beloved Miss Rumphius and scatter homemade wildflower seed pods hither and yon! 

Caroline will think she's in hog heaven. 

And so can your kiddos. 

Because Annie is generously giving a FREE digital copy of this quarter's magazine to one of you guys. Hog heaven, coming to an e-mailbox near you. 

To enter, leave a comment telling me this: What is your favorite season? 

I'll start. When living in New England: Spring. When living in Texas: Autumn. (Which starts at the end of October, by the way.) 

Winner will be randomly selected and announced Friday, April 1. No foolin'. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Nighttime Reading

So the Professor came to me late last night and slapped this book down on the table. If I didn't know better, I'd say the dear man had a lump in his throat.

The Secret of Nimh

He and the boy had just finished the last chapter, and he wanted to argue for its rightful place among Hall of Fame Childhood Classics.

Then I asked whether it didn't remind him of Watership Down. Upon which he confessed to never having read that book. Upon which I grabbed it off my shelf of favorites and tossed it at him as one would a gauntlet.

The Professor always does the nighttime reads at our house. Mama's voice gets a little hoarse, and certain traditions belong to Daddy alone. Here are some of the favorites he and the kids have shared over the years, sometimes more than once as each child ripens to readiness for a particular tale.

The Secret of Nimh
The Chronicles of Narnia
Treasures of the Snow
The Hobbit: Or There and Back Again
Little House on the Prairie Treasure Chest
The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles
Treasure Island
The Eagle of the Ninth

The Hobbit
The Chronicles of Narnia
The Complete Little House Nine-Book Set
The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles
The Fellowship of the Ring and other LOTR
The Eagle of the Ninth (The Roman Britain Trilogy)
Treasure Island
The Railway Children
Treasures of the Snow

- Robertson Davies

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Two Videos; Two Winners

Our pal Sam is such a goof. And we all love him for it (especially the kids).
It turns out, goofiness can pay off sometimes -- BigTime.

Look what Sam did to win a trip for two to a deserted island in Fiji!

Ian's review: I would TOTALLY do that.
Eliza's review: But think of all the fingers that have touched that iPad. And you never know where those fingers have been.

And there you have it, folks! The difference between my two older children, in a nutshell.
(By the way, Vanessa isn't quite sure she wants to leave her two little ones for a week and go halfway across the world. Anyone know someone who wants to buy a really cool adventure trip? Or honeymoon?)

Goof Exhibit #2: My brother Peter. (The one who makes me laugh until hot chocolate spews out of my nose.)

Last week was MATCH DAY. The day the fates of the entire universe are decided by some giant computer perched on Mount Olympus. Also known as, the day the fourth year med students all over the USA find out where they will be spending the next four to eight years of their lives, toiling away as white-coated drones for whom a good night's sleep and quality time with the family is but a distant, rosy memory.

Peter was so good as to include all of us in the fellowship by posting, in real time, videos of himself waiting for and then opening The Envelope. (Everyone opens his or her envelope at the same exact moment. It's the secret cause of wind patterns shifting across the globe.)

My extended family, flung across the nation, all hunched around our computers, hitting "refresh" every three seconds until The Video was up. (Isn't that a cool idea? Using to share a moment like that?)

He got his first choice! Mass General Hospital Department of Anesthesiology, it's Katie-bar-the-door. Here comes trouble!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Multitude Monday XVI: Mini-Vacation

Hey friends!

We've been away, briefly. Very briefly. Had to recharge our batteries at the annual Diller Family Resort Retreat. Last year's post here. (Boy, I was on the ball last year.)

My suspicions are confirmed: Children adore tradition. They do anything together twice, it's automatically a family tradition, graven in stone to be reenacted until the end of time. 

Uncle Mike, you're taking us to hunt for golf balls after supper, right? It's a tradition. 

Is Nonnie making her special hot fudge sauce? It's a tradition. 

Ian always makes a giant sand sculpture and wishes the other kids would help him. It's a tradition.

I think it's innate in a child's DNA to hunger for family traditions, as a source of security, stability, and knee-slapping reminiscences with grown cousins. 

Of course, they also hunger for ice cream sundaes and pretty much anything else, as long as it's not their designated mealtime ... but that's another story. 

This year, in addition to the usual hours spent at the pool, we worked in a mini-golf outing. Next year? It's a tradition. 

And on that note, here are a few of the gifts I'm counting today ...

157. A family that enjoys being together, despite our varied personalities and nuclear family cultures. Our common bonds draw us together. The differences are there to teach us that people show they care in different ways ... and that's okay

158. Twelve of us playing Cranium Whoonu . (We love this game. It's gone over big with both extended families and has livened up the occasional dinner table as well.)

159. Titus and Stephanie, for keeping our dog all weekend and lavishing him with TLC. 

160. Spring budding everywhere, beguiling us with peeps of color. 

161. Family movie viewing: Secretariat. Love love love. Could write a whole post on the example of Penny Chenery as inspirational mother and mentor to her family.

162. Good advice from my mother-in-law when I needed it.

163. Staying up late to chat and pray together.

164. A book that made my sunglasses slide down my face, I was such a blubbering wreck at the end. Kleenex, please! 

165. The fact that we have a house to come home to. (Can you tell this was my response to my own whiny, "But I do'wanna come home! Wanna still be on vacation!")

166. Remembering that my children's less comely behavior is simply a learning opportunity for both of us. 

167. Helping my son build his crocodile in the sand ... because it's the connection that matters, and he's almost too big to need my help. More Kleenex, please!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Passport to India

This month our Geography Club is sailing to India -- figuratively, of course.

Last month we covered subSaharan Africa, and our meeting included a delightful visit from Leslee and her children, including the three adopted from Ethiopia. Our own family's explorations included, but were not limited to:

GeoToys Africa & The Middle East GeoPuzzleGeoToys Africa & The Middle East GeoPuzzle
Lots of African folktales pulled from the library -- like Anansi and the Moss-covered Rock. Fact: There is an abundance of Anansi stories in this world.
Watching Families of Ghana (Families of the World). We've discovered this series at the library and LOVE it. It's such a great way to get a glimpse at how a "typical" family of any given country lives, and each video is narrated by two children.
Eating at Aster's Ethiopian Restaurant (No utensils! So yummy! And spicy!)
We All Went On SafariLearning to count in Swahili using Moja Means One and We All Went On Safari
Coloring each country we read about on a printed map of the continent
Listening to Ladysmith Black Mambazo
Waiting for Africa: The Serengeti to come from Netflix. Not sure whence the backlog.

Oh, and the Professor and I watched Invictus. Not really for the kiddies, you know?

So, now it's on to India. So far we've enjoyed:

Taj Mahal (I had no idea such a beautiful romance gave birth to this monument!)
Balarama: A Royal ElephantBalarama: A Royal Elephant (LOVE the husband-wife collaboration on this book)
Peacock's Pride, The
Relevant pages from Children Just Like Me: A Unique Celebration of Children Around the World
Families of India (Families of the World) DVD (Same series as the above)

Eating at Curry in Hurry (how endearing is that dropped article?) and browsing its adjacent grocery. (Spicy again!)

I'd love to find some saris for the girls to try, or henna for their hands, or some other cool craft.

Any suggestions from the peanut gallery?