What We’re Reading: Kids’ Edition

From Beth-Anne

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Recipe for Adventure Hong Kong by Giada De Laurentiis

Continuing along with this series, my eldest chose this book for his Cereal Box Book Report. The story followed the same pattern of siblings, Alfie and Emilia, being magically transported to another country to learn about its food and culture. I am amazed by how much my son does learn about other cultures from these books, and it’s mostly from the conversations that occur after he’s closed the cover. To honour our ritual we will be dining in an authentic Chinese restaurant. After reading Naples, we indulged with pizza at Libretto, Mother’s Day was extra special by enjoying a fancy schmancy Parisian dinner here and I still owe him a New Orleans dining experience. Any Torontonians, I welcome your suggestions for both New Orleans and Chinese!

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Leroy Ninker Saddles Up by Kate Di Camillo

My middle son thoroughly enjoyed the entire Mercy Watson series and is delighted that the adventures continue with Leroy Ninker’s charming spin-off. Di Camillo is a favourite author in these parts, and judging by the snickers that I hear coming from his room and how excitedly he retells the chapters to me, she doesn’t disappoint with this book either!

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Knuffle Bunny Trilogy by Mo Willems

My youngest has fallen for Knuffle Bunny just as his older brothers before him. Can I just say, I love these books? My youngest has a strong attachment to his “Georgy” and this trilogy from Mo Willems serves as the perfect books to engage his critical thinking. I like to ask him questions that encourage him to make connections to the text (the classic: relate and reflect) and to infer what’s going to happen next.   But put all of that learning aside, these books are just so much fun! The illustrations using a combination of photography and drawing could be great inspiration for a summer writing project for older kids. Now that I think of it . . .

From Nathalie

Like Beth-Anne, we love all of Mo Willems’s books in this house, especially the learn-to-read Elephant and Piggie books.

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I am of the opinion that Mo Willems should rule the world, but children’s author world dominion dreams aside, I am all about imaginary wish fulfillment.

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Enter The Candy Conspiracy by Carrie Snyder, who has been our guest on the blog and whose books for adults we have loved.  Carrie has invented a world made of candy, with lollipop trees and a cupcake castle.  So far, so sweet, but the Juicy Jelly Worm who resides in the castle does not like to share, and all the kids in Candyville can only stand and watch while their monarch gobbles all the goodies himself.  Candy-craving kids get clever (and alliteration gets contagious, apparently!), and candy-flavoured democracy will have its day.

For middle grade readers, Middlest and his friends are loving the Big Nate books by Lincoln Pierce.  Told in comic strip style, they feature hapless and endearing Nate, who finds himself in trouble again and again.  And the boys have read and reread these books again and again.  One added bonus of my son and his best friend reading these books is that they’ve also gone back to the classic Calvin and Hobbes, which does a mother’s heart good to see.

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Finally, for young adults, I recently read Mad Miss Mimic by Sarah Henstra.

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The protagonist of this novel is Leonora Summerville, a bright spark, a beauty, an heiress and a thorn in her older sister’s side because Leo may prove difficult to marry off.  A speech disorder causes her to stutter, but it also allows her to imitate other people’s voices with eerie precision, earning her the moniker Mad Miss Mimic.  Set in 19th century London, where opium fever is raging, the book is full of period detail.  Medical and political intrigue abound, as her brother-in-law’s medical use of opium and her suitor’s political ambitions come under threat from the bombing campaign of the mysterious Black Glove Gang, who oppose the government’s proposed ban on the importation of opium.  Add two handsome and charismatic young men who vie for Leo’s attention and affection, and you have the ingredients for a ripping good yarn.  I read it in a single sitting.  Sarah and I were in graduate school at the University of Toronto together, and she is now a professor of English literature at Ryerson University.  Mad Miss Mimic is her first novel, and what an outing it is!

From Carol

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In The King’s Equal by Katherine Paterson, Prince Raphael will inherit the kingdom from his dying father provided he can find a woman equal to him in beauty, intelligence and wealth.  This proves rather tricky, since Raphael is an arrogant and conceited fellow.  The story of how Rosamund overcomes Raphael’s vanity and prejudices is at once magical, clever and lyrical.  Nathalie will be horrified, but I didn’t register the author of the book before reading it, although the writing soon prompted me to check.  Paterson, author of Bridge to Terabithia, had my boys were riveted. We read so many books, and I love the exposures to so many adventures, but I recognized immediately the quality of writing in this book, and my children’s response to it revealed that they did too.

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Cloud Tea Monkeys by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham also made an impression on my boys. When Tashi’s mother becomes too sick to pick tea leaves in the Himalayan mountains with the other workers, Tashi tries to go in her place. Too small for the task, and frightened for her mother’s health, she finds aid from unlikely friends, who gather for her the rarest of teas in the world. The plight of the working poor, heightened by the nasty Overseer, is depicted effectively enough that it’s unsettling that only Tashi and her mother’s dependence on the work of picking tea are alleviated at the story’s end. Beautifully illustrated by Juan Wijngaard.
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One of the things I deeply envy about my husband is a large cardboard box in the basement which holds the best reads from his childhood. He wanders down there when he’s looking for a new novel for the kids, and emerged one night with Witches by Roald Dahl.  Shortly after he read it to my boys, my eldest (who just turned 9) asked me to read it again.
A young boy (the nameless narrator) and his grandmother (his parents die early on) first try to avoid and then are forced into the world of “real witches”, who are cleverly disguised as ordinary women.  After personally and irreversibly experiencing what the witches are planning to unleash on children in England, the narrator must try to stop them.
It was such a fun read, with perfect illustrations by Quentin Blake, and is poignant without sentimentality. I loved the matter-of-fact mutual adoration and interdependence of the narrator and his grandmother. The adventure and fantasy are wonderful, but the understated love between this unlikely pair resonates at least as much.

If you buy any of these books from Indigo, we will get a teeny tiny percentage of the sale.  If you buy any of these or other kids and teen books in-store between June 5-7, you will get 10 times the plum points.

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Loving Bedtime Stories (or Maybe Something Else)

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I’m a diehard for bedtime stories.  It’s a rare night when they’re missed in our house, and that’s usually because we’re coming home really late from some outside adventure, and kids are either asleep or so tired they might as well be.  I’ll fight for this window of storytime against competing needs, and I’m not the only one.  My boys are mystified if something interferes with their stories, and I’ve discovered that even if it really isn’t the right time for a bedtime story, it’s often the path of least resistance to sleep to just read a quick one – just scratch the itch – and then settle everyone into bed.

It’s nice to now that bedtime stories are supposedly good for children in many ways, but I can tell you that the ritual at our house is based on pleasure – mine as much as the boys.  I have three very energetic sons, but they settle quietly right into me during storytime in bed and listen to all kinds of stories, even when the boys are quite a distance for the target audience (our age ranges from 3 to 8).  I love it.

Reading up on bedtime stories for this week’s conversation here at 4Mothers, I felt like I should have been really enthusiastic that our nighttime reading ritual is so highly touted by the experts as producing smarter, more intuitive, more attached, more imaginative children.  Maybe it’s my mood, and maybe I’m prickly, but it kind of got my back up.  It somehow struck me as another might-as-well-be-mandatory requirement of parents, one of those tangible ways we can prove how good we are at parenting, and we do.

But there are so many kinds of parents out there, and so many kinds of parenting.  In university I volunteered with an organization that tutored adults who couldn’t read and write well for any number of reasons – learning disabilities, falling through the cracks at school, surviving much bigger life issues than literacy.  I remember one student was a tall, good-looking musician whose young son was reading better than he could, and the father sought literacy tutoring in hopes of sharing more of his son’s life.  Improving literacy skills as an adult is usually a long process that takes a lot of dedicated time, and I don’t know how far this student got; it’s quite likely that he wouldn’t have been able to match pace with the learning of a young child for whom reading comes easily.

That father may not be reading bedtime stories to his child but I think there’s every chance he’s an ace father.  I just feel like giving a shout-out to him and other parents who don’t read their kids bedtime stories (even if they are literate to the nines), in case they’re feeling down about it.  Because maybe you do other things instead.  Maybe you run with them everyday instead, or drive two hours on the weekend to make sure they know their grandparents.  Maybe you have a long fuse, or you’ve got a short fuse but you’re working on it.  Maybe you have a quiet understanding with your child that she is loved completely.

Books and bedtime are so amazing – I love them so much.  I just want to make sure that love isn’t pushing anyone else around, because it’s a big, beautiful world out there, and books are just one part of it.

Bedtime Stories: Glorious for all of 2 minutes . . .and then the fighting starts.

learning-422692__180I remember being pregnant with my first son. I was sure of a lot of things. I was sure that I would never let him sleep in my bed, bribe him to be on his best behaviour or lose my cool during a temper tantrum.

I was also steadfast in my belief that I would read to my children every night. I had visions of us curled on the bed, propped up with pillows and covered in a fluffy duvet. The boys would lull off to sleep with visions of Peter, Tinkerbell and Captain Hook as I would sneak out of the room and head downstairs, settle into my favourite chair with a cup of hot chocolate and my novel of the moment.

And since then I have eaten more than my fair share of humble pie while buying another package of Sponge Bob Band-Aids just to escape the drugstore with a few less tears.

I was pregnant with my second son when my first son turned 6 months old. I battled through first trimester exhaustion all while getting up at least once a night to feed. The bedtime ritual was simple: try to stay awake long enough to put the baby down in his crib.

My second son was a screamer. He cried all day long but really turned it on between 7 and 9 in the evening. Every night he would bawl; his face mottled and his voice hoarse. We tried everything that every book, website and expert recommended. Eventually we resorted to laying him in his crib and blasting Andrea Bocelli from a disc player. These were desperate times. As baby #2 grew hysterical, baby #1 was cranky, tired, and pulling at my leg. The bedtime ritual wasn’t so simple: bath, change, bottle and bed all with one hand, and wailing in my ear.

Eventually the crying stopped, I developed a bad case of amnesia and got pregnant for a third time, with my third son.

Baby #1 was now three years old (and still waking up in the night), Baby #2 was 2 years old (and had mercifully reserved his crying periods to other times of the day) and I would start counting down to bedtime around 2 o’clock in the afternoon, compulsively checking the time. By 7:30 the bedtime ritual began: I would push them into bed with a kiss on the cheek, only to collapse onto the couch with a sigh. I had made it through another day.

I know the benefits of reading to children. And I do. But not at bedtime. None of us do well at the end of the day. When I try to read a bedtime story everything is glorious for all of about 2 minutes and then it starts: jockeying for position closest to me, complaints over the story choice, whining over whose turn it is to choose the book, someone’s breathing on someone, someone’s touching someone, someone’s foot is fidgeting. Nerves are shot, tensions are high and the tears start.

Instead we read on a Saturday afternoon, waiting for swimming lessons to start or the doctor to call our name. I keep the novel, currently Stuart Little, in my over-sized purse (also something I was never going to do as mom) to pull out at those ordinary times transforming them into those special, unplanned moments that really make up motherhood.

Bedtime Stories Are My Abiding Delight

I am a big believer in making time, and lots of it, for books before bed.  My family was even interviewed about it once by Andrea Gordon at the Toronto Star.

Four years later, and the boys are bigger and, significantly, they play a lot more hockey.  All three boys play competitive hockey, and we make 10-12 trips to the rink a week.  This is a good thing, mostly, and I’m a little bit proud and a lot relieved to be raising kids who are so eager to be fit and healthy and active.  (Not my DNA.)  However, hockey eats into time for all kinds of things: playdates, family dinners, unstructured time, and, yes, bedtime stories.

Time is never found, it’s made, and I make time for bedtime reading whenever it’s remotely possible, which is still usually four times a week of an hour of reading aloud before bed.  I am a stickler for bedtimes, because some of us are quite cranky if we don’t get a full night’s sleep, even if some of us are in our forties.  But if I can squeeze in a chapter before Youngest’s bedtime, I will always go the extra mile to do so.  I’m now reading aloud to Youngest and Middlest, and it’s all Harry Potter all the time.  After Youngest pops off to bed, Middlest reads by himself, sometimes curled up with me and my book, and sometimes for up to two hours before it’s time for his lights out.  (Definitely my DNA.)  It’s a magical time.  I am so profoundly grateful for it.

endgameEldest does not read with predictable regularity any more, though, and that saddens me.  He is at the rink most often, and he comes home late.  He will occasionally get immersed in a series, but it’s not a dependable thing.  I recently heard an interview that impressed me so much, I went out and bought the book for him.  (Seriously, go listen to this interview: James Frey being interviewed by a boy named Joshua for The Guardian.  It’s not often I am more impressed by the interviewer than the interviewee, but this kid is sharp.)  Anyway, I learned from this interview that James Frey’s new YA novel The Calling, the first in the Endgame trilogy, has a puzzle built into it, and the first person to solve the puzzle has a chance to win $500,000 of James Frey’s own dollars, currently sitting in a vault in Las Vegas in gold bars.  “This will get his attention,” I thought.  I’m glad to say that while it did get his attention, and while he did find my enthusiasm about the interview infectious, he did not make a huge effort to read the book quickly to solve the puzzle to win the gold.

Reading should be its own reward, and I’m glad that money was not sufficient enticement.  I have a quiet faith that one day, when there is somewhat less hockey (and soccer and basketball and swimming) on his schedule, Eldest will make his way back to daily and lengthy engagements with a book.  Reading is my abiding delight, and I do so want them to have that kind of pleasure in their daily lives.

Talking About Bedtime Stories

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Given that November on 4Mothers revolves loosely around the theme of sleep, it was  easy for us to decide upon a theme for this week – we’ll all be writing about bedtime stories.

Do you engage in this nighttime ritual?  Proponents can’t say enough about the benefits of bedtime stories, but not everyone does it.  Parents and children reading together at the close of day has a special place in many hearts, although it’s so easy to imagine other beautiful nighttime practices – I remember feeling breathless when Judy Collins lovingly recounted at a Unique Lives event that when she was a girl, her father would sing her to sleep every night.

So what is the magic of bedtime stories?  Is it the togetherness or the stories or the brainy-ness or just the do-ableness of it?  Do you do something altogether different that works better for your family?

Were you read to as a child, and do you read to your children now?  What are your favourite bedtime reads, when you were young, and now that you’re not so young anymore?  This and more this week at 4Mothers.  Stay tuned.

Hookitty-Tookitty-Tah

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The summer break continues (even though the weather is unaware of this fact!) but that doesn’t mean a hiatus from all-things educational.

Regular reading time continues at our house regardless of what the calendar tells us, and while the older boys are devouring the Canadian Flyer Series they still enjoy listening to picture books.  But then again are you ever too old for a picture book?

Enter, Hookitty-Tookitty-Tah.

Just saying those words is fun!

This beautifully illustrated picture book by Antonio Mugica and Hermann Mejia is a lyrical adventure about wizard-baker boy called upon to save a town from an angry dragon whose colour has turned from yellow to bright purple after an unfortunate cake-making incident.

While the text may be challenging for an emerging reader, the story itself makes for a perfect bedtime read . . . and the teacher in me can’t help but think what a great classroom choice this would be with an extension activity challenging students to re-write the book where Hookitty-Tookitty-Tah cooks up healthy alternatives instead of sugary-fare to entice the dragon.

We are heading to the library tomorrow to exchange our latest haul which included several of the Franklin series, too many books about squirrels and this clever book by Melaine Watt, a favourite author of my 5 year old. Take note Nathalie, a book about a book!

What have you been reading with your kids over this summer holiday?