Books to Read During Your At-Home Haircut

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I’m surprisingly cheap.

(My parents are the most surprised, let me tell you, and perhaps wish the onset of my thriftiness had been a little sooner.)

This frugality is the reason I overreact to spills, scrape every last bit of sour cream out of the container, and still wear shirts from high school. BUT it’s also the reason we have a beautiful mid-century desk for $0 (thank you Buy Nothing!), garage sale treasures galore, and . . . wait for it . . . home haircuts.

When my husband and I married, my mother-in-law gave me a haircutting kit, explaining that cutting hair was, “the only thing I still do for him.” My husband viewed this as a purely symbolic gift, and proceeded to make an appointment at SUPERCUTS as soon as he felt it was necessary.

Luckily, after paying for thirty minutes of excruciating small talk with a stranger (in addition to, you know, the haircut),  he agreed to let me try, and I now have almost thirteen years experience cutting one man’s hair. Pretty handy right now, hmm?

Unfortunately, this doesn’t make me an expert, and I totally butchered my son’s first haircut. (See “before” picture above; don’t I look optimistic? I’ll spare you the “after.”)

I got better with time, but when my daughter’s first haircut rolled around many years later, I wasn’t confident enough to ruin her beautiful hair. So to my stylist we went. (Yes, my stylist; I don’t recall my mother giving Marcus a Madison Reed gift card on our wedding day.)

I thought this might be a fun mother-daughter date, but my girl was very serious. When she sat in the chair, she was blinking back tears and gritting her teeth. We tried reassuring her, but she just stared stoically forward as if we were amputating a limb or something.

When it was finally over, she looked shocked. She said, “That’s it?”

Then she shuddered with relief and began to sob.

She thought we were cutting it all off.

Like her brother’s.

 

Good luck with those home haircuts and happy reading!

 

For much silliness, check out, The Hair of Zoe Fleefenbacher Goes to School.

 

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut (Denene Millner Books) by [Derrick Barnes, Gordon C. James]

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut is absolutely wonderful. I want a copy in every classroom, because it “hooks up your intellectual.”

 

Check out Wilfred for some fabulous hair-sharing.

 

Speaking of hair-sharing, don’t forget about Jo March‘s “one beauty.”

 

If you’re wondering what my son’s first haircut looked like, just imagine it to be somewhere in the neighborhood of Henry Huggins‘s at-home cut.

 

I first saw the short film Hair Love as a preview before Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, and I felt that it alone was worth the cost of admission.

 

My Hair is a Garden,is a lovely read celebrating natural black hair.

 

Don’t Touch My Hair is an important read, fun and firm.

 

Sif and the Dwarfs' Treasures (Thunder Girls Book 2) by [Joan Holub, Suzanne Williams]

For tiny and big-kid myth-lovers, check out Joan Holub’s Brush Your Hair Medusa and/or Sif and the Dwarfs’ Treasures, for two young women with powerful hair.

 

And what would a hair post be without a few Rapunzels thrown in? Check out versions by Rachel Isadora, Bethan Woollvin, and Paul O. Zelinsky

 

Happy reading!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Pigeon HAS to Go to School (But the Rest of Us Can’t)

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Thanks to the coronavirus, the homeschool community just grew exponentially.

(Or not. No judgment from me if you’re taking it easy during this stressful time.)

Our schools aren’t (yet?) holding online classes, so we’re on our own for any school we want to do at home, and I am not-so-secretly loving it.

Lounge-wear all day? Uninterrupted family time? Plenty of hours for all the things I intend to do with the kids but never have time for because of school-ballet-piano-robotics-and-playdates?? Freedom to learn whatever we want?? I am in unqualified-teacher heaven. Doing my part never felt so good.

(Disclaimer, if I all of a sudden had to do my full-time paid work from home plus being a full-time homeschool teacher, this wouldn’t feel nearly as fun. Same goes for if we lost jobs, if any of our loved ones were sick, if a very special trip had been canceled, or even if my kids were complaining about homeschool. I have a very low threshold for complaining, especially when under-caffeinated.)

So what are we doing (besides pretending it’s not spring break because Astronaut Scott Kelly told us schedules are important during isolated times)?

Below is our “Fabulous Asby Family Schedule,” and the books that are helping us along the way. We don’t get to everything every day, and the timing is very loose. Oh, and there aren’t really zero complaints. I just give them the option to take them back. My daughter can’t handle failure yet. She hasn’t read Mindset.

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WRITING

Don’t Forget to Write is full of interesting, ready-to-go lessons, beginning with “Tragic Love Tales,” and ending with “The Illustrated Book Report.” It has made our writing block not only easy but really fun. I highly recommend!

 

If you’re looking for a (much) shorter writing block, Q&A a Day for Kids is a great choice. The prompts aren’t boring (“Do you like to feel safe? Or do you like adventure?”), and there’s enough space to write a really good sentence or two. I encourage my kids to use at least one interesting word, to try to say something surprising but true, and to write neatly. This will not only keep their writing skills from getting too rusty, but it will also be a very special keepsake.

 

SCIENCE

 

The Curious Kid’s Science Book is fabulous.

But we’re not using it.

In fact, I was feeling really unqualified to teach science. Growing up, one of the science teachers in my hometown told us she was required to teach evolution, but we weren’t required to believe it, if that gives you any idea. I took oceanography as a science credit in college, and chemistry only because it involved a lot of math. If I had had any interest in science, I’m sure I could have found resources to fill the gaps in my knowledge (my brother, now a physician, certainly did). But I was content to read as many books and plays as my heart desired and leave the hypothesizing and experimenting to others.

So what are we doing? Well, first we just read biographies of scientists that we happened to have in the house. The kids found my attempts disgustingly lackluster, and asked their dad to buy Mentos and soda the next time he braved the grocery store. I’m not sure what happened after that. I wasn’t involved.

Things started to turn around when I realized that there’s science in bread-making and I love to make bread. From there, we watched videos about why bread rises, discovered yeast is a fungus that eats sugar and emits carbon dioxide and alcohol (not magic bread dust after all, then). Then we fell down the rabbit hole of pathogens, studying viruses and bacteria alongside our fungi. When Papa came home from the clinic, he became our “expert” at dinner, answering questions and giving more information. All this fabulous learning culminated in a hilarious puppet show, with handmade puppets, including bacteria, antibiotics, viruses, white blood cells, fungi, antifungal cream, vaccines, and zombies (it made sense, I promise). That puppet show exceeded all my expectations and proves that even English majors can make it through the science portion of homeschooling during this crazy time.

POETRY

Memorizing poetry! This is one of my favorite parts of homeschool. I’ll start by reading a poem or two, and then the kids run off with a book of their choice (Mary Oliver for my son, Emily Dickinson for my daughter usually), and memorize whatever they like. A dining room chair serves as our “stage,” for recitations.

The very short chapters in What is Poetry are a good starting point before you set your kids off on their own. You could also try this one:

 

Knock at a Star will also teach your kids a little about what poems can do as you read through the examples.

For more on poetry, check out my longer poetry recommendations!

 

MATH

We’re honestly just using online resources for math, but here are a few fun math books to get you started:

If you love the Bedtime Math app, but you don’t want your kids looking at another screen, they make books, too! 

 

I love a little feminism with my math, don’t you?

 

Which One Doesn’t Belong? is not your average shape book. It encourages creative thinking and (surprisingly) appeals to a wide range of ages.

 

I used some of the brain teasers in Adler’s Easy Math Puzzles with my TAG students when I volunteered in a math pull-out program. They’re all very short, but would be fun as an ice breaker or if you’re just trying to a little something each day.

 

Fractions are fun in The Cookie Fiasco by Dan Santat

 

One Grain of Rice shows the power of doubling and a very clever young woman.

 

For more advanced math in story form, check out the Sir Cumference series.

 

EVERYTHING ELSE

For art, we’re working our way through Vincent’s Starry Night, and throwing in a few projects, like Mo Willems’s Lunch Doodles or making science puppets:

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For philosophy/counseling, we’re reading Big Ideas for Curious Minds: An Introduction to Philosophy, which has been incredibly relatable for my kids.

 

Esperanza Rising (Scholastic Gold) by [Ryan, Pam Muñoz]

For history, we’re following the kids’ interests. For example, they asked earlier this week about the Great Depression, so we watched a few videos on Youtube summarizing the crisis, and then started reading Esperanza Rising, about a young migrant farm worker during that time period.

 

For programming, the kids are programming their First Lego League and FLL Jr. robots, but they are also using the free resource Scratch alongside these two awesome coding guides: Coding Projects in Scratch and Coding Games in Scratch.

 

Hang in there and happy learning!

 

 The Pigeon Has to Go to School. 

 

 

 

 

 

Books for Grammar Fiends and Their Offspring

One of the many reasons people tell you you should read to your children, is that it will enhance their vocabulary. This sort of feels like telling people they should eat chocolate for the antioxidants, but it is in fact true. If you’re looking for an excuse for a self-indulgent, close-the-laptop, leave-the-dishes-in-the-sink, reading marathon, it’s a good one.

Also, the growing pains are hilarious.

From my daughter – “Mom, is school subdued today?” No, it’s not canceled. “Oh, yeah. It’s only snowing vaguely.”

Someday, maybe when my kids are new parents, I would love to gift them a book of their Amy-Marchisms, but since that seems unlikely to ever come to fruition, I’ll have to settle for reading these delightful books, celebrating words, grammar, and all things nerdy-English-major.

 

Mom and Dad are Palindromes was a surprise favorite at the Asby house. It definitely proves that grammar can be hilarious.

 

For more grammar fun, check out either the grown-up or kid version of Eats, Shoots & Leaves.

 

Stegothesaurus makes me laugh every time.

 

We plan to use Don’t Forget to Write in our little Asby-family-writing-intensive this summer. It was exactly the resource I was looking for, which wasn’t surprising, given Dave Eggers’s endorsement.

 

And of course, the queen of wordplay has something to contribute with I Scream Ice Cream.

 

If you can’t get enough homonyms, check out Llamaphones, a board book the grown-ups will enjoy, too.

 

An Inconvenient Alphabet is a great read for any . . . um, creative . . . spellers out there.

 

I didn’t think a children’s dictionary could be very interesting, but Big Words for Little Geniuses surprised me! Plus it’s a great gift for your favorite nerdy parent.

 

Wait, what am I saying? Of course a picture book dictionary can be interesting. Amy Krouse Rosenthal taught me that, too.

 

And for older readers who are ready to break the rules, who abhor the restrictions of traditional grammar, they will always find a kindred spirit in ee cummings:

 

Happy Reading!

Sharing Your Reading Heritage with Your Child

My son was trying to locate a copy of Lord of the Flies this month, but accidentally picked up The Hunger Games instead. Trapped kids, lots of violence, an easy mistake to make. I decided to read alongside him, so I plunked my bookmark in with his. He would read a bit, I would catch up. I would read a bit, he would catch up. It was all fun and games (games! ha!) until I got hooked and my bookmark was speeding along at a frankly obnoxious rate. How were we supposed to talk about the book if I kept reading ahead after bedtime? Did I care about him at all??

In my defense, I dare any of you to read only one chapter of The Hunger Games and walk away without a parent making you go to sleep.

This recent parallel-reading made me think of how special it is to share books that are part of my life story, books that help me answer the request for, “Tell me stories of when you were little!” Because it’s hard to separate young Meg from The Baby-Sitters Club or Little Women or “The Tell-Tale Heart” (I had my eccentricities).

My son finally did get a copy of Lord of the Flies, and I was itching to tell my very bitter story-of-when-I-was-little, but I couldn’t because, alas, it involved a spoiler. I’ll share it here, if you promise to stop reading right now if you haven’t read Lord of the Flies, because then I would be a hypocrite and have to let go of my resentment, which would be a shame.

I will preface this story by saying that this high school teacher did many really fun things, like assign costumed skits and coach academic teams, and was truly hardworking. She never shirked her responsibilities and we always had something productive to do.

And yet.

She liked to summarize novels as she passed them out. 

Visualize: My teacher begins to pass out a stack of copies of Lord of the Flies. She stands at her podium and says, “You’re going to need to know this. Piggy dies.”

Of course, I was appalled, furious, in full teenage revolt. During a following lecture, I placed my fingers in my ears and hummed softly. When she (very reasonably) asked me what I thought I was doing, I told the truth. “I just don’t want to know what happens before I read the book.”

I don’t remember her response, but she may have countered with, “I want the major plot points to stick with you so that the rest of your life you’ll remember what happened in Lord of the Flies, and understand any reference to it.”

And since I’ve forgotten everything that happens in Lord of the Flies besides Piggy’s death and deus ex machina, maybe reasonable people can disagree.

Maybe.

You know you have stories like this. Stories of the first time you read Anne of Green Gables or The Giver or The Secret Garden. Stories of getting lost in an assigned Dickens novel that you foolishly thought was going to be boring because it was a “classic.” Did you think you hated books until you read Ender’s Game?

My children have never felt closer to their Uncle Johnny than when reading the Harry Potter series. They, who rarely have to wait for anything to read, loved imagining him standing in line in the middle of the night for the release of the next book. 

Or maybe you have stories of where you liked to read. I favored climbing into the top cabinet in our bathroom with a flashlight, but, again, eccentricities.

Did you have a favorite teacher who read aloud to your class? I will never forget sobbing through Number the Stars with dear Mrs. Pierce and our sixth grade class. Or reading Pink and Say with Mrs. Vincent. Or the many, many plays we read in the round with the brilliant Mrs. Jackson.

Did a story change you? Did reading The Chronicles of Narnia make you believe in God or did His Dark Materials make you doubt? Did a novel alert you to your own goodness or cruelty? Did it help you forgive? Did Marie Kondo make you tidy your closets?

Still stretching for stories beyond I-liked-this-book-when-I-was-your-age? How did you access your books? Bookstore, library, classroom, generous neighbor? Remember those monthly scholastic book order forms? How about Baby-Sitters Club subscriptions (maybe that was just me)?

Do you remember your library? Our elementary school library had a reading bathtub in the center of it, stuffed with pillows (I’m not even kidding). Even things you think may be boring (card catalogues, for example) may intrigue your kids (how did you put books on hold before computers?).

Sharing your reading heritage with your child can make what is already the best part of parenting (reading with them!) an even deeper source of connection.

Your stories are there. Just start talking.

 

I love The Hunger Games for the characters, for how real they are from the first chapter. I sob in the earliest pages of The Hunger Games, the period when usually, in most novels, I’m still getting acquainted with the protagonist and have very little emotional investment. (Pro tip: The audiobook version is terrible. Please read this one on paper.)

 

Lord of the Flies – You’re going to need to know this . . .

 

Aslan will always give me chills, no matter how many times I’ve read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. “‘Course he isn’t safe.”

 

Another favorite from Uncle Johnny, so glad to know Lyra and Will.

 

Little Women

 

The Charles Dickens Collection

 

Didn’t really expect to juxtapose The Baby-Sitters Club and Dickens in a post, but . . .

 

In case you’re itching to read “The Tell-Tale Heart” again

 

Anne with an e

 

The Giver by Lois Lowry

 

The Secret Garden

My husband couldn’t wait to read this one to our son. 

 

Happy reading!

In Praise of Audiobooks

A friend recently asked me if audiobooks “count.”

If by count, you mean are they the best gift to always-optimizing, hyper-scheduled human beings, that they make drugery magical and car rides infinitely more enjoyable, that they are the greatest technological advance of all time, then . . .

YES.

(Okay, no, that last bit is hyperbole, but it feels true.)

There seem to be many people who “love to read” but haven’t read since childhood, grown-ups who remember the March family antics better than their own, but can’t remember the last time they read anything they couldn’t scroll through while waiting in line at a food cart (this is Portland we’re talking about).

I read eighty-three books last year, and that clearly isn’t because my life allows for lots of lounging in the hammock. You, too, can read more than a book a week and – this is the magical bit – without changing one thing on your schedule. Here’s what you need to know:

Getting the Audiobooks

If you’re willing to spend some money to make the process a breeze, subscriptions like Scribd or Audible provide audiobooks on your smartphone, making access incredibly easy. I prefer Scribd because there are no limits, but I honestly don’t use either service unless someone gifts it to me for a holiday, because I’m incredibly cheap.

If you, too, want to pay zero dollars for your fun, the library is your friend. Most libraries have an app for your smartphone (our county uses Libby). You should immediately fill up your holds with books you are interested in reading. Every time you hear of a title you’d like to read, put it on hold. When you pick up your phone to scroll through Instagram, tap the library app first and put a few titles on hold. By using this system, you will always have books arriving in your loans category and will be able to choose what you feel like reading and won’t have to wait on a hold request.

If you’re a little more old-school, just check out audio CDs at the library. They’re easy and safe for kids to use (no web browsing to tempt or distract), and in our many years of checking out audiobook discs, we’ve only had one that was too scratched to play.

When to Listen

The list is truly endless here. I read my own books during any task that doesn’t require headspace: dishes, laundry, making the bed, chopping vegetables. Just wait. You will actually be thrilled to clean your bathroom when the latest Ann Patchett novel pops up in your loans.

Don’t forget the car. Oh my goodness, the car. When my kids are tired and cranky from the crazy extroverted environment that is school, they are more likely than not going to fight over something ridiculous, like the fact that one must have known the other was thinking of picking up that book or that the other is singing a song that is too scary (i.e., in a minor key). The solution to all your car woes is to turn on one of the Harry Potter books and let J.K. Rowling solve your problems. No parenting necessary.

My kids also listen while building LEGO sets, having a snack, getting ready for bed. If you are listening as a family at home, I highly recommend getting a small, portable speaker to connect to your phone or laptop, to avoid the inevitable, “Shh!! I can’t hear!!”

Bonus Benefits

In The Read-Aloud Family, Sarah Mackenzie shares the story of a woman who says that C.S. Lewis’s Aslan will always have the voice of her father. I love that idea, that my kids will hear my voice when they think of Jo March or Anne Shirley. At the same time, I also recognize that Jim Dale’s Hagrid sounds a lot more like a half-giant than my version. If you have any self-conscious feelings about reading aloud to your child, whether because English isn’t your first language or because you feel silly doing voices or just because you’re tired, audiobooks are ideal, especially if you listen alongside your child.

You may think your read-aloud days are done the second your child reads her first Elephant and Piggie book, but it’s really not true. My husband and I are grown-ups (mostly) and we still read to each other; we’re in the middle of Mistborn right now. We feel very strongly about never aging out, and audiobooks are the perfect bridge to keep the read-aloud spirit alive in your family.  If your tweens cringe at the thought of being read to, they may not object to listening to an audiobook in the car. Or, well, even if they do, you can say it’s just for you and wait for them to get sucked in.

Below are a few of our favorite audiobooks. Enjoy and happy listening!

 

If you’re listening to Palacio’s Wonder in the car, make sure you have tissues. And maybe skip the mascara that day.

 

Stockard Channing and Neil Patrick Harris are practically family at this point, thanks to years of listening to them read The Ramona Quimby Audio Collection and The Henry Huggins Audio Collection

 

Jessica Almasy sounds exactly like Clementine. Lots of giggles as we listened to this one.

 

Tom Hanks reading Ann Patchett. TOM HANKS reading ANN PATCHETT! What are you waiting for?

 

Jim Dale has been our constant companion over the past few months. I think the entire Asby family is going to mourn when we finish Book Seven.

 

Enjoy!

 

Books for Santa’s Biggest Fans

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When my son was in preschool, I was eating brownies with a bunch of moms, listening to them chat about the verbal acrobatics required to keep the magic of Santa a reality in their house. Oh, look what you found! Santa must have made an early delivery! No, Santa’s not watching you sleep, that’s just a silly song. Of course you’re not naughtier than Emma! Santa brought her that giant swing-set to share with nice friends like you.

They asked me how I handle tricky Santa questions with my son, and I said, “Oh, he knows Santa is pretend.”

[Silence.]

Maybe you are feeling as shocked as my friends looked in that moment, but reader, let me assure you, the kids are all right.

With my son, he asked point blank if Santa was real or pretend and we answered honestly because that felt right to us. We are considerate magic-breakers, though, so we told him it would ruin the fun of the pretend if he told friends, “Santa’s actually not real.” He played it cool.

With my (not so quiet) daughter it was a little trickier. She got a modified version: “We [as in, the parents] don’t believe in Santa, but we can’t prove he doesn’t exist. If he only comes to those who believe, then how would we know?”

My son decided this was interesting and wanted to set up an experiment. I mean, you can’t just take your parents’ word for it, right?

They left cookies out for Santa and made us promise not to eat them. I was worried they would be disappointed on Christmas (we were going to keep our no-cookie promise), so they decided that if the cookies were still there in the morning, they could eat them when they woke. Win, win.

Despite the fact that we are shameful Santa heretics, we really do LOVE reading about Santa. I get chill bumps every time I read The Polar Express, and today when my seven-year-old walked in and saw all the wrapped presents under the tree (I was a busy elf today), she said, “Santa came early! [Then stage whispered] I know he’s not real, I just like to pretend.”

The following are lovely read-alouds, whatever your feelings about Ol’ Saint Nick.

Because it’s magical every time. 

 

Everything by William Joyce is an adventure, and Santa Calls is no exception.

 

Baum’s The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus is a longer read, perfect for big fans.

 

Here Comes Santa Cat is as delightfully silly as it sounds.

 

Even more silliness in The Day Santa Stopped Believing in Harold

 

Santa from Cincinnati is a coming of age story for the boy who would become everyone’s favorite gift-giver.

 

And for your favorite little bear, check out Where Teddy Bears Come From

 

And Welcome Comfort by Patricia Polacco to tug at your heartstrings

 

Happy Reading and Merry Christmas!