Quarantining with the Melendys

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I like to sort books into categories in my mind, made-up groups you won’t find on the aisles of Powell’s, but nonetheless very real categories in Meg’s Brain. One favorite dichotomy of mine is “books that inspire reflection” and “books that inspire action.” Inactivity vs. Implementation. Ease vs. Execution. Jane Eyre makes me want to sit in a hammock, and Pride and Prejudice makes me want to walk.

During a masked jaunt through the woods near our home, a neighbor of mine recommend The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright. She thought of me, because in the story four siblings basically orchestrate their own Yes Days by pooling their allowance and giving it to one sibling each week: a perfect Saturday for each kid, every fourth week. She offered to lend it to us, but – because borrowing is stressful – we waited on a library copy.

The Saturdays (Melendy Quartet Book 1) by [Elizabeth Enright]

How had I not heard of this series? Because, oh yes, there are four – The Melendy Quartet, and each one is lovely in its own right. My son asked if there were, “Any battles? Any magic? Not interested, then,” so I read it aloud to my daughter. As soon as we finished the series, she begged her brother to read it, too, but they wanted it to be a family affair, so we literally put down book four and picked up book one and began again.

The Saturdays is empowering and shocking (each kid successfully navigates New York City alone and has a mildly dazzling adventure). The next three books take place after the family leaves the city for country life in a home called The Four-Story Mistake. Then There Were Five is the heaviest of the books and the only one with a truly scary part, but Enright handles it with a fairly light touch. The title sort of gives away the ending, but these books are more cozy than stressful, so I didn’t mind. Spiderweb for Two takes place after the eldest children go off to high school in the city and – to my delight – features the two youngest Melendys. Practical, reasonable little Oliver is my favorite, and he finally gets the spotlight in book four, which chronicles a mysterious, year-long scavenger hunt navigated by Oliver and his big sister Randy.

All four books have a backdrop of WWII, but it’s never at the center of the story. You’ll read about weeding the victory garden, but that’s about as close as you get. Like Little House on the Prairie or Huckleberry Finn, The Melendy Quartet is problematic. It shouldn’t be the only thing your kids are reading, and I recommend reading it with your children, so you can remind them why it’s never okay to call a human being a savage, for example, or make sure they understand the terrible racism that Japanese Americans endured during and after the war. We were simultaneously reading Brown Girl Dreaming, but I wish I’d thought to pair our reading with a book about the internment. It’s important to know what young Japanese American kids were doing while the Melendys were building a dam in their brook or putting on a play in their dining room. You could always pick up the picture book Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They Left Behind, to read alongside.

The Melendy Quartet falls firmly in the inspire-to-action category, so what did the Melendys inspire the Asbys to do? My kids put on a play in our basement, complete with backdrop, lighting (see photo above) and costumes. They wanted to can fruits and vegetables but settled for baking (it was winter, after all, and we have no victory garden anyway). They memorized poetry like Mona, practiced piano like Rush, begged to go fishing like Oliver, painted and danced like Randy, and even got their first job collecting mail for a neighbor (the money went to their college funds, rather than war bonds). I suppose I’ll have to improve our annual birthday scavenger hunts, now that the Melendys have discovered a clue in an abandoned oriole’s nest. And if we hadn’t already adopted our pup Quimby, I think the Melendy family dog and hero Isaac would have pushed us over the edge. My kids are currently lobbying for a treehouse like Rush’s. So you’ve been warned. Picking up this series means committing to at least a project or two, possibly an animal or two: the Melendys go from city life with no animals to housing dogs, goats, horses, cows, snakes, caterpillars, chickens, and even – briefly – an alligator. Proceed with caution.

Elizabeth Enright wrote stories for both children and adults, and if you’ve been trudging through some kid favorites with awkward writing and are on the verge of giving up reading to your children forever, fear not! Enright’s prose is clever and clean, and she has the gift of remembering how children think, in the spirit of Beverly Cleary. Each Melendy child has a unique soul, and I feel as if they are real people in the world I share with my children. You will love these books as much as your children do, if not more. Put it on the shelf next to Little Women, and enjoy.

Happy Melendy-inspired adventuring!

This Week’s Best of the Virtual Book Bag

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It is pouring down rain here in Portland, perfect book weather. Although, my spouse reminds me, that if it were sunny and 70 degrees I would say it’s perfect read-in-the-hammock weather, and if it were snowing, I’d say it’s perfect read-by-the-fire weather. When the air was toxic with smoke, it was perfect read-in-the-safety-of-your-home weather, I suppose.

We loved so many of our finds at the library this week that it was honestly hard to make my kids do virtual school. I may or may not have let them skip P.E., valuable as burpees in front of a Chromebook may be.

Here’s what we were doing instead of jumping jacks this week:

I picked this one because it’s set in Texas (my home state) and it won the Newbery. It sat on our virtual shelf for ages, because my son is always, always, always going to pick something with fighting or magic or at the very least a male protagonist. A turn-of-the-twentieth-century story about a young girl and her relationship with her grandfather just couldn’t compete. I finally asked him to let me start the first chapter, and on the first page he was hooked. So was I, and not just for the nostalgia (sticker burrs!) – Calpurnia is such an honest character: hilarious, practical, infinitely curious. I loved her from the first moment and all the way through. The ironic quotes from The Origin of Species at the head of every chapter are brilliant, and your child will learn so much science along the way without even realizing it. It’s like sneaking spinach into brownies. I would say almost every child will love this story, whether they are into science, family relationships, crushes, history, or a little bit of silliness (the painted turkeys!); there is something for every kiddo in this book. We are going to dive right into the sequel next. Don’t forget to read it like a Texan (git, not get, remember?).

And speaking of grandfatherly mentors . . .

Gossamer by Lois Lowry

After telling his family how spectacular his classroom read-aloud Gossamer is, my son promptly forbade us from reading it because he was afraid of spoilers. After promising up and down and sideways and even swearing by the river Styx, my daughter and I finally received the right to read Gossamer, gasp, before his class finished it. We have system requirements – closed door, sound machine, whispered reading, but all the hoopla is worth it because, well, Lois Lowry. The chapters are short, so it’s easy to say, “Okay just one more chapter,” and feel like a grandma instead of a parent. We are about halfway through and have already had an absolutely delicious sob together. Lowry manages to make you love a character who says and does truly cruel things, and if there was ever a book to help you understand that hurting people hurt people, it’s this one. Empathy abounds in this read-aloud.

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys and Reader, I Married Him edited by Tracy Chevalier

When I told my husband about Reader, I Married Him, a collection of short stories inspired by Jane Eyre, all written by women, he asked if I had read Wide Sargasso Sea yet. I hadn’t. Jane Eyre is my go-to pick-me-up book, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to encounter the same characters in a more depressing format. I know, I know – a book about an abused orphan who faces trial after trial is a pick-me-up? Yes. Jane’s grit and resilience and faith in her own worth despite the world’s scorn, and the happy ending that she writes herself, her agency (“Reader, I married him,” not “Reader, he married me”), all of these can make me feel incredibly happy during what may feel like day nine-thousand of rain and grey skies here in Portland. But I checked Wide Sargasso Sea out at the library, because now I was curious. I read it in one gulp (it’s not very long), sobbed a cathartic cry, and then sobbed a mournful cry for the loss of my Mr. Rochester. I thought Wide Sargasso Sea would be like the short stories in Reader, I Married Him, connected but clearly separate. For example, in one of the short stories, Grace Poole is secretly the mother of Adele, which was an interesting idea, but felt like a clear departure from the original. Wide Sargasso Sea, however, tells a story both so faithful to the plot, and such a heartbreakingly different narrative, that I may never be able to read Mr. Rochester the same way again. He was already messy and complicated (which was one of the things I loved about the book, honestly). But now . . . well, you’ve been warned. My husband, by the way, claims no responsibility for ruining, perhaps forever, my relationship with the original. “I only asked if you had read it. I didn’t recommend it.”

If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino

My husband is on a Calvino kick and started reading If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler this week. He read a bit of the introduction to me, and I promptly asked to be included in the whole thing. We’ve been reading it aloud every night (thank god basketball season is over). I’ve been surprised by how much chuckling we’ve been doing in this one. It’s early days, but it’s going in the recommend pile so far.

Happy reading, and I’d love to hear what’s in your virtual book bag this week!

Books Celebrating the Great Outdoors

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This week, when the smoke finally cleared and the air was safe to breathe, we practically skipped to the garage to load our kayaks onto our Prius (a most Portland of pairings, I think).

Because this was a moment to celebrate, we decided to drive farther than usual, to a quiet lake in Washington.

It was closed.

No worries, we live in the Pacific NW and there are beautiful natural spaces everywhere you turn. This particular lake was also a campground, and it seemed reasonable to close a campground when the risk of fire is so high. On to the next!

Second lake, closed.

Okay, hmm.

Third lake, also closed.

At this point, we bailed. This was not a kayaking trip (don’t let the kayaks and gear fool you). This was clearly a scenic drive.

Until, you know, we got caught in traffic on the highway.

Still determined to have fun, we started reading all the stickers of the cars crawling slowly by. Of course, one of the first was a “1000 Hours Outside” challenge sticker, which would have felt like cruel mockery if the family inside wasn’t clearly as stuck as we were. As I watched the wheels on their hot pink bikes spinning listlessly above their bumper sticker, I thought, “Solidarity, dude. Solidarity.”

In case you find yourself as homesick for the great outdoors as we have been this week, check out these reads celebrating everything under the sun.

Find some device-ditching inspiration in Beatrice Alemagna’s On a Magical Do-Nothing Day.

(Hey, here’s a silver lining: what if, during this season of virtual schooling, kids start associating devices with school and feel inspired to go outside to play?!)

I will be shocked if your kids aren’t racing to release feathers into the wind after reading Alison Farrell’s The Hike. (I love the labels throughout the illustrations in this fun jaunt through the woods, too!)

City-dwellers don’t despair! The outdoors are for you, too. Check out Florette, The Curious Garden, Finding Wild, or (from my favorite author-illustrator team Sarah Stewart and David Small) The Gardener.

Benjamin Flouw’s book The Golden Glow is both fun and reverent. (Plus more labels here, too!)

I haven’t read Fairy Houses All Year, but from the preview it looks like fabulous inspiration for your little fairy architects.

The Walker children spend literally their entire holiday outside in the classic Swallows and Amazons. Get ready to learn tons of nautical terms in this one. (Fair warning – you’ll have to address the colonialism and derogatory language that come up in the children’s play, but those are always important conversations to have.)

If your children have only a five degree window of weather they are willing to enjoy, try the tips and tricks and general enthusiasm in McGurk’s There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather.

Happy reading!!

RBG

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Image Credit: Bijou Karman, The Atlantic

My daughter went through a serious Ruth Bader Ginsberg fan phase when she was pretty tiny. She would put a towel on her shoulders as a sort of cape, say, “Ruth . . . Bader . . . GINSBERG!” and jump off the bed into the air. Our hearts are broken this week, but I know the legacy of RBG will live on in strong young women, like my daughter.

Happy reading, and strap on those capes.

I Dissent is my daughter’s favorite. (She’s a big fan of dissenting in general.)

No Truth Without Ruth by Kathleen Krull and Nancy Zhang

And for the tiniest of RBG fans, check out I Look Up To Ruth Bader Ginsburg .

Whining is Not So Bad When It’s Done in Verse

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I have a very low tolerance for whining, especially the nonsensical kind.

When my kids say, “I have to eat all this zucchini?? It’s so much!!” I hear, “I scorn the hour you spent on Instagram looking for the perfect recipe for zucchini sauté.” When they say, “I’m not tiiiiiired!” I hear, “I have no desire to have a fully functioning brain.” When they say, “I won’t!” I hear, “I’m not even slightly reasonable.”

So when a child-who-shall-not-be-named started complaining about school (before it even began, mind you), I did not respond with empathy. I forgot all the good advice in How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk. I didn’t “reflect feelings.” I said (probably with a sigh), “Learning is what you do for fun. Remember when we used to do all those science experiments and projects, how we would study a ‘person of the week?’ Remember when you were obsessed with learning about Leonardo da Vinci? Can’t you channel some of that excitement for the learning available to you today?”

My son responded, “Doth not the appetite alter?”

Yep. That kid just quoted Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing. Mom’s mood? Immediately improved.

If you are wondering how my ten-year-old became familiar enough with a Shakespearean play to quote it appropriately in conversation, check out the resources below.

Happy reading and play on!

Look at that silly cover. Look at those ridiculous rats! The Wednesday Wars sat in our house for ages because I very literally judged the book by its cover. In the end, I only read it because it won the Newbery, and I was astounded. There are so many layers to this book – school-aged silliness, yes, but it tackles the Vietnam War, family dysfunction, love in its various forms, and oh-so-much Shakespeare. It’s the reason my son says, “The quality of mercy is not strained,” when I’m coming down hard on him, and it’s why our favorite family curse right now is, “Toads, beetles, bats!”

After we read The Wednesday Wars, I tried to decide if my kids were old enough to watch any of Kenneth Branagh’s film adaptations. We opted for Much Ado About Nothing, and I just fast-forwarded the sexy bits. They loved it, and watched it over and over. I bribed my daughter to do something by “letting” her watch it again (It felt like when I let them play NitroType, a learn-to-type game, as a “reward”). Don’t forget to turn on subtitles! It really helps with comprehension. My kids even memorized what they call “the burn scene,” between Benedick and Beatrice: “I wonder that you will still be talking, Signor Benedick. Nobody marks you.”

I think the key to making sure kids love Shakespeare, is to 1. Start with a comedy, and 2. Make sure they understand the basic story-line before they begin. If the kids feel confused, you’ll lose them fast. E. Nesbit has written lovely summaries, this one with fewer illustrations, this one with more.

For even younger readers, Bruce Coville has written many lovely picture books based on Shakespearean plays, such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest, Twelfth Night, and The Winter’s Tale. They are even available as an audiobook collection called Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits, which we’ve listened to in the car. You know, back before quarantine when we went places.

The talented Marianna Mayer offers another great picture book retelling (a little longer than Coville’s versions), in her adaptation of The Tempest.

For the most skeptical families out there (“My kids will never be into Shakespeare!”), try The Stratford Zoo. These graphic novels are silly and fun, and could be a great introduction for the reluctant thespian.

I must include the absolutely wonderful film Shakespeare in Love, though its “R” rating will put it on the back-burner for many families. My kids haven’t seen it yet.

It’s really nice to have a volume of the complete works. I have the Norton version from college, but there are many options out there.

Book Cover

Actually, thanks to Project Gutenberg, you can have the complete works for free digitally right here.

Enjoy!!

What if the Reluctant Reader is the Grown-up?

A dear friend of mine sent an e-mail saying she had read about two books in the past six months instead of her usual thirty.

If even the avid readers are struggling to read during a season when it seems we should have more time for solitary hobbies, then what’s a reading advocate to do?

Lower her standards, that’s what.

This season is not the time to tackle Crime and Punishment. It’s not when you are finally going to read Anna Karenina. It’s not even the period when you will convince your reading-averse friend to just trust you and read Pride and Prejudice.

It’s time to read something easier.

Gretchen Ruben already took the stigma out reading kids’ books with her children’s literature reading groups, so there’s no shame. Read them to a child if you are feeling sheepish, but I have spent many a happy hour curled up in a nursing chair or hammock with Harry Potter, The Fault in Our Stars, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, or The Wizard of Earthsea. Yep, books for teens count, too.

But maybe you have some lingering shame from middle school, when someone teased you for reading something babyish or for stumbling in a class read-aloud (arg!). Maybe you can’t bring yourself to start a children’s book. Okay.

You could try a beach read, like The Two Lives of Lydia Bird (though, now that I think of it, this one’s a little heavy – maybe something by Rainbow Rowell or Jenny Colgan instead).

Or if you feel like this season is too important to waste your time on lighter fare, try the easily readable but still important I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness. I haven’t read Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime yet, but given his brilliance in combining comedy with serious social commentary on his show, I’m assuming this one’s a winner, too.

Memoirs are great, just pick someone you love. This probably isn’t the month for something heavier like When Breath Becomes Air or Making Toast or The Glass Castle, but it’s definitely time for something like Bossypants by Tina Fey.

How about old favorites? I’ve read and re-read Jane Eyre so many times the pages are crumbling, much to the bemusement of my dearest friend, who when visiting the home of the Brontë sisters thought, “No wonder they wrote such terrible books.” I love every minute of it, and even my husband (who, gasp, has never read it) will say, “That is a fiction–an impudent invention to vex me.” I love him slightly more every time he does. My daughter (and kindred spirit) is on her thirteenth (13th!) round through the Harry Potter series. So if your brain can’t handle something new, read something old! Even if it’s The Baby-sitters Club or The Seventh Tower Series.

I know most people will groan at this idea, but I love self-improvement books. Want to be motivated to exercise? Read Drop Dead Healthy. Want to organize the kitchen since you are spending oh-so-much-time there these days? Read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying-Up. Want to be happier (who doesn’t right now)? Read The Happiness Project. Want to stop having to fuss about how much more domestic work you do than your partner? Read Fair Play. Want general advice in the most interesting of formats? Read Tiny Beautiful Things. Want generally better habits? Read The Power of Habit or Atomic Habits. This category goes on for days.

Another idea – do you love the movie The Princess Bride? Who wouldn’t like to stretch that enjoyment over the course of a novel instead of just an hour and a half of screen time? My kids adored the movie and loved the book even more. Their shouts of “Inconceivable!” make me smile every time. And my husband kept joining the read-aloud and chuckling along with the kids through the adventures. There are so many book-movie combos you could do, like Wonder, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice in Wonderland, Eat, Pray, Love, Hidden Figures, Becoming, the list goes on!

What about a magazine you used to love? Would leafing through Time at the end of the day make you feel more connected to the outside world? Would Vogue help you de-stress? Would having Sports Illustrated or Vanity Fair or The New Yorker or Bon Appétit on the nightstand make you feel more like you? Do that!

Don’t forget audiobooks. Turn dish time (there are so. many. dishes. right now) into me-time.

Maybe it’s too hard. Maybe you’re just keeping your head above water with childcare and work and technical difficulties and worry. That’s okay.

But it’s also okay to take even five minutes a day to curl up in bed and do something fun for you. Because wouldn’t it be nice to think of quarantine as the season you rediscovered (or discovered!) your inner reader, rather than focusing on all the hard bits?

I think so.

Happy trying!

Bribing Reluctant Readers – The Scavenger Hunt Method

Here in Oregon, our quarantine circle closes tighter and tighter around us. Now the smoky air has taken even our socially distant play dates and jaunts into the woods, though honestly we just feel grateful our house isn’t a pile of ashes and rubble, like so many right now.

As our kids struggle to enjoy life within the confines of our walls, I’ve been struggling to find ways to insert fun in the day.

Which is why the discovery of this book in my spice drawer was so fortuitous.

A little background –

As I’ve said before, I don’t have reluctant readers. I have had a reluctant writer, however, and I think the method we used to make writing fun translates well to readers.

Katie Clemons’s journal for mothers and sons (she has one for daughters, too, and a gender-neutral gratitude book) is simple and lighthearted, encourages drawing (not just writing!), and each entry is varied to keep interest levels high. The idea is to pass the book back and forth, reading your mom’s or son’s entry and then filling your own.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Ha. My son would roll his eyes if I said I wanted to journal with him.”

I know mine would have. (More writing???)

But when I introduced the journal I said, “I’m going to write an entry in this book and hide it somewhere in the house. Whenever you find it, read what I wrote and then write an entry yourself and hide it somewhere for me, and so on.”

He was thrilled.

I’ve found the book tucked in with my yoga mat, in my cookbooks, in my bedside basket. He has found it in his LEGO bin, sock drawer, under his pillow.

We only hit a snag when he hid it in my desk drawer, where coupons go to die. I finally found it when binge-watching The Home Edit’s new Netflix show inspired me to tackle that beast. We were both so excited (it had been months and we’d forgotten about it), and when I found it in my spice drawer, peeking out between the ginger and oregano, I laughed out loud.

We need more of those delighted giggle moments right now, don’t we?

So maybe you don’t hide this journal (though I highly recommend it). Maybe you hide a chapter book and whenever it’s discovered you drop everything and read a chapter with your child right then. Or if dropping everything on a moment’s notice isn’t possible, you place two bookmarks inside, one for parent, one for child, and you read until you catch up to each other’s bookmarks. Or maybe it’s actually a book bag and you tuck a different picture book inside each time. You have lots of options. The hunt is the thing. Be creative! (But learn from us and avoid the black hole junk drawers.)

And, in case none of that gets your kid excited about reading or writing, I recommend tying a chocolate bar to the cover. It pairs well with any book.

Happy hunting!

How to Orchestrate a Reading Marathon During Quarantine

Happy day 33,425 of quarantine. I’m chief enthusiasm officer here at the Asby house, and in that spirit, I’ve been telling my kids that they will someday get to tell stories (stories!) about when they were young and the pandemic hit and the world shut down.

Then I wondered… What will they say?

Hopefully not something – said with a sigh – about how our family motto should be “Asbys Like Clean Houses.” (True story.)

What if your kids could look back on quarantine as, “Remember when we didn’t have to go anywhere and we could read for days on end?”

My goal today, is to help your children have the same reaction to, “Let’s have a reading marathon,” as they would to, say, video-game- or movie- or chocolate-chip-cookie-marathons.

Below are some tips to help you make this reading marathon happen:

COZY

Cozy, cozy, cozy. I’m talking sheet tents or cardboard box forts, holiday twinkle lights, every pillow from every bed, every stuffed animal from every corner of the house. Creating the reading cave is half the fun.

PLAY HOOKY

This is not a day to say, “When you’ve made your bed, the reading marathon can begin.” This is a day to say, “When we have a reading marathon, it is a cardinal rule that NO beds may be made, no matter what.” Chores are important (Asbys Like Clean Houses, remember?), but they can be postponed on the oh-so-special reading marathon day.

And if possible, try to take the vacation day yourself, or at least take it in shifts with your partner if you have one. Or maybe your reading marathon is the three hours before bedtime. It’s sure to be more of a success if it’s a family affair, especially the first time.

FRESH BOOKS

This is key, and VERY tricky right now. If your library isn’t available for curbside pick-up, and buying new books isn’t in the Covid-19-era-budget, don’t despair! You have options. Text a friend and see if they would be interested in a no-contact, porch-pick-up book swap. Post on your local Buy Nothing group or neighborhood social media account to see if any neighbors have books to lend or gift. And even if your library is closed, they almost definitely will have e-books available. You can also sign up for a free trial of a e-book subscription service like Epic. You want your kids to be excited, and new-to-you books are thrilling.

SNACKS

The Asbys are as serious about good food as we are about good books, and we’ve found pairing yummy snacks with great books to be an almost always successful combination. Prep these snacks (and meals!) ahead of time, so that you don’t even have to set the book down to grab a plate of deliciousness. You can even take empty egg cartons and put tiny snacks in each cubby. Kids love variety and small things, and the novel presentation will make those peanuts and raisins and white chocolate chips seem exceptional. To make it feel even more like a movie-marathon, be sure to include popcorn on the menu.

VARIETY

Unless you’re reading the Harry Potter series or something equally fast-paced, you’re probably not going to be reading the same book all day long. Try to have page-turners (Percy Jackson, How to Train Your Dragon, Ranger’s Apprentice), cozy stories about families (RamonaLittle WomenAnne of Green Gables), graphic novels, comics (we love Calvin and Hobbes), picture books (yes, even for the older kids), poetry, and some nonfiction (if your kids are new to nonfiction, start with something shocking with lots of pictures, like Guiness World Record books). It’s also important to have books both at and below your child’s current reading level. They don’t need to try hard all day; this is a day to relax. Maybe include an old series your kid liked a long time ago. Did they love The Magic Treehouse series when they first learned to read? Just leave a stack of them nearby. Reading something they loved a few years ago with ignite a happy nostalgia, and as a bonus it will make them feel older. What kid doesn’t love that?

You also want variety in the type of reading. Maybe you read independently until the next snack break, and then you listen to an audiobook together. After that, maybe you read a joke book aloud or something funny. Then back to independent reading. Have a schedule so kids know what to expect, but be flexible if they are hooked and can’t stop their independent reading.

That’s the goal – that your kids will be so into this reading marathon that they won’t want to stop.

(Don’t blame me if they don’t make their bed for a week.)

Happy reading and good luck with quarantine!

This Week’s Best of the Book Bag

There are many reasons for how quiet the book blog has been lately, none of them particularly interesting or compelling compared to the big and important things happening in the world right now. We’ve mostly just been trying to make the books available to us last as long as possible until . . . glory of glories . . . the libraries opened for curbside pick-up.

Any guess who was there on day one, hour one, minute one? I was smiling my face off beneath that mask.

Here are some of our favorites from the book bag this week:

Anyone else have children who are desperate to run away from home right now? E.B. Goodale honestly captures a child’s voice in this almost perfect book, Under the Lilacs. The gentle twist surprised and delighted me. This one earns my highest praise: cozy.

The Bluest of Blues is exactly what a nonfiction book should be: relatable, beautifully illustrated, and well-researched. This morning on a hike, my daughter declared, “I want to be a scientist of the wild,” and promptly came home to clean a bucket (“for specimens”) and prepare a notebook for her rubbings and sketches and notes. So of course, from the very first pages of The Bluest of Blues, she was absolutely in love with Anna Atkins. Try not to cry when you read the dedication on the end pages. I dare you.

“A right isn’t right till it’s granted to all!” Equality’s Call is simple enough for a younger child (it’s short and it rhymes), but enough of an overview that it was really informative for my older son as well.

When I clicked “hold” on Everyone’s Awake, I didn’t look at the author’s name. I was delightfully surprised when I pulled it out of the book bag, and it did not disappoint. The literary lead singer of The Decemberists delivers rhyming silliness that will delight every child and Easter eggs like “Sister’s flossing braces/and reciting Baudelaire,” and “What light through/window breaks” for the grown-ups.

David Jumps In is what you would expect (a sweet story of bravery and inclusion), but it also introduced our homebound family to elastic skip, a serious bonus.

Superluminous almost glows itself. The illustrations are stunning, and the whole read made me think of a quote from my kids’ godmother: “If you want self-esteem, do esteemable things.” (You can say estimable, but it doesn’t sound the same.)

The Arabic Quilt is completely believable (except maybe for the tidy ending, but I like tidy endings). The protagonist is complicated, both proud of her heritage and worried about being different. I want to clap my hands when she responds to a student’s obligatory and half-hearted apology with, “My parents say that learning different languages makes a person smarter and kinder.” This is an important book on inclusion, especially because it chooses to teach instead of shame the kids who make mistakes. Know better, do better.

J.K. Rowling Introduces The Ickabog - J.K. Rowling

Our read-aloud this week is J.K. Rowling’s latest story, The Ickabog, released in installments on her website. We’ve never read a story this way, and it has been delightful (“Are there new chapters yet, mom??”), and as a bonus it keeps us from staying up too late to finish as we near the end.

Happy reading, and here’s looking forward to the day when the library doors can fully (and safely!) open in your hometown.

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!