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Multigenerational Mom Muses on Twin Toddlers & Twenty-Something Daughters

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5 Books Our Five-Year-Olds Love

I want to raise readers. I really, really do. I also want to raise good humans. That’s my primary concern. Lucky for me, reading aloud to my boys every night helps me accomplish both.

Colorful and clever, goofy or game-faced, the stories they love most are quite simply the ones that make them feel all the good feels: Joy, Empathy, Suspense, Silliness, Love.

For me, the stories are all about the connections we make… with each other and with the world. Connecting with my boys after a long day of living life. And reconnecting with life after a long day of living it with my boys.

Here are the books that consistently give us all the feels and help us reconnect:

#1 The Book with No Pictures, by BJ Novak

I’ve written about this one before, but it is a perennial fave around our here — for good reason. It. Is. maGRUMPH-a-doo!

This book does, indeed, have ZERO pictures, just like the title promises. Its cover is black and white — and so is the majority of the text for the majority of the book. Novak plays with font size and and a whole lot of negative space — and eventually color.

Ground rules are laid from the beginning for adults reading the book… We’re told we must read, “Everything the words say… NO MATTER WHAT.” And that’s when the brightly colored jabberwocky begins unwinding — slowly but steadily — climbing toward a crescendo of brightly colored nonsense words caterwauling across the page in gleeful abandon. Kids (and their parents) laugh till the tears roll down. Talk about bringing the joy.

#2 Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon, by Patty Lovell

This one is great for instilling empathy and life lessons. Lovell’s book helps kiddos navigate the newness and nervousness of being “the outsider” — something each of us experiences at some point.

Molly Lou Melon is a bucktoothed half-pint with a voice “like a bullfrog being squeezed by a boa constrictor.

When she moves away from her hometown and her beloved granny, she has to face new challenges. Molly Lou Melon uses her unique skill set (penny-stacking on her horizontal front teeth, for starters) to overcome obstacles. The book is splashed full of lime, lemon, and turquoise illustrations by David Catrow, and reading it can only bolster the best and brightest and boldest feelings in us all.

#3 Ginny Goblin is Not Allowed to Open This Box, by David Goodner

Goodner’s story builds off every youngster’s perennial passion for monsters — albeit kindergarten-friendly ones with pea soup complexions and coveralls.

Ginny Goblin is cute and lovable and more than just a little curious. Oh, and she hates to wait. So of course, she’s handed a ginormous present and told not to open it until dinnertime. The narrator then moves the box from one out-of-reach hiding place to the next, taunting her with… . towers and serpents and moats and mountains. Vexed but not defeated, Ginny gets creative with… ninja suits and grappling hooks and ramps and catapulting goats.

Illustrated in Louis Thomas’ warm, muted earth-tones and water-color wisps, Ginny’s quest to reach the box is a rollicking good time, full of ever-escalating suspense — and some dinnertime hygiene thrown in for good measure.

#4 Dragons Love Tacos, by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmiere

If you asked the boys to name their absolute favorite, this book would probably be it. It’s clever and cute and written entirely in 2nd person, so it talks straight to them. My boys are now experts at hosting taco parties for a houseful of dragons.

They know they need costumes or accordions or maybe charades… and they’ll definitely need tacos because… title. They also know just what NOT to do so the dragons won’t get “the tummy troubles.” Because “when dragons get the tummy troubles — oh, boy.”

This book’s got it all — dragons and tacos and lists of ingredients — plus lots and lots of silliness for all.

#5 Words and Your Heart, by Kate Jane Neal

The book is paradoxically simple and profound. There’s a tiny, bobble-headed tot and her cat illustrating each major point — the descriptive power of words, the encouraging power of words, the destructive power of words, the healing power of words…. well, you get the picture.

Neal’s illustrations remind me of sweet sketches from my grandmother’s era, while the message itself is timeless. Take care with your words because what goes “into your ears can actually affect your heart (that little bit inside of you that makes you, you”).

If I were to pick a favorite book to read to my boys, this one would be mine. As an English teacher, and most importantly as a mother, there is no message closer to my heart than the care and keeping of the heart through the words we choose.

“Let’s try it together and see the difference it makes… Today, somebody’s world can be a better place because of you.”

Talk about raising good humans…

A Toast to Good Books (With Cheap Wine)

I’m no wine connoisseur. I’m certainly no wine snob. When I crack open a bottle of wine, I’m lucky if it costs more than $12.99 and isn’t a weekly special on the Publix end cap. I currently have a cheap fascination with blends. Give me an Apothic Dark or Crush, or — if I’m really feeling sexy and want to walk on the wild side — an Inferno, and I’m good to go. I don’t have the salary or the nose for much else. Plus, I tend to judge wine by its cover. I’m a sucker for a silly, satiric, or twisted label.

I do have elitist tendencies, though, when it comes to books.  I freely admit it. I am a book snob.

I would never judge a book by its cover – not even the blurbs on the back. I trust only the complexities of the prose.  I crack open a spine and inspect the contents – something that will land you in jail at the wine aisles of Ingles or a Kroger, but is perfectly acceptable in a book store or library. So I crack it open, and I sip. Complexities of the grape – aromas, structure, tannins — mean nothing to me. But complexities of the prose – irony, structure, tone – those speak volumes to me.

There’s nothing like a nice, classic tome, creamy and dense with a velvety finish. And there’s so much variety! The rustic flavor of a Faulkner, the sharp-edged opulence of a Wilde. A tart, zesty Austen, cutting and fresh with ample high notes; or a seedy Flannery O’Connor, with ample grit and texture and intellectually satisfying end.

I don’t always go for what would be considered the high-end variety. I have my equivalent of a table wine (the sort that’s not pretentious and still has grip and plenty of body — or bodies as the case may be…): a nice murder mystery — manor house or hard boiled, either will do in a pinch. Mysteries are my guilty pleasure.

Yes, I am a book snob, but I would never judge you or anyone else on their choices. People who read books must stick together. Because, let’s face it, we are a dying breed.

I may wax poetic for days about the oily, oaked innards or the rich, buttery finish of a fine piece of fiction. But I also will listen to you go on and on about your selection, as well.  You see, no matter the year the book was bottled or the soil from which it sprung, books don’t cost you an arm and a leg (or a liver) – unless you buy in quantity – case upon case in an addiction- spun haze like I tend to do. They are far cheaper than good wine and they are ALWAYS good for you, especially in large quantities…

Give me a book store – preferably a nice, independently owned, aesthetically pleasing shop like Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi or a used one in the crook and cranny of a downtown street in Chattanooga, and I’ll wind up pleasantly pickled in prose. Alas, my hometown has neither. If I had the money and the time — and the ability to not cling Gollum-style to every novel I purchase — I would open one up. But I have this unhealthy weakness for words. I would readily spend my life savings on hard covers and literary paperbacks, just ask my husband.

I know that lending libraries are a far cheaper way to get my fix, but I prefer to maintain my own personal library the way some folks maintain their wine cellars. I’ve got shelves upon shelves lining dusky interior walls, free from damaging light and moisture and full to the brim with tantalizing, well-seasoned works. Each time I take one down, blowing the dust off its jacket with gusto, it is with tremors of lusty anticipation.

Addictions run in families. It is documented fact. And I’ve been honing the boys’ palettes since they were born. The girls are already hearty addicts…. Lately, my eldest daughter has even become my supplier. (Is it bad that I passed my habit on to my firstborn and now she contributes readily to both our dependencies?)  In the last year, she has pointed me toward two of my most recent and favorite finds: the 700-plus page epic, A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, and the novella-length, The Vegetarian by Han Kang. I highly recommend them to anyone who loves crisp, dry prose with an undercurrent of darkness and debauchery. There’s plenty of texture and intensity, with smooth finishes that range from sweet to tart to bitter. Both present honest, no-nonsense portraits of the cruel and beautiful nature of life.

I have refined taste in literature, it’s true. I stock my shelves with rich, bold, slightly hedonistic pairings that never disappoint: Wolfe & Conrad, Morrison & Atwood, Garcia-Marquez and Katherine Dunn. And unlike fine wines, fine literature — or popular fiction, whatever your taste may be — can be uncorked over and over and over again. So whether you’re into James Patterson or James Joyce, raise a cheap glass of wine to good books everywhere:

And may the best of our shelves

Match the best of ourselves.

bookslittlelife

The Postmodern Family’s Recommended Reading List for Progressive Preschoolers

A dear cousin of mine with a heart of gold and less time to herself than even I have, recently reached out to me with a blog suggestion: a recommended reading list and tutorial on how to find the time to read amidst a heaping helping of tiny humans running ’round the house.

Alas, I have plenty of recommended reads – just not too many suggestions on how to get them read while driving the juggernaut that IS motherhood with multiples. When you have two boys who are wilder than wildebeests revved up on red dye number 5, and a husband you don’t see often enough as it is, and the rather lofty goal of one blog per week to write (and writing comes slower and less-steady than a tortoise in a muck of molasses), plus a full-time job with unwieldy demands of its own, you just don’t get much reading done – or at least not the way I used to before twins. But I do accomplish a tad bit of reading — every, single night.

I’m talking about reading children’s books. To my little lads. At bedtime. And while that may not be the kind of recommended reading list my sweet cousin had in mind for my blog, I do have a couple of selections I am eager to share with you.

Both promote imagination, instill empathy, and most importantly of all, fortify young minds for the eventual challenges of adulthood.

The first is BJ Novak’s The Book with No Pictures. It is a piece of literary brilliance that sparkles with silliness and sass. It is all about the value and FUN of reading books without – you guessed it – PICTURES!

Now, as a literature teacher, reading is my bread and butter. And sadly, there are whole populations of students who take pride in the fact that they no longer read. They take pride in their own ignorance. And I’m sorry, but pride should be reserved for accomplishments and sexual preference, not ignorance! (But more on that in selection number two…)

As for The Book With No Pictures, it is full of colorful language and diversity. And I mean that literally — as in, there are lots of words in lots of different colors and lots of different fonts and sizes. There’s also an abundance of negative space on nearly every page. Novak’s book juxtaposes pared-down pages with wild and whimsical wording. The result is a little book making a big splash with a big message: Words. Are. Powerful.

And it is so true. Words are powerful, whether written or spoken. Because make no mistake about it, Novak’s book is meant to be read aloud. By adults. To kids.

Words can make us “say silly things and make silly sounds.” They can make us laugh, and sing, and see heads “made of blueberry pizza.”

Words can empower. And words can manipulate.

Words can make us believe in ourselves — or believe just the opposite.

Words are so very, very, VERY powerful.

And Novak’s work makes sure we realize their power. And my use of the word work here is quite calculated — because with good books, reading is far from passive. It should make you work. It should provoke thought and promote action. And this book stirs kids to action at a very young age. It dares them to listen, to create, to imagine, to believe.

So we’ve read our boys BJ Novak’s A Book With No Pictures nearly every night for over a year to cultivate their imaginations.

marlonnopics

The second book in my preschool recommended reading list is A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, by Jill Twiss. This one is a fairly recent find for our family. (In fact, it was only published in mid-March.) My big-hearted baby sis gave it to our boys as a birthday present. And just as we read A Book With No Pictures to cultivate active imaginations, we read Marlon Bundo to cultivate good humans.

Twiss’s book is a parody of one written by Mike Pence and featuring the pet BOTUS (Bunny of the United States), Marlon Bundo. But rather than telling the story of the bunny and his Vice President-owner, Twiss features Marlon Bundo and the love of his life, Wesley, whom he meets while hopping ‘round the grounds of the U.S. Naval Observatory. Twiss wrote it to counter the homophobia promoted by Pence and (for the most part) his political party.

Marlon Bundo sports a bow tie and Wesley wears spectacles, and they fall madly in love and want to live hoppily ever after. So they decide to marry. And their friends – like all good friends do – say, “Hooray!” But the establishment — namely, a giant Stink Bug who is In Charge and Important (even though nobody is really sure why he’s In Charge or Important) – says, “YOU CAN’T GET MARRIED!” He denies their right to love, to marriage, and to the pursuit of hoppiness. But after some lessons in electoral science as it should function — every vote counts! — the bunnies are successfully wed.

We’ve been reading this book to our boys every night for the last three months — not to promote our own political viewpoints or our dislike of the current administration (although that’s an added perk), but to teach our boys that Love is Love is Love is Love.

Because when you have several members of your extended family who share a love that the Stink Bug declares WRONG — as well as a four-year-old son who loves Disney princesses with a passion traditionally acceptable only if you are a girl — it is important to us that our boys know and understand that love is never wrong.

IMG_9638

So yes, we read A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo every night, and we hear that “Boy bunnies can marry boy bunnies and girl bunnies can marry girl bunnies” and that being “Different is not bad.”

After all, each of us is different in some way, shape, or manner…

And that is a very good thing.

And so is the fact that “Stink Bugs are temporary,” but “Love is forever.”

So there you have it. These are the two books currently on our postmodern family’s recommended reading list for progressive preschoolers. Hopefully they will cultivate bookworms out of your own little wiggle worms. And in so doing, also cultivate great humans with really good hearts and really solid senses of humor.

A Little Allegory of a Parent’s Soul

To introduce the concept of allegory to high school students, I use Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree.” It is the first book I ever remember receiving as a gift. I still have that original copy. It’s inscribed with a birthday wish and a life blessing. Its edges are tattered and curl softly from use, and its insides are  tatted up from Crayola abuse.

I loved “The Giving Tree” from the beginning, although I didn’t understand its complexity back then. Instead, I loved it for its simplicity and purity — the modest black and white sketches, and the story of the tree who loved a boy – loved a boy from every depth and breadth and height her soul could reach.

A boy and his tree. I loved it. But I didn’t get it. I didn’t.

And then I became a mom.

And KA-POW! – deeper understanding hit me like a felled oak straight to the noggin. This wasn’t merely the story of a boy and his tree. I mean it was, but darn, it was so much more, too! It was a little allegory of a parent’s soul. And for the first time ever reading that story, I cried. And ever since, every single time I read that story… I cry. I can’t even read the last line, I get so choked up.

The truth and power of its message gets to me: the unhesitating willingness of a mama to hew off whole parts of herself to raise up her young with the necessities and tools to survive in this world.

Like I said, I introduce the concept of allegory to my high school juniors – and they can see it, the multiple meanings hidden in its seemingly simplistic lines. They see the sacrifices the tree makes to keep her boy happy. They see her wide-open love through the gifts of her leaves and her apples; they see the unflinching sacrifice of her limbs and her trunk; and they think they understand the final grand gesture in the giving of her shriveled, old stump. Yes, they can definitely see it. And they think they get it. They interpret the allegory in one of two ways…

Some of my students connect it to parental love – those blessed enough to have parents who have shown them true, unconditional love.

But sadly, some don’t get it at all because some of my students haven’t felt that sort of love from their moms and dads. The stories I hear — the stories I see – students whose parents have left them surfing couches in friends’ houses, students whose parents are locked away in jail or whose love is locked away in addiction, students who are parenting siblings — students mere saplings themselves — playing the role of the Giving Tree.

It’s an impossible task for them. They lack the depth and breadth and height of maturity: their leaves are too tender, their fruit is too green, their roots are too shallow to support and sustain another soul, much less themselves. Their stories are enough to crack open a planet-full of hearts and send them weeping.

And speaking of planets… some of my students see another allegorical interpretation: humanity’s blatant misuse of Mother Earth and her resources. In this version, the boy takes and takes and takes with no regard for the Giving Tree’s sacrifice – the more he needs, the more he takes until there’s nothing left but a shriveled-up stump – and even that gets used.

And yes, the depletion of our planet’s resources is a valid and compelling argument — easily seen and scientifically supported, regardless of those who might say otherwise. And in this political climate – when the Environmental Protection Agency is being run by a fossil fuel magnate and the current POTUS is playing a nuclear-annihilation game of chicken with his Asian doppelganger, it is an interpretation with grave importance.

But I prefer the little allegory of a parent’s soul. And I really do believe it was Silverstein’s intent. Because after each sacrifice, after each leaf and apple and branch and trunk that is taken, his prose simply reads: And the Tree was happy.

And the earth cannot be happy being plundered and pillaged. That just cannot prove true.

But as a parent, that happiness statement rings true every single time. When my girls need me. When my boys need me. When my small and humble breasts sustained them all as infants. When my wide and ample hips carried them all as toddlers. When my long and lanky arms surround them as both youngsters and adults. When my eager, willing heart beats for all four of them always and forever with joyful abandon… I am happy.

For them, I would give all. Willingly. And happily.

That’s how I know “The Giving Tree” is a little allegory of a parent’s soul.

This past week, I introduced my boys to Silverstein’s masterpiece – my original, 45-year-old birthday book, its edges all tattered and curled from use, its insides all tatted with Crayola abuse. My boys were mesmerized. They loved it: the simplicity and purity of its prose, the modest black and white of its sketches.

This story of a tree who loved a boy is timeless. This story of a tree that readily hands out huge chunks of herself never gets old. The tree herself may get old. She may lose apples and branches, and her tattoos — if she had any — may wrinkle like that ME + T heart scratched into the core of her being, but no matter what, if her kid finds happiness, that tree finds happiness.  No matter the hardship, the struggle, the pain…

Yes, my boys loved the book.

And this tree was happy.

giving tree

 

A Toast to Good Books (With Cheap Wine)

I’m no wine connoisseur. I’m certainly no wine snob. When I crack open a bottle of wine, I’m lucky if it costs more than $12.99 and isn’t a weekly special on the Publix end cap. I currently have a cheap fascination with blends. Give me an Apothic Dark or Crush, or — if I’m really feeling sexy and want to walk on the wild side — an Inferno, and I’m good to go. I don’t have the salary or the nose for much else. Plus, I tend to judge wine by its cover. I’m a sucker for a silly, satiric, or twisted label.

I do have elitist tendencies, though, when it comes to books.  I freely admit it. I am a book snob.

I would never judge a book by its cover – not even the blurbs on the back. I trust only the complexities of the prose.  I crack open a spine and inspect the contents – something that will land you in jail at the wine aisles of Ingles or a Kroger, but is perfectly acceptable in a book store or library. So I crack it open, and I sip. Complexities of the grape – aromas, structure, tannins — mean nothing to me. But complexities of the prose – irony, structure, tone – those speak volumes to me.

There’s nothing like a nice, classic tome, creamy and dense with a velvety finish. And there’s so much variety! The rustic flavor of a Faulkner, the sharp-edged opulence of a Wilde. A tart, zesty Austen, cutting and fresh with ample high notes; or a seedy Flannery O’Connor, with ample grit and texture and intellectually satisfying end.

I don’t always go for what would be considered the high-end variety. I have my equivalent of a table wine (the sort that’s not pretentious and still has grip and plenty of body — or bodies as the case may be…): a nice murder mystery — manor house or hard boiled, either will do in a pinch. Mysteries are my guilty pleasure.

Yes, I am a book snob, but I would never judge you or anyone else on their choices. People who read books must stick together. Because, let’s face it, we are a dying breed.

I may wax poetic for days about the oily, oaked innards or the rich, buttery finish of a fine piece of fiction. But I also will listen to you go on and on about your selection, as well.  You see, no matter the year the book was bottled or the soil from which it sprung, books don’t cost you an arm and a leg (or a liver) – unless you buy in quantity – case upon case in an addiction- spun haze like I tend to do. They are far cheaper than good wine and they are ALWAYS good for you, especially in large quantities…

Give me a book store – preferably a nice, independently owned, aesthetically pleasing shop like Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi or a used one in the crook and cranny of a downtown street in Chattanooga, and I’ll wind up pleasantly pickled in prose. Alas, my hometown has neither. If I had the money and the time — and the ability to not cling Gollum-style to every novel I purchase — I would open one up. But I have this unhealthy weakness for words. I would readily spend my life savings on hard covers and literary paperbacks, just ask my husband.

I know that lending libraries are a far cheaper way to get my fix, but I prefer to maintain my own personal library the way some folks maintain their wine cellars. I’ve got shelves upon shelves lining dusky interior walls, free from damaging light and moisture and full to the brim with tantalizing, well-seasoned works. Each time I take one down, blowing the dust off its jacket with gusto, it is with tremors of lusty anticipation.

Addictions run in families. It is documented fact. And I’ve been honing the boys’ palettes since they were born. The girls are already hearty addicts…. Lately, my eldest daughter has even become my supplier. (Is it bad that I passed my habit on to my firstborn and now she contributes readily to both our dependencies?)  In the last year, she has pointed me toward two of my most recent and favorite finds: the 700-plus page epic, A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, and the novella-length, The Vegetarian by Han Kang. I highly recommend them to anyone who loves crisp, dry prose with an undercurrent of darkness and debauchery. There’s plenty of texture and intensity, with smooth finishes that range from sweet to tart to bitter. Both present honest, no-nonsense portraits of the cruel and beautiful nature of life.

I have refined taste in literature, it’s true. I stock my shelves with rich, bold, slightly hedonistic pairings that never disappoint: Wolfe & Conrad, Morrison & Atwood, Garcia-Marquez and Katherine Dunn. And unlike fine wines, fine literature — or popular fiction, whatever your taste may be — can be uncorked over and over and over again. So whether you’re into James Patterson or James Joyce, raise a cheap glass of wine to good books everywhere:

And may the best of our shelves

Match the best of ourselves.

bookslittlelife

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