105 Ways to Give a Book

A Serious Message

One day at my library, a third-grade girl was dropped off to meet her tutor, and the tutor wasn’t there. The girl was very upset and scared. We tried to call the mother, but couldn’t reach her. The mom showed up pretty soon and the girl started crying again and said, “I was alone here and I thought that somebody would steal me and kill me!”

And I thought, Maybe we’ve scared our kids too much.

I work in a small, quiet, suburban, public library. It’s pretty safe as public places go. Should the mom have walked the girl in? Sure. Should the girl have told the staff that she was alone and scared? Of course. Was it likely that in front of our desk someone would pull her out the door and kill her. Not likely.

We’ve scared our kids so much with our stranger danger talks, but yet we haven’t always given them the right tools to work with in assessing and handling a situation. We tell them not to talk to strangers, but we also tell them to be respectful to adults. We want to avoid something bad happening, but we don’t let them know that adults are generally good.

As a parent, this is what I tell my seven- and ten-year-old girls.

Every time we drive somewhere we use our seatbelts. Even though we don’t expect to have an accident. Even though I drive carefully and follow the rules so that we won’t have an accident. But if something went wrong, and we did have an accident, our seatbelts would help keep us safe. So, when I talk to you about what to do if someone beckons you over to a car (run away) or tries to grab you (kick, bite, scream), it is not that I expect these things to happen to you. We talk about it so you’ll know what to do. Just like I don’t drive in a way that is unsafe and could cause an accident, I don’t allow you to be in situations where I believe you would be unsafe. Most people are good and don’t mean any harm to kids, but being prepared is just like wearing seat belts, or learning about dialing 911, or fire alarms in school.

I want my kids to feel confident in handling a scary situation, but I don’t want to scare them. It is a fine line, and a personal decision. The schools are stepping in to tell our children to be scared of strangers, but we have to take part in the message. I don’t want my kids to be unsafe, but I don’t want them terrified when they were really safe the whole time.

I don’t have all the answers. Like I said at the beginning, I’ve just tried to think what preventing child abuse meant to me. I’ve talked about helping moms and dads cope with a tantrum or crying child. I’ve talked about taking care of yourself and knowing when you might need a break. I’ve talked about setting limits for children and what to do to help lost children. Today, it was how to prepare your child to handle something frightening. Overall, just know that we can all do our part to protect and empower these children we see, we teach, we raise, and we love.

The Funniest Adult Novel That I Have Ever Read

Yesterday was “Take Your Daughter or Son to Work Day.” Today was “Take Your Fourth Grader To School At 6:45 a.m. So She Can Go On The Jamestown Field Trip Day.” And, apparently, it was also “Take Your Advil Because Your Head Is Pounding Day.”

Who would have though we could get that many capital letters into this post so far? Not me, that’s for sure.

Things My Girlfriend And I Have Argued AboutAnyway, I’m wiped out. It’s time for an adult book for everyone to enjoy, but I got nothin’ new. And next week doesn’t look good either, since I have fourteen young adult books checked out and stacked on my living room floor.

So, without further ado, the book is... Things My Girlfriend And I Have Argued About by Mil Millington. The book came together from the website, which is a long, long list of things his girlfriend and he argued about. Put these in a book, add a thriller plot involving the Chinese mafiosi, and mix throughout with Mil Millington’s British wit, and you’ve got one perfect book. Oh, and there’s this:
Look, there’s no easy way to say this, so I’m just going to come right out with it, all right?

I work in a library.

There. There, I’ve told you, and I feel somehow cleansed. That said, I do need to press on pretty quickly and explain that it’s not a public library. Ahhh, what a delicious dream that would be; old men with Thermos flasks quietly asleep in the newspaper section, erratically cut handouts for the women’s keep-fit club... you could go gently mad in a place like that and never be bothered by anyone. Sadly, the cradling arms of such a library were not around me.

Presumably because I spent a previous life beating tiny puppies with thorny sticks, I had been cast into the library at the University of Northeastern England... it had its own set of degree courses, including “Scratch-card studies,” “Eggs and stuff you can do with them” and the groundbreaking “Turning up.”

And this:
TSR, however, is someone whose proximity alone is enough to double the volume on my nerves. Some people just “give off” moods. That, I suppose, is what’s called charisma. I don’t have charisma. I AM double-jointed — I can bend my thumbs back until they touch my upper forearms — which I like to think is pretty close to charisma, though.

And this:
I believe effort is a finite resource, something to be used only when no other option is available. For me, halfheartedness is a full quarter too hearted.

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Not So Much Love

Oh, Gary Soto, why do you hurt me so?

Accidental LoveI would have given you a pass for the first few pages of Accidental Love. After all, I have always liked your writing — so clever, so funny. This was something new for me, reading your young adult fiction, so I was willing to cut you some slack in the beginning.

But, Gary, it just didn’t get better. The writing was stilted and unrealistic. I’m not even including the dialogue, where I am going to trust that Latino teenagers talk the way you say they do. I’ll give you that. It’s the back story thrown in as Marisa walks down the street, steps into the elevator, picks her nose. Okay, I made up that last one, but do you see where I am going with this? It just doesn’t flow. It’s the ideas planted that don’t come to anything. There’s a nail in her mother’s tire, and it sounds like something is up — but there’s nothing there. Her father seems suspiciously out of it, like something is wrong with him — but I guess not.

And the story, well, I just don’t buy it. Marisa meets this nerdy smart boy, after beating up the boy he is tutoring. They pick up the wrong cell phones, and meet to exchange them. Based on this one meeting, she is suddenly inspired to change her ways and switches school to get a better education in a nicer school. She becomes Rene’s girlfriend, but his mother tries to keep them apart because Marisa is from a rough part of town. Rene and Marisa try out for Romeo and Juliet. Wait, is that a parallel to their story? Wow! No one has ever thought of that before.

I liked how you incorporated Spanish words and phrases in the dialogue. When I read books that do that, I always believe that I will somehow learn a little bit of Spanish before the book is finished. Of course, I took three years of Spanish in high school and two years of Italian and can’t even eavesdrop properly, but you never know.

I know I’ve been tossing your name around for ages here at the library. But you know what? It is only your picture books that I have ever recommended. I don’t know that I have ever read your books for older kids and teens. But I know I hear great things about your writing in general. Even the reviews of this book were good.

Where did it all go wrong, Gary? Is it me? It’s me, isn’t it?

Just Three Picture Books, No Clever Title

My oldest daughter is the great compromiser. When she was five, I overheard her arbitrating a dispute between two friends, one who wanted to pretend to be kitties, one who wanted to be princesses. In a phrase that is forever embedded in my mind, my daughter said, “I know! We can be kitty princesses!” Maybe it was her enthusiasm for the idea or just the novelty of combining two such wonderful things, but it worked.

Captain Flinn and the Pirate DinosaursNow perhaps you kids’ lit folks are thinking that I am going to talk about the picture book Kitty Princess. But I faked you out. I wanted to tell you about another picture book that combines two great things. Think pirates. Think dinosaurs. Think Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs.

This new book by Giles Andreae grabbed me with the title and held on with the clever, yet silly, story. Flinn is at school when his teacher sends him into the supply closet for some markers. In the back of the closet he hears a noise, and when he investigates, it’s a real live pirate captain crying. Someone — or something — has stolen his ship. As Flinn’s friends join him in the closet, the back falls away and they tumble into a real adventure. Only the title will give away what they run into next. You didn’t hear it from me.

The Knight Who Took All DayThe Knight Who Took All Day, by James Mayhew, caught my attention because the state of Virginia has a “Once Upon A Time” theme for the Summer Reading Program, and this looks just right. The illustrations are soft and engaging, and the story is light and fun. If you pay attention, you’ll see that more of the story is going on in the pictures than in the words. I was getting tired of this book sooner than my first grader, and maybe a little punchy, so I added an element to the reading that spiced it up a bit. Words throughout the book are stylized in script (like knight, squire, and princess) and other words are in bold capitals (like DARING and GOLDEN). Since all caps equals shouting in the cyberworld, I shouted these words as I came to them. The kids liked this so much, they started doing it too. Now I had to keep the book even longer, which wasn’t what I was going for, but hey, now my first grader was reading the words TERRIBLE, MARVELOUS, and DRAGON, even if she was yelling them at the top of her little lungs.

Once Upon A Time, The EndI put this next book on my Amazon Wish List without ever reading it, based on the title and cover art. When it finally came to my library, I found that Once Upon A Time, The End (asleep in 60 seconds), by Geoffrey Kloske, was just as funny, as clever, as perfect as I could have imagined. The father is putting his kid to bed, but just wants to get through the bedtime stories as quickly as possible. The stories are all the classics, just shorter. Much, much shorter. And generally with a theme of going to sleep at the end of each one. A great book for kids and parents.

What a perfect compromise. My daughter would certainly approve.

Flash Blogs in the Arena

I’m not that into sports. Don’t play them, don’t follow them, often don’t understand them. My kids have never been that into team sports either. We get our physical activity from biking, ice skating, and running from bees.

Though I am not into sports, I occasionally pick up a kids’ sports book. Team sports form such a large part of many kids’ lives today, that I think a genre dedicated to this fact is good and even necessary. But are the books fun to read? Like everything in books and life, the answer is sometimes.

Tackling DadTackling Dad, by Elizabeth Levy, looked promising. Fun, double-meaning title and cute cartoon cover indicated a humorous read. Oh, well.

Seventh grader Cassie loves football and is invited to join the middle school team with her best friend as the kicker. While the team accepts having a girl kicker, they are less happy having Cassie right in the middle of tackle football. She is also fought by her mother and father who don’t understand her desire to play a boys’ game.

There is a lot of build-up of the tension between Cassie and her father that never really goes anywhere. I’m still not really sure why he is so firmly against her playing. Though to be fair, it may have been in the book and I just tuned out, because the story wasn’t all that interesting. Girl on a boys’ team is a great starting point for some humor, but the book drifts more to the serious side — and not in a good way. The football scenes are probably pretty good, given that I didn’t follow them. They read to me like, “Blah blah blah Cassie blah blah blah the ball.” So I suspect there is some real football action there.

AirballNow compare that book to L.D. Harkrader’s Airball: My Life in Briefs. Starting premise of the book is a boy who is not good at basketball joins the seventh-grade team so he can meet the town’s greatest basketball player from the pros. Pretty typical. Then add on page 16 that the boy is convinced that the pro is his father. More interesting. Then add that the team of seventh-graders are awful basketball players, so the Coach pulls an Emperor’s New Clothes on them regarding their new “stealth” uniforms. Okay, now you’ve got me. Very funny, very enjoyable, and very different. There is also plenty of actual basketball playing for the sports fans.

MadCatLast year I discovered a great, non-funny sports book about the sport of fast-pitch softball. In MadCat, by Kathy Mackel, seventh-grader Cat finds that her little softball team has a chance of taking it to the next level, and she couldn’t be happier. But the next level involves a new harsher coach, losing favorite teammates, and lots of pressure. There is some humor in the book, but overall the story focuses on the stress and strain of the sport. Again, plenty of actual game time that softball fans will enjoy.

KeeperNow, the best sports book I have ever read. The book recommended for young adults, that every adult soccer fan should read. The book that could change the kids’ sports genre forever. This masterpiece is Keeper, by Mal Peet.

It begins with an interview of a famous soccer player, El Gato, who has come up the ranks from a small logging village in the South American jungle. The interview becomes anything but standard as El Gato reveals that his secret to being the best goalie is his first coach — a ghost. As a kid, he gives up soccer because he is too clumsy, and he begins exploring the jungle. One day he strays off the beaten path, and finds an oasis of green field and a soccer goal. He is met by a ghostly Keeper, who runs this clumsy kid through his paces and compels him to return again and again to the best coach and player he will ever know. And then the book gets weird.

I could not put this book down, even through the very specific game playing sequences. It. Is. Incredible.

And if you’re not done with sports books yet, guess what? There’s still more. Jen Robinson reviewed Free Baseball yesterday, and BookMoot reviewed Travel Team on Monday. I would looooove it if I could get some other kids’ lit fans to join in the fun today with a favorite sports book. Come on, FuseNumber8, Chicken Spaghetti, Big A little a, Bookshelves of Doom, what do you say? GottaBook, you can write a sports Fib if you like. Remember flash mobs? How about flash blogs? Maybe we’ll start a new trend, like the annoying success of Greg’s Fibs (just kidding).

I Vacuumed a Bee

I vacuumed a bee last night. Let me explain.

My daughters called me into the living room to get a bee. I grabbed some newspaper, rolled it up, and prepared for battle. I asked them where the bee was, and they pointed to the curtains. As I stepped closer, the bee came out from between the folds. I stared in disbelief and said the one word I try hard not to say in front of my kids, or on this blog for that matter. Let’s just say it is a word that rhymes with duck, and in this particular case was preceded by the utterance, “Oh.”

My children ran screaming from the room, now certain that the situation was desperate. They holed up in my oldest daughter’s room, apparently stuffing books in the space between the door and the floor, just in case the monster bee decided to follow them.

And this thing was a monster. I don’t know what species of bee I was looking at, but I was pretty sure that my rolled up section of Monday’s Classifieds was not going to do the job. A shotgun would have been more appropriate, but impractical. I briefly debated calling 911. I almost ran over to my neighbor for help, but didn’t want to look like a wimp.

I decided that if I could slide the vacuum hose just under the bee, I could suck it up without getting too close, and that is what I tried. But it was hard to get into the folds of the curtains, and the freakishly large bee took off for the picture window. And it was pissed.

I figured I had one more chance before this thing called in its posse. The window did make an easier battleground. I snuck the hose just under the bee, slid it up, and WHOOOOMP, it was gone. I let the vacuum run for another two minutes, with a vision of the freakishly strong bee fighting against the air current and climbing out of the hose. Then in one movement, I pulled out the hose, closed the canister, and turned off the vacuum. It has been twelve hours and I am still afraid to go near the vacuum cleaner.

I have chased, carried, and brushed many live things out of this house. If it had been a normal bee, I might have caught it with a glass and piece of paper, and released it to the wild. But this creature would have required a punch bowl and poster-board, and there is only so far I can go. I do feel a little bad, in case in was some kind of queen bee and I have now decimated the hive. But it could have been a master warrior bee from that plan in The X-Files that I never really understood, in which case I may have just saved the world.

Happy BeesWhichever it was, it is no longer a happy bee, like the bees in Arthur Yorinks’ picture book and CD, Happy Bees. The words in this book are simple, making it fun for toddlers, preschoolers, and beginning readers. There is a lot going on in all of the pictures, which are done in a fun, cartoon style. A CD is included with the book and contains many bee-themed songs, which are catchy and cute. The happy bees go about their way enjoying themselves, and wreaking havoc while all the people run away from them.

I guess they didn’t have vacuum cleaners with them.

Permission Granted

Among my small (so very small) group of blog fans are my friends, other parents, and children’s literature buffs. And I feel I am letting them all down. My old friends drift off when I talk about my favorite picture books, my kids’ lit peeps glaze over during my mommy stories, and my parent pals lose interest when I rave about a new adult book. But I want to share kids’ lit, adult books, and funny stories. It is my mission, such as it were.

However, you may, if you so desire, read only the entries that interest you. Permission granted.

Today, for my next entry in the child abuse prevention series, I address the issue of lost children. If you are not a parent, you will be tempted to take my newly given permission and take off for funnier pastures. But if you stick around, maybe something will sink in and save your child’s life in days to come. But, y’know, if you want to blog-hop, go ahead.

Children lost in a public place are vulnerable, and parents can take some prevention steps before it happens — and it will happen — and other people can reinforce the concepts.

Ever since my children were old enough to comprehend at some level, I started going over the rules for getting separated from me or their dad. We would go over the rules before we entered a store or a large public place. They can now, at seven and ten years old, recite these rules in their sleep. Rule One: Stay put and mom/dad will find you. DON’T wander around. Rule Two: Look around you for an employee or a mom or a grandmom who could help. Rule Three: DON’T leave the store. Mom/Dad would never leave without you. Rule Four: Know your mom/dad’s name and your phone number for emergencies.

When I help a lost child at the library, or at the store for that matter, I always go over these rules with the child I found. I might say, “Hi. I work here at the library (or I am a mommy). Did you lose your mom or dad? Yes? Do you know your mom/dad’s name so we can call for them? Good. Let’s wait here for your mom, because she certainly didn’t leave without you.” And when the mom/dad shows up, usually embarrassed or apologetic, I go over with the mom/dad in front of the child what the child did right. “Well, she did a great job. She knew not to leave the library, and she found someone who works here to help her.” In that way, I’ve helped the child — and maybe the parent — to learn from the experience so they’ll know better next time.

If I have helped any of you friends, parents, librarians, I am glad. Keep coming back. I do appreciate your support, even if I am not always writing about your area of interest.

The Fly On The Wall

Finally, it’s spring again, and I can open the windows and let in the fresh air. My screenless window would explain the fly on the wall that I had to whack with a rolled up newspaper. But the fly was the lucky one, killed before he had a chance to suffer. Because what else does springtime bring? The annual warm weather clothes try-on extravaganza. Oh, the horror.

In the last couple of years... how do I put this delicately...? I’ve porked up. The baby weight isn’t an excuse anymore, seeing as how I lost it sometime in the blur that was my second daughter’s first year of life. This weight is new and fairly inexcusable, unless you count my need — and I call it a need — to roll out the good chocolate a couple times a week.

My newfound poundage has had one advantage. Apparently, once you pass a certain age and a certain weight, no one really looks at you. I used to put on makeup and decent clothes when I went out of the house. Now it’s a good day when I brush my hair for a run to the store. Maybe no one ever really cared, but now I can tell no one cares. It has totally taken the pressure off.

Of course, aside from the whole health/self-esteem issue, the one clear disadvantage of my new body is this seasonal clothes change. I bring out my spring clothes, which include the clothes from sizes past, and mourn. I try things on. I look in the mirror. I turn and look at my butt in the mirror. I swear a little. I move on to the next item.

The lavender sweater still fits, as long as love handles are in style this year.

The black pants will be great for work today, as long as I’ve decided firmly against breathing.

The short skirt is perfect for a going straight from work to out-on-the-town, as long my work is as a streetwalker.

Walk Away the PoundsI tried to use the book and DVD Walk Away the Pounds, thinking that if I didn’t get the exercise I needed walking in place, I might just lose weight through the sheer force of Leslie Sansone’s perkiness. But then I wanted to spend my extra half hour a day on this blog, and who’s to blame me? I hated sweating anyway. I know much could be resolved with those two important words, diet and exercise. But, somehow, I am not motivated. I prefer my own two important words, denial and elastic.

And as for the fly on the wall, he got off easy. Even before his short life ended, he had no concerns about his weight. After all, do you think flies are watching the carbs? “Oh, Myrtle, stay away from that cheesecake. It’ll go straight to your thorax.” Of course, it does keep the weight down when you are literally eating garbage, and — McDonald’s aside — I don’t think I can make that sacrifice just to have my own embroidered capris for spring.

New Books About Chinese-American Kids

I really want to get this post up today, so that maybe, just maybe, I can be included on some of the kids’ lit blog roundups as having something interesting to add. So today, you the reader get to make up your own clever introduction, which you can mentally insert between this actual introduction and my book reviews.

[Insert clever intro here.]

Uncle Peter's Amazing Chinese WeddingUncle Peter’s Amazing Chinese Wedding, by Lenore Look, explores the Chinese wedding traditions and the relationships in families. Jenny is afraid of losing the love of her favorite uncle when he gets married, but she finds out she can never be replaced. The lovely illustrations in this picture book make it as enjoyable for the parent reading it as for the child listening.

Shanghai MessengerShanghai Messenger, by Andrea Cheng, puts the Chinese-American girl back in China, as Xiao Mei travels from Ohio to Shanghai to visit her relatives. This book is written in free verse poems with soft color illustrations alongside the text, which makes for a sophisticated picture book for the early elementary crowd.

The Year of the DogThe Year of the Dog starts Grace Lin’s move to chapter books from picture books, and she does a great job. The story focuses on an American-born Taiwanese girl in the fourth grade, finding herself and her traditions in a world that is not always accepting. This story parallels Grace Lin’s own childhood in many ways, and she makes it realistic and fun for her young readers.

Seeing EmilySeeing Emily, by Joyce Lee Wong, is a wonderful, sensitive novel in verse intended for teens. Grace is an American-born Chinese who struggles with her identity and with the normal throes of adolescence. Eventually, her search for herself takes her back to China, where her looks make her blend in, but she still feels like she stands out.

That wraps it up. If you don’t mind closing this post out for me as well, then thanks. (Oh, and I’m not crazy about the post’s title either, so maybe give that a go.)

[Insert clever closing here.]

The Tooth Fairy Has Left The Building

There comes a point in children’s lives when they know the Tooth Fairy doesn’t exist, but they don’t really want to know it. They could just ask their parents outright (“Is the Tooth Fairy real?”), but instead they’ll beat around the bush (“Why do you think she wants my ugly molars?”).

I know that sex scandals happen in Washington, D.C. I read the paper (or I see the headlines as I flip through to read Doonesbury). I hear the stories.

But I never heard the story told quite like this.

The WashingtonienneI read The Washingtonienne.

I swear, it wasn’t intentional. I used the book at work to keep a closet door from locking. Then I saw the title, and thought maybe I should read it to be in the know.

I didn’t realize that I didn’t want to be in the know.

It is billed as fiction, but you know it’s mostly real, which makes for a strange reading experience. It could be just a regular trashy novel, but it kinda happened. Sex for money, sex for jobs, even sex for drinks. I was a little shocked, and I don’t shock easily.

I went to the Internet to find out more about the story, which I didn’t pay much attention to when it came out. What I found was a link to an archive of the original blog, which only covers a couple of weeks. That I did not know. Now Jessica Cutler has a new blog based on her book and notoriety. Hope that works out for her.

Bitter Is the New BlackThe paperback comes out in June, and according to Amazon, most people who buy this book next go on to buy Bitter is the New Black: Confessions of a Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smartass, Or, Why You Should Never Carry A Prada Bag to the Unemployment Office. I just wanted to throw that out there because the title made me laugh. I may give that book a try also, as long as I don’t have to pay for it.

Maybe the Tooth Fairy will leave it under my pillow.

Me, Me, Meme

I’ve been tagged to do a meme, which is delightful for two reasons. One, I love to talk about myself (yeah, you do too — admit it) and two, someone else in the blogging world knows that I exist. Mindboggling (mindbloggling).

The meme is Six Strange Things/Facts/Habits About Me. I’m going to approach it in biography form, because I have already listed 100 Things About Me, and I don’t want to repeat myself (numbers 95 and 96). So here goes.
  1. I was a shy child. This fact will only seem strange to those who know me as the raging extrovert that I am today. Or to those who have been paying attention to the fact that I will write about anything personal on my blog — my messy clothes pile, shaving my legs, my overindulgent evening — as long as it is a little funny. But indeed, I was a shy child, preferring my books to people until eighth grade. At that point, I started at a new school, realized that no one knew me, and thought why not act like I was confident and secure and see if it stuck? Apparently it did.

  2. I was raised as the last hippie child. My mother and father were potters for most of my young life. My dad threw pots and mugs on the potter’s wheel. My mom sculpted in porcelain and made wind chimes. They sold some of their work to retail shops, but also traveled around the east coast on weekends to participate in craft shows. My brother and I most often went too, learning the finer points of display, selling, and sitting around. When I was about fourteen, I would go with my father — or sometimes my mother — as the second salesperson. It was certainly a different after-school job for a high school kid, and I had a great time.

  3. I was voted “Most Unique” in my high school senior class. I considered it a badge of honor, and far better than “Most Likely to Succeed,” which would have been far too much pressure. When I started high school, I realized I was never going to fit into this rural, southern school as a northern-bred, half-Jewish, hippie child, so I might as well make the most of it. I was well-liked, but I did not fit the mold, so I drove my 1974 Karmann Ghia, and wore my turquoise blue blazer and dared to look foolish sometimes. Oh my God, I was the Pretty in Pink Girl!

  4. I worked in a psychiatric hospital for one year. After majoring in psychology in college, I got a job in a psychiatric hospital working with children who had been committed for short-term stays. I was very good at working with these children. Somehow, though it’s not in my nature, I became patient when I walked through those doors. However, I would come home after an eight-hour shift where I had barely had the time to eat or use the bathroom, and I would cry at Hallmark commercials. I was good at this job, but I just couldn’t take it.

  5. I started my career in libraries by accident. I wanted to move up to the D.C. area, but I needed a job. The whole psych thing hadn’t worked out, and otherwise I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grew up. But I had worked in my college library as a part-time job, and that had been okay, so I decided to apply for library assistant jobs. I worked first in a law library, then in a children’s health library, and then in the public library. It could have gone the other way, and I’d currently be making and selling pottery at the Sugarloaf Craft Festival.

  6. Most of what I live by can be broken down into three tenets (three again). One: We aren’t saving the world here — good to remember whenever I, or others, take things too seriously. Especially useful for PTA meetings. Two: Things usually happen for a reason — many of the bad parts of my life have led directly to some of the best parts. Three: The worst thing about a person is often the best thing about them, in a different way. My youngest daugher cries too easily (can’t imagine where she got that from), but she is also the most loving child. She just feels things deeply, which is good and bad. I try to remember this tenet when I get frustrated with other people — or with myself.

Wasn’t that fun? I am going to move the meme to the kids’ lit world by tagging these lovely blogs:
Thanks to The Hygiene Chronicles for making me “it.”

Best 2006 Picture Books At Your Library

It’s frustrating. I am always excited that I get to see the new books before any of the public does, but yet it is not enough. Now that I am looking at the pages of other bloggers who get prepublished children’s literature, someone has always seen the book before I have, and, most likely, reviewed it.

And if that weren’t enough, these other privileged bloggers are reviewing books that sound so good... but I won’t see them for months. Arrrgh. I have always read The Horn Book and School Library Journal three months after we get them, for that very reason. Before, when I would read these children’s literature masterpieces, I would see every book with their review in mind. Or I would put a book on hold based on the review, and forget everything about it when it came in.

So at my library I finally got two new books that I love. Both are sequels to the authors’ well-established picture book series. Both are great.

Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late!From Mo Willems we have Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late! His Caldecott Winner, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, is the funniest book ever (and is currently a bargain book at Amazon, available now for only $5.99). After the first pigeon book, came The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog!, which was amusing, but quite right for me. Well, now we have the pigeon back at his best — or back at his worst, depending on your perspective. He does not want to go to sleep and is arguing with the reader about why he should be allowed to stay up late. This gives the child numerous chances (just like in the first book) to tell that pigeon “No!” Also notice how the background gets darker and darker (like night, get it?) and how the pigeon carries a toy from another of Mo Willems’ books (Knuffle Bunny). Excellent book, without question. Buy it today — perhaps along with the first book, currently $5.99 — for someone (your child, baby gift, niece, nephew, teacher).

Lilly's Big DayFrom Kevin Henkes we have Lilly’s Big Day. Kevin Henkes cannot be stopped in his prolific picture book writing, and we should all be grateful for that fact. His books are all wonderful, all interesting, and all full of mice. Actually, the third may not be true, but it feels true. In this story, Lilly gets it in her little mouse head that she is going to be the flower girl at her teacher’s wedding. Unfortunately for Lilly, her teacher’s niece is going to be the flower girl. Lilly is offered the role of the flower girl’s assistant, and she takes it very seriously — and ends up saving the day, in her own funny, special way. The expressions of the characters are perfect and the story is hysterical.

Did I mention that FuseNumber8 beat me to both of these books? She loved them, of course, and gives a much fuller review, you know, if you like that sort of thing. The one thing in my favor? Now you can get these books at your local library (unless you prefer to purchase them... say, along with Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, available at Amazon for $5.99).

Rainbow Tour: A Follow-Up

How about that? They did have the White House Easter Egg Roll after all. About 200 gay and lesbian parents attended (among the other 16,000 families that came) wearing rainbow leis and bracelets and, presumably, raincoats. They learned, like the rest of the families there, that an egg roll involves pushing a wooden egg across the wet White House lawn to a finish line. Huh, who knew? They rocked on to Aly and AJ (my family met them in person, so there) and met the giant bunny stalking the premises. It’s all so normal. Oh, that’s the point.

And I must backpedal a bit on my review of the Raisin books. But first, a story.

I do this really cute thing. I don’t do it a lot, but it is special. When I am nervous I will ask questions I already know the answer to, or, even better, will question a decision that is already made. For instance, my husband and I will be on our way to a party where I don’t know anybody, and I will turn to my husband and say “Do you think we should just stay home tonight?” I know, adorable isn’t it? My husband has gotten used to this darling habit of mine and answers very calmly and logically how we decided to go and and it will be fun and we wouldn’t want to disappoint our friends. Then I have been known in the next ten minutes to ask the question again. And my husband, God bless him, will answer me as if it was the first time I spoke about this. The lesson learned here is that when we care, we’ll overlook someone’s quirks, bad habits, or mild insanity.

The Secret Blog of Raisin RodriquezSo, when a good author makes some annoying mistakes, I may have to forgive her. I went back to read The Secret Blog of Raisin Rodriquez last night, and then finished the second book. And this author is good. The writing is funny and believable. The main character Raisin is just soooo middle school, worrying about her appearance, boys, friends, and her family. She gets into the worst situations, and we sympathize, because we’ve been there. The books are a little less edgy and definitely less whiny than the Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging series, but they are similiar. It’s more like Junie B. Jones as a teenager, mixed with the Angus books — but without the British terms.

I still think the “lesbionic” reference was unnecessary and annoying. But the author does have Raisin help her crush write a speech for the committment ceremony of his two dads, so maybe that cancels it out. I still think that Raisin should figure out that a blog is a public way to express your deepest secrets. But I think I am a Raisin fan now and can’t wait for her to blog again.

The Rainbow Tour in Threes

I tend to group things in threes. Maybe everybody does. I like to post books in threes. Comedy definitely works best in threes (normal thing, normal thing, funny thing). I have three kids, if you include my husband (bah-da-bum, back to the comedy of threes).

So perhaps it shouldn’t surprise me that I’ve had three lesbian... let’s say issues come up within three days. One is kids’ book related, two are not. This post will be pretty... let’s say tolerant, so if that bothers you, you may wish to come back on another day. I’ll have a little music so you won’t inadvertently see something that may offend you.

“Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high...”

Okay, let’s get this party started. During the long, long spring break (did I mention that it was looong), my 10-year-old had a friend over. Cool mom that I am, I joined them for lunch and we chatted about stuff. I don’t know how it came up, but the friend said something along the lines of being scared of being lesbo. The exact wording slips my mind, whether it was being afraid of growing up and finding out you were lesbo or something making you lesbo, I wish I could recall. I showed no alarm, ’cause that’s how cool I am, but said calmly that I didn’t think that being lesbo was something we needed to be worried about, because some people are different from others but that isn’t bad. And as she backpedaled a bit, I added how being gay or lesbian is just small part of who a person is and how it doesn’t change how he or she enjoys swimming, or likes horses, or hates cheese. We can be different from others in some ways, the same in others, and it isn’t something to worry about in any case. It was surprising that the topic came up, but I wasn’t particularly uncomfortable because I know how I feel, how I teach my children, and what I would want to (quickly) convey. In fact, I was glad the friend felt like my house was a safe place to try out her feelings.

Fast forward to Sunday’s Washington Post, where I read that an organization of gay and lesbian parents has, well, organized to have these parents wait in line for tickets to the White House Easter Egg Roll taking place today. They thought about wearing T-shirts with a statement, but decided to go more subtle with rainbow leis and bracelets. Their message was not one of protest, but of inclusion. They are here, they are parents, they are not going to be invisible. I thought this was great, down to them offering rainbow-sprinkled donuts to the other parents in line. I couldn’t wait to see how this would be covered in the paper today. And then it rained. I think the egg roll is canceled and the gay and lesbian parents won’t get the chance to say, like all the other parents there, “what the hell is an egg rolling anyway?”

Raisin Rodriguez and the Big-Time SmoochKnowing the rule of threes, I shouldn’t have been surprised to open up a new kids’ book by Judy Goldschmidt and read some lesbian comment. In Raisin Rodriguez and the Big-Time Smooch, Raisin is writing a blog for the purpose of keeping in touch with her two best girl friends after she has moved. On page three (yes, three again) she is talking about how even her preschool stepsister has a boyfriend.

“All I have is no one. Okay, that’s not entirely true. I’ve got you guys. But you’ve got to admit, the three [(!!!)] thousand miles in between you and me makes it inconvenient to start anything serious right now. Plus I’m not ready to go lesbionic just yet.”

I was instantly turned off. The reference wasn’t necessary and was kind of... wrong. Yeah, kids would say it, but the author doesn’t have to write it. As a writer I would want my goal to be to write for kids not like kids. And it was a throwaway line anyway. Why take the chance on sounding intolerant, when you aren’t even staying around to make your point? If the author wants to deal with a kid being worried about being “lesbionic,” then, hey, go for it. If the author just wants to sounds like a kid, there are plenty more opportunities in the book that won’t marginalize your readers on the third page.

The Secret Blog of Raisin RodriquezIt pretty much ruined the book for me, though I’ve kept reading. The first book, The Secret Blog of Raisin Rodriguez, was funny. It had some cringe-worthy moments, but had a real feel for the character. I liked the idea of a kid’s blog as an update on the old diary/journal idea. However, the introduction to this new book where she talks about “interlopers” on her blog annoyed me. Does she not understand that the blog is a pretty public way to discuss your feelings? Perhaps she would rather email her friends instead. The second book also depends a lot on the first book, so I keep feeling like I am missing something — even though I read the first book. Kids will probably like it, but I’m over it.

I now return you to the music, already in progress.

“If happy little bluebirds fly, beyond the rainbow, why, oh, why, can’t I?”

Blood in the Water

It’s Sunday in April. The kids are hopped up on jelly beans and Skittles. My fingers are blue from egg dye. Through the house wafts the smell of ham. My head is pounding with the intensity of a jackhammer in New York City.

Ah, it’s Easter.

But not just Easter for us mind you. Oh, no. It is the Easter following a spring break — a long, long spring break — where our plans were canceled, and I thus had the job... no, the honor of staying home with my kids for 240 hours in a row. Within the first 24 hours, I realized that we were going to have to move up my youngest’s birthday party to, well, yesterday.

Here’s the past 48 hours.

Friday evening: Make crafts for Saturday’s party, make birthday dinner, eat birthday dinner, sneak out of birthday dinner to wrap birthday presents, give birthday presents at family birthday party, put kids to bed, make more crafts for birthday party, go to bed.

Saturday: Go to work, catch up on week’s worth of emails and new books, sit through children’s puppet show, drive home, tidy house, welcome eight first graders, craft, craft, break, craft, craft, PIZZA, cake, presents, bye-bye, crash, “Aren’t you kids asleep yet?” prepare baskets and eggs, hide eggs outside, go to bed.

Sunday: “Can we wake up now?” find baskets, find eggs, play marbles, dye eggs, DO TAXES, write this entry.

So, today I was going to write another in my series of child abuse prevention ideas for everyone, but the most I can manage is sharing something that has been useful to me as a parent, but also in supervising medium to large groups of small to smallest children.

Hesitation to children is like blood in the water to sharks. Children can sense your weakness and if you aren’t firm — not mean — they will keep pushing you to see if there is any wiggle room. If a child asks, “Can I have another piece of cake?” your answer can be, “No, one is enough.” You don’t have to apologize or overly explain how too many sweets will make them hyper or too fat. If the child says, “I want to go swing now.” You can say, “We’re not doing that now. But we will after the presents are opened.” Whether it is your kid, your kid’s friend, your niece, nephew, or neighbor, it’s all right to be the grown-up. But don’t miss the opportunity to dye the Easter eggs with them later.

A Confession

I was getting ready for work and realized that I had no clean pants to wear. Everything was in the hamper or wrinkled from spending time in the pile of doom that is my clothes closest. No problem, because I had my trusty six-dollars-at-Ross denim skirt that goes with anything... as long as you don’t really care about making any fashion statements. Again, no problem, because I had my Best Boots Ever to add to the outfit. The Best Boots Ever were a find at DSW, reduced to ninety percent off the $300 price tag, just because it was the end of the season, and the toes on the shoes are so pointy that it looks like I am wearing ice picks on my feet. The points are just for show and stick out much farther than my actual toes — I don’t actually have feet shaped like triangles. Oh, and bonus, the Italian leather boots had a label inside pricing them for retail at $750, so I was wearing the bargain of the century.

Watching the clock, I put on my denim skirt, one of my many sweaters, and my kick-ass boots. Really running late, as usual. But. Oh. No. I hadn’t shaved my legs. We aren’t taking King Kong here, but I am just not comfortable with stubble. I have an image to maintain. But I didn’t have time to shave or go through the process of finding a new outfit.

So, I shaved the six inches of exposed skin between the top of the boot and the bottom of the my skirt. In an apt analogy of my life, it is all about cutting corners.

In the book The Children of Henry VIII I skipped the long battle discussions, pages at a time. Why not? I just wanted the scandals.

In Loving Lefties, I skipped the whole chapter on sports — which my left-hander doesn’t play — and skimmed the special equipment section entirely. I had gotten what I needed.

In Thousand Pieces of Gold, I skimmed through the last fifty pages when I realized halfway through that I had read the book before. At the end, I just wanted the summary.

It is not for every reading experience, but sometimes you need to have the courage to shave a little off your reading. And it’s okay.

Odds and Ends

Today just some snippets and follow-ups for those who care.

Yesterday’s Kids’ Post profiled Blue Balliet and her new book The Wright 3 (article sidebars available here and here). Also, when you go to the Amazon reviews of this book you will see the lengthy review of my new best friend and new favorite reviewer. She’s not crazy about the book.

I welcome FuseNumber8 over to the dark side as she takes the bunny down in the continuing debate over The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. I am hoping that my quote, “one doesn’t put a bunny on a cross without trying to convey something,” enters into every discussion of this book from this point forward.

Over to the (hold my hands up to form the letter L) left side of my blog, is Rick Mercer’s blog, just because I think it is funny how he takes a politician (generally Canadian) and uses Photoshop to do something funny with the picture. Well, this week it is George Bush’s turn, and I am especially enjoying the photos.

Also on your left, I have added a couple of “Just ’Cause” links. I direct your attention today to the Tohobohu Productions link. I will be a producer for the upcoming 48-Hour Film Project. Wish me luck.

Win Money Playing Blackjack

That was what I was supposed to be doing. But our plans to go to Atlantic City for the beginning of spring break fell through. Instead I found myself on Monday sitting on the front porch, and then the back porch, and then the front porch again, reading about gambling. No, I correct myself. Not reading about gambling — reading about winning.

(Did you hear that? That was the sound of people leaving this site when they found out it was about books, not blackjack.)

Ben Mezrich’s two books, Busting Vegas: The MIT Whiz Kid Who Brought The Casinos To Their Knees and Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas For Millions, are extraordinary. They are action-adventure books for geeks. They give the nerds their day in the sun. You know, in case übernerd Bill Gates ruling the world wasn’t enough for you.

Busting VegasIn Busting Vegas, the author tracks a M.I.T. kid who learns a new system for beating blackjack. It is almost cheating, but not quite. Using three techniques more sophisticated than card counting, he and his team make tons of money — in one case fifty thousand dollars in one hand. In ten minutes of play. Of course, you can’t make that kind of money without drawing some attention, and some of it isn’t the nice kind of attention. For with the comped suite and plane ticket and arena fight, there’s back-room intimidation, gunpoint confrontations, and one memorable plane crash. It wasn’t an easy life for a kid, but it sure was a profitable one, and now he is sharing his secrets with us.

Bringing Down the HouseIn Bringing Down the House, the author presents a group of M.I.T. students who find their way to money through card counting. But this isn’t your Rain Man kind of card counting; this is a simple high-low strategy the students are learning. But that strategy alone won’t pull in the kind of money they want, and it always attracts the attention of the casino managers — who don’t like card-counters. Instead, the students work in teams, with “Spotters” playing hands until the decks get “hot” with high cards, then the “Big Players” swoop in on a signal, and play hard and fast on the good run. Then they take off with the winnings and everyone splits it later. But again, with the freebies and money come danger and risk. And sometimes, even with the best odds in your favor, the cards don’t go your way.

Both of these books were quick, incredible reads. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to play a little blackjack.

In The Beginning

I was going to write about an adult book today, but I am still finishing up the ones I have already written about. Today is about those cute beginning readers. If you don’t have kids or work with kids... uh, come back tomorrow. I got nothing for you.

Transitioning to early chapter books has got to be a rocky time for a kid. She has just gotten comfortable with the format of beginning reader books, which have space underneath the sentences to run her finger under the words. As she grows in skill and confidence, she goes from reading one sentence per page to five, but the basic format stays the same. Then the adults tell her she is ready for chapter books and they toss her a book just chock-full of sentences and few pictures. No fair.

I have a special fondness for this stage because neither of my girls were stellar readers. They’ve been just about average in learning to read, and I think that has been helpful for me in getting a sense in what children can read at what stage.

My oldest (now nine and a great reader) stumbled through beginning readers for the first part of first grade making very little progress. One day I told her if we finished a lesson book we were working on, and she read to me this one short chapter book, that I would take her to Build-A-Bear (her sister had gone without her to a party, and the oldest was jealous). The kid flew through the lessons and the chapter book, and we were bringing home our own expensive, clothed bear in no time. I had to convince her teacher to retest her because she couldn’t believe my daughter had jumped like five levels in a month. For her, there was the “click factor.” When she spoke as a baby, it was the same way. A few words, and then one day she just got it. “Oh, everything has a name!” Her favorite phrase after that clicked in was “What dat?” accompanied by a point.

My youngest (now seven) is still working her way through beginning readers in first grade. I haven’t gotten a click factor for her, and I’m not sure that I will. Her baby language learning was much more gradual, hampered by the fact that she was sure she was talking. She spoke long phrases with intonation, gestures — they just happened to be complete gobbledygook.

My oldest spoke in precise statements. “Juice. Now.” My youngest spoke in tongues. “Bah ba dah ba deee babble juice ces to gee haa haa baar now.” Which we supposed meant, “If you don’t mind, I would like some juice. And if it is at all convenient to you, I would like it now.”

Having these experiences with two daughters makes me look at early chapter books with them in mind. The typeface must be large enough and with enough space underneath to run a finger under the words if the child needs to do so. The language needs to be simple enough to follow, but hold some challenge. The storyline can’t be too complicated, because the child’s focus is on the reading. They can, at this stage, listen to more complicated stories, but I don’t think they are ready to read them. On the other hand, it would be nice if the story was somewhat engaging. I think series are good for this stage because the child doesn’t have to get used to whole new characters while they are reading, and children at this age still love repetition. Most people know about the three great starter series, Magic Tree House, Junie B. Jones, and The Secrets of Droon, but a lot more has been coming out recently that I will review in the next few weeks. Let’s start with the new Angelina Ballerina chapter books out called Angelina’s Diary and the question burning in my mind. Who are these books intended for?

The Best Sleepover Ever!Angelina Ballerina is primarily a preschool thing, with her cutesy picture books and fluffy tutus. I can’t imagine many second- and third-graders would be interested in reading about her, yet that seems to be the reading level of these books. It may be a British thing, but the typeface is smaller than what you would find in the beginning chapter books I have come to know. They seem like they would be pretty hard even for an advanced first grader.

So, you are a seven- or eight-year-old girl reading these books. Your love for ballet has overridden your need to abandon this cloyishly sweet character. Might it then annoy you the number of ballet mistakes made in this book? It may be a mouse thing, but why are all the mice en pointe (on their toes) when girls in ballet won’t do that until they are ten? How is it that the seemingly young mice are invited to perform for the princess? Are there no professional ballerina mice? How is it that Angelina spends years practicing for the strength, balance, and technique required in ballet, but she teaches it to the princess in one afternoon? Why, even, do they practice in tutus instead of standard leotards?

And if the reading level is too high for the girls who are interested in this book, do the publishers really expect me to read pages of this drivel to my younger child? I mean, I’ll read her a five-minute picture book of Angelina, but come on — you ask too much.

Two Little Words

For Child Abuse Prevention Month, I am devoting Sundays to how we can advance the cause of protecting our nation’s children. Last week I talked about how we could help our fellow moms/dads/humans, with their crying/tantruming kid and what to do when we see a mom (or dad, if you’re brave) yell at her (or his) kid. Today I will share how to become the parent who doesn’t yell at her kid in especially tense and public times. It all comes down to two little words. (“Heavy drinking.” Nah, just kidding.)

Preventative Advil

Whenever I need to take my children where there is bound to be lots of screaming kids, I take an Advil before I even go. Not only am I less likely to get a headache, I am less likely to spend the whole event thinking that I am going to get a headache. Thus the Girl Scouts indoor pool Beach Bash — with 200 screaming girls in an echo chamber — becomes a piece of cake. Amusement park? Preventative Advil. Birthday party? Preventative Advil. Chuck E. Cheese? Two Preventative Advil.

I have another two-word phrase in my bag of tricks for after the event is over.

The Handoff

When I get home from one of these events, I am officially done. (In fact, “I’m done” is another two-word phrase in my artillery, as I use it to my family to indicate, without question, that my role is now over.) In The Handoff, I turn my children over to my husband to feed, get ready for bed, run around the block, whatever it takes. I find that after being with lots of children for an extended period of time, I just need to be in a room where my children are not.

The Handoff even occurs if my husband is not home. Then they just go to my favorite babysitter, Nickelodeon. They watch TV for an hour, I get my head together, and we’re all happier for it. Depending on how traumatic the event was for me, I might read a book (children’s birthday party), hop on the computer (Girl Scout bowling), or flip channels on the TV with a Corona in one hand (Chuck E. Cheese).

Take care of yourself, and you will be better able to take care of your children. You may even use a phrase to let your children, or your spouse for that matter, know that you need your space. You have given all that you can in service to the team, and now it is time for a break. You are welcome to use mine.

I’m done.

Going Down Under

Why travel to Australia on vacation, halfway around the world, when you can just read a book about it?

Or that is how I justify it to myself.

Lost in RoovilleLost in Rooville, by Ray Blackston, showed great promise in my armchair journey. A cute, light green cover with the kangaroo warning sign and a kangaroo jumping on top of a car in the background. It looked light and easy, which was just what I was after. I found myself wading through forty pages of two guys talking about getting engaged to their girlfriends with the enthusiasm I would expect to see from two guys talking about getting laid, but I knew kangaroos were coming, so I hung in there. The two couples split up to explore the Outback separately, and the book picks up. One couple gets lost, and as they run out of water and wonder if they will be found in time, they think about having sex. But they don’t, because their values are too strong.

Hold on. This is a grown couple and they haven’t had sex yet? What’s going on here? It all comes back to me. The passing reference to praying for help. The woman has been working with a mission. Is this... Christian fiction?

I flip ahead, and while the author must have contained himself for the first part of the book, suddenly the God, praying, and minister references are all over the place. I have no problem with the existence of the genre, and this book was probably a decent expression of Christian values in a new setting. But hey, warn me. You don’t play rap on a country music station; you don’t slap a chick-lit-ish cover on a book of Christian fiction. It’s just wrong.

One for the RoadI had to clear my head, and went for an old favorite, One for the Road: An Outback Adventure, by Tony Horwitz. Tony is an American journalist who gets the idea to cross the outback by hitchhiking. He meets lots of crazy characters, crosses a landscape similar to the moon, and sees his first kangaroo after the driver runs into it. This is the Australia adventure about the people, not the tourist attractions, and it is fascinating and funny.

In a Sunburned CountryBut, my old favorite wasn’t there, so I decided to try Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country. I am halfway through it, and it is good but not great. He talks a lot about various tourist attractions or cities that he assumes we have a working knowledge of. But I don’t, and wish that there were a few pictures and maps to help me follow his descriptions. His books incorporate more history and facts and actual information. It’s a little too much work for me. I just wanted the funny or interesting stories and some clever writing.

Because, face it, I’m on vacation.

The Fifth Dentist Caves

When Chasing Vermeer, by Blue Balliett, came out, I picked it up, but just didn’t get around to reading it. Suddenly all the kidslit people were reading it, and I had missed the boat. What was the point of reading it, if it was going to be recommended by everyone and her, uh, dentist? I might as well read something new that no one was reading, like The Penderwicks, which went on to win the National Book Award. So, while four out of five librarians recommend Chasing Vermeer for their patrons who read mysteries, I had to pass.

The Wright 3Then, a chance for redemption when The Wright 3, the sequel to Chasing Vermeer, crossed my desk. I could have boycotted this book too, since everyone else will read it, but instead found a chance to review it before everyone else. Well, everyone except the people who get it before it is published. You know, important people.

And here’s where I cave — a little. I liked The Wright 3 in that the pacing kept me moving along, the interaction among the friends was realistic, and the references to the life and works of F.L. Wright were interesting to me. Solving the mystery in this book, however, relies an awful lot on “mysterious coincidences,” which seems a little sloppy. I mean, I also could solve the greatest crimes of the century if someone was handing me clues. Also, there is an entire theme in this book about The Invisible Man, the book as well as related material, that is never fully realized. Kids will probably love The Wright 3, and won’t mind the flaws, so what does it matter what little old me thinks about it anyway?

Oh, and back to an old non-favorite, I am clearly the Fifth Dentist who can’t recommend The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. The reviewers like it (mostly), the other kidslit blogs like it (mostly), and the parents like it (mostly). But I will not cave on this one, I still think it is a bad, depressing book. For the other point of view — because I am nothing if not fair — check out the Bookshelves of Doom today. Or check out the reviews at Amazon. Or ask any Kate DiCamillo fan. Or... oh I give up.

By the way, “The Fifth Dentist” — Book title or Blog title? Race Horse or Rock Band?

The Coolest Mom, The Smallest Weasel, and That Bitch, The Tooth Fairy

Today’s entry will be about children and parenting, but not about the cute things that kids do or say. Because while my kids are cute, funny, and talented, what is most important to remember here is that their mother is cute, funny, and talented, and that is where the focus should be, people.

The following three stories occured within a single 24-hour period.

The Smallest Weasel

When I came home from work at 9:30 Tuesday night, I said goodnight to my youngest, already in bed, and did a walk-through of the house. My role, as it would seem, is to serve as the official lights-off person, since it would be beyond my family to push a switch to the down position in all of the unused rooms in the house. As I walked into the dining room, I saw what appeared to be a small weasel under my daughter’s chair. Since it wasn’t moving, I approached it, to find that it was the same color and consistency as my six-year old’s hair.

I went to her room, hair in hand, to say mildly, “What is this?”

She started to cry. “I’m sorry.” she said.

“Don’t cry. I just want to see where you cut it. That’s not so bad. But honey, why did you cut your hair?”

“I don’t know. Sorrrrrryyyyy.”

“It’s okay. You don’t need to cry.”

“You’re mad.”

“Honey, this is my fifth haircutting incident. I don’t have the energy to get mad anymore. Can we just please keep the scissors only on the paper? What do you think? Okay?”

“Okay.”

That Bitch, The Tooth Fairy

The next morning, I got my youngest out of bed while her sister came into the room.

“Oh,” I said to my youngest, “we forgot to leave your tooth for the tooth fairy last night.”

“No we didn’t,” she said, as a look of horror crossed my face. She went to her pillow as my oldest and I exchanged glances that said approximately, Oh, shit.

“It’s still here!” she cried.

“Well,” I said, “uh, when your tooth is loose and falls out as quickly as it did yesterday, sometimes the tooth fairy doesn’t know to put you on her rounds. So, she, uh, doesn’t come. But I’m sure she’ll come tonight.”

My oldest suggested that we yell up to the tooth fairy, so we all began to yell to the ceiling (or to my husband in the next room, depending how you want to look at where the fault lies in the tooth fairy fiasco) that the tooth fairy needs to come tonight — there’s a tooth here for her.

This isn’t the first time the tooth fairy has passed us by, that bitch, and I am certainly going to have a word with her manager.

The Coolest Mom in the World

Yesterday, after work, I had my two kids and two of their friends, and we all decided to go to the school’s International Food Festival and fifth/sixth grade chorus concert. The kids thought some of their friends would be there, so they wanted to go. I agreed to take them because they were serving my favorite kind of food — free food that someone else has made. I had a nice dinner of a variety of foods lovingly crafted by parents to represent their cultures.

The children ate Domino’s pizza.

But we finished eating at 6:30, and the concert didn’t start until 7:30. I took them outside to play on the lawn in front of the school to burn off some energy. They started bickering. But cool mom that I am, I had the solution.

I went to my car and took out a three-foot styrofoam plane, new in the package. I brought it to the lawn and was immediately surrounded by my children, their friends, and a couple of spare kids. As I put the wings on this masterful diversion, I was the coolest mom in the school — nay, in the world.

Until I broke the plane in half.

Oh, I tried putting the plane back together with the stickers in its package, and it held up for a couple of flights. I found myself cursing the gods, knowing if only I had duct tape things would be different. The children ran away, my moment in the sun was over, and — discouraged, beaten — I read the book I had stowed in my coat pocket for that moment when I would become marginalized by my kids.

The book in my pocket? Alanna: The First Adventure.

The book that should have been in my pocket? 101 Secrets a Cool Mom Knows.

Teenage Angst and Poetry

I like lists. Not to-do lists: They terrify me to the very core of my being. I like have-done lists. My favorite have-done list is my list of children’s and young adult fiction. Every time I read a book, I look forward to adding it to my growing yearly list. So, when I find a book in verse, I do a little end-zone dance, because I can zip through that puppy in twenty minutes and slap it on the list.

The Geography of GirlhoodAnd that, I am embarrassed to say, was my first reaction to The Geography of Girlhood.

I took it outside to read on a sunny afternoon, and flew through the first section. Then I stopped, and realized how very, very good this book was, and I went back and read the first section again more slowly. I forced myself to take my time and really take in the powerful verse in this book. It is an incredible reflection of what is like to be in a girl entering high school and unsure of yourself, of your friends, and of your future. I was really moved.

I went to the website, but it was not working yet. So, I added another first to my list of firsts (yet another list of have-dones) and emailed the author, Kirsten Smith, to tell her that I thought the book was brilliant and ask her permission to include a couple of poems. Since she agreed, and is looking forward to which poems I choose, here are two that spoke to me.

Fourteen

Fourteen is like rotten candy,
fourteen is a joke that no one gets.
When you’re fourteen,
you look good only once a week
and it’s never on the day of the dance.
When you’re fourteen,
you have a mouthful of metal
that no one wants to taste.
Fourteen is going to bed at night
and wishing you could wake up with a new face
or a new dad or better yet,
a new life
that doesn’t look anything
like this one

Erosion

Denise and Elaine don’t talk at all anymore.
They are like that cliff in town,
the one that’s sliding into the sea.

Geologists say the erosion was inevitable.
Nothing could stop it,
not with the rain and the wind the way it is.

Whether it’s soil or best friends,
things can’t help but slip away and disappear.
I guess nothing on the map ever stays fixed.
All you can do is make sure you’re not standing on it
when it goes.


There are some edgy, sexual references that lean the book as more appropriate for high-schoolers. Maybe fourteen-year-olds should read it, but the mothers of fourteen-year-olds definitely should so they can remember what their daughters are going through with perspective and sympathy.

Sorry, Guys

I got so distracted writing my letter of love to friends, fellow bloggers, and sunshiny days that I forgot to include the book that I promised to read over the weekend. Uh, oops.

I have a special place in my heart — and shelf on my bookcase — for books with fun titles. It’s a good hint that the dog isn’t going to die in the story. Or if it does, it will be in an amusing way. I dole these books out to myself, like the good chocolate, so that I can stretch out my supply of funny title books.

Loser Goes FirstOkay, the suspense has been killing you. Which book did I go with from my list? It was Loser Goes First: My Thirty-Something Years of Dumb Luck and Minor Humiliation, by Dan Kennedy.

Loser Goes First is a funny, slacker memoir of a guy who is sure he is a rocker from the age of ten to nineteen, even though he has never picked up a guitar. He becomes a man, sort of, who manages to miss the grunge movement by leaving Seattle to go to Austin at the very time grunge is picking up speed. And leaves a well paying job to bomb as a dot-com millionaire. It’s about being in the wrong place as the right time passes you by. The style is informal, almost conversational, with excerpts from his notebooks, like “Fantasy Interview With My High-School Guidance Counselor.” As he sets a scene for the reader, he goes off on tangents about fantasies or other episodes in his life. You know, it reminds me of how, as a kid, entire lifetimes would happen in the time it took for someone to kick the ball in kickball and the ball to hit me squarely in the face, destroying my image of being kickball champion of the world. Overall, if you like my style of writing, you will probably like his. And if you don’t like mine, what are you still doing here? There are like forty million blogs out there. Go!

What was a bit eerie for me (cue Twilight Zone music), was that the last page of the book coordinated so perfectly with what I posted yesterday. I wrote yesterday’s post about how a kid asked what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and I responded that maybe I’d like to focus more on writing. After writing that post, I finished the book.

On the last page, Dan Kennedy talks about walking past a kid who is staring at him. Dan imagines that the kid has been put in path for a reason.
Maybe he’ll say something so accurate it’s chilling, like some kind of fortune-teller, since kids can see the truth and ghosts and UFO’s. Maybe he will say, “Start writing. On the train. Tonight. In that gay little journal you carry around with you. It’s what you naturally do, ever since the sixth grade, except this time it will be notes for the book. You’ll be like a huge, thirty-three-year-old goony sixth grader with a book deal writing on some lame-ass commuter train. Now go! Go on!” Whatever he says, he will deliver the message that all of us have lost the ability to say in our jaded adult lives. Maybe about how our lives finally change but only when it is right for our lives to change. That we are not in control of this thing. I look back at him just before making my right turn onto the highway for the last part of my walk to the train. It feel like slow motion as he sizes me up that one last time. He opens his mouth and the words come out:

“Hey, mister. Why don’t you have a car?”

Oh, man.
Can’t say it better myself.