7 books you will enjoy reading to your kids

Boy, this list was much harder to make than I expected!  Too many subcategories.  I’ll just have to be satisfied with a general theme of “sevenness,” but I’d like to do more reading lists later.  Or is that boring?

These are just seven books which I enjoyed as a child, which my kids read or wanted to hear over and over again, and, most importantly, which I didn’t mind reading to my kids over and over again.

There are so many books which have good stories, but aren’t told well – they’re clunky, wordy, repetitive in the wrong way, or just aren’t crafted with any understanding of how kids listen or think.  But these seven are books that got it right, and have fantastic illustrations, too.

Check out Conversion Diary for more links to everyone else’s 7 Quick Takes!

Seven Books You Will Enjoy Reading to Your Kids

 

–1–

 

Half Magic by Edward Eager.

I never understood why this book isn’t more widely-read (and I think it would make a great movie, too).  One summer, four children find a magic talisman which grants half wishes, which leads not only to complications and surprises, but ethical dilemmas (they accidentally made an iron dog half-alive.  Should they make it turn back into iron, or bring it fully to life?).  The story is incredibly original, it moves along so nicely, and the children and their relationships with each other are so funny and real–it’s a perfect read-aloud book.  The illustrations by N. M. Bodecker are also charming and really add something to the story.  The author wrote six other books in the same vein, and all are worth reading, but Half Magic is by far the best.

–2–

The entire Frog and Toad series, Owl at Home, Fables, and Mouse Tales and Mouse Soup written and illustrated by Arnold Lobel.

Lobel also wrote several other books, but these are the best.  So simple and deft, so gentle and witty and full of affection.  Frog and Toad are imbued with more personality than any character in a modern novel that I can name — but Lobel does it in five pages of easy-reader words.  The vocabulary is simple, but it’s no Go, Dog, Gophonics slog– his prose is a delight to read, never a chore.  You never have to go back and reread, because you said some dialogue with the wrong expression–it’s all there.  Arnold Lobel ought to be studied in writing classes, and “The Dream” ought to be required reading for first confession classes.

–3–

Tales From Grimm told and illustrated by Wanda G’ag.

All the unvarnished truth about fairy tale characters, bloody feet, gouged out eyes, and all.  These aren’t just stories, they’re little masterworks of rhythm.     The illustrations are otherworldly and unforgettable, and the book includes many less familiar stories, too.  Snip, snap, snout, my tale’s told out!  (Also by this author, and recommended:  The Funny Thing, Millions of Cats, Snippy and Snappy)

–4–

Granfa’ Grig Had a Pig and Other Rhymes without Reason from Mother Gooseselected and illustrated by Wallace Tripp.

I feel like my kids should know Mother Goose, but in most editions, the illustrations are creepy, sappy, or bland.  This is because the subject matter of nursery rhymes is often bizarre, and no one is sure how to handle the weirdness.  Wallace Tripp, one of my favorite illustrators, lets the lunacy and hilarity come through (often providing sly commentary on the rhyme).  They are full of detail to fascinate kids, and they’re just funny and refreshing.  He also has inluded lots of lesser-known rhymes that you will be glad to know (“Slug abed, slug abed barley butt, / Your bum is so heavy, you can’t get up” comes to mind).

–5–

D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths

Demeter and Persephone

All of the books written and illustrated by Ingri and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire (I just like saying those names!) are wonderful, but Greek Myths is the one I liked the best as a kid.  The illustrations always make me think of William Blake on summer vacation:  the same primitive feel, the same slightly over-determined composition, and the same naked emotionalism of the faces — but more color, more flesh, more fun.  And the stories are just right:  they have lots of action, lots of humor and pathos, but manage to be decorous–no easy feat.  Those gods were weird.

–6–

Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories.

“The Mixed-Up Feet and the Silly Bridegroom”

For a wonderful introduction to Jewish storytelling, here is a collection of seven sweet, strange, and funny stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer, unforgettably illustrated by the master, Maurice Sendak.  I’ve read other books written and illustrated by this pair, but this one shows them both at their best.

–7–

Homer Price, More Homer Price, and Centerburg Tales.

Another undeservedly neglected collection.  A young boy in a rural town (where, without explanation, several of the inhabitants are named after classical heroes and authors) gets into peculiar adventures with skunks, superheroes, balls of yarn, giant ragweed, mysterious mousecatchers, and disastrously catchy rhymes.  Just satisfying and entertaining, and, again, lively and funny illustrations by the author, another favorite of mine, Robert McCloskey.

links to image sources:

Homer Price

Zlateh the Goat

Grimm’s Fairy Tales

Half Magic

Greek Myths

Wallace Tripp

Frog and Toad

Happy weekend, everyone!  I’ve been in a fog all week, and can’t get ahold of my syntax.  Sorry if anything above doesn’t make sense.

7 Quick Takes: “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions” Edition

Many mothers of big families are at a loss for words when strangers make personal comments about their family size.  Other women are able to use their conspicuous presence in public as a chance to witness to the joy of this lifestyle.   Still others see it as an opportunity to ditch one or two of the slower kids in the crowd.

No matter which description fits you, there will come a day when you are urging an unruly string of children down the narrow hall of the hospital, where you are late for an appointment to have the blood of several of them painfully tested for something you know perfectly well they don’t have.   Some of them will be licking the walls, one will be wailing about losing her vending machine puppy in the parking lot, and two will merely be going silently boneless.

It is at moments like these when some sweaty bozo in an AC/DC T-shirt will appear, plaster himself comically to the wall to let you pass, and remark, “Haw haw haw, looks like someone don’t have a TV!”

 

(photo source)

So the following guide is for you, mom.  If one of your damn wiener kids hasn’t shoved a fig newton into the printer, feel free to make a copy, laminate it, and keep it in your ludicrously enormous purse.  It will help you respond to people who see your presence as a challenge, when really all you want to do is mail a letter, buy some diapers and few pregnancy tests, or pay the librarian for the books you ruined this week, and go home.

7 Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions About Your Big Family

 

–1–

Boy, you’ve got your hands full, don’t you?

Congratulations!  As the ten billionth person to make this clever remark, you are a winner!  As your prize, please accept this delicious baby.

–2–

Don’t you know what causes that?

Yes, it’s brought on by being in the presence of morons.  Every time I leave the house, I feel the urge to rush home to my husband and, for the sake of future generations, try to outnumber people like you.  Whoopee!

–3–

Are those all your kids?

Quiet, you fool, my husband’s listening!

–4–

How many kids do you have, anyway?

I dunno.    [I don’t know if it qualifies as snappy, but it’s often true, and it shuts people up.]

–5–

You’re stopping now, right?

Of course!  Lots of people have eight kids.   Eight kids is nothing.  Of course, our van is longer than most people’s driveways.  We own two milch cows just to supplement breakfast.  And with the money from our Additional Child Tax Credit, we bought a Learjet.  That’s life with eight kids.

But to consider having nine kids?  That would be cuh-razy.

–6–

[This next one is for kids who are members of big families.  It’s a direct quote from lunch recess at Disnard Elementary School, and partially explains why no one liked me in sixth grade.]

Hey, huh huh huh, you have seven brothers and sisters?  Boy, huh huh huh, your parents must really like to dooo it!

Yeah, boy, I guess that proves they had sex eight times.  And you’re an only child, so I guess your parents just don’t love each other very much.  Ha ha!  Now, who wants to be my lunch buddy?

–7–

Don’t you have a TV?

If you think TV is better than sex, then you are doing it wrong.

————————————————————————————————

So long until Monday, folks! Don’t forget to check out Conversion Diary for links to everyone else’s Seven Quick Takes.  And don’t forget the most basic rule of appearing in public with lots of children:  it’s everyone else’s job to get out of your way.

Excuses, excuses

We just discovered a new family game!  My 12-year-old daughter, who taught it to us, scornfully insists that it’s actually called “Excuses,” and not (sneer) “Excuses, Excuses,” but I think it’s funnier my way, and anyway, who is she?  Does she have a blog?   Oh, well, actually, she does.  But we are good parents, and don’t let anyone look at it.  Ha ha!

Anyway, we’ve been playing this new game in the evening after supper, when it’s too darn hot to be inside, but no one wants to fish the football out of the bushes.  It’s good for ages 6 to adult, I would say, and it’s very easy to drop in and out of.  It’s also entertaining to watch, if you can’t, won’t, or are too fat to play.

The basic set-up is this:  one person is the boss, one person is the employee who is late for work, and one person is the co-worker.  The boss faces the employee, and the co-worker stands behind the boss, so the employee can see him, but the boss cannot.

The boss barks at the employee, “Why were you late?”  The employee starts to make his excuses — but he has to describe what the co-worker is miming.  Remember, the boss can’t see him.

So the co-worker is marching, dancing, swatting imaginary flies, being strangled, fighting invisible gorillas, etc., and the employee is narrating it.

Then the boss, at any point he wants to, whips his head around to and yells at the co-worker, “What are you doing?”  And the co-worker has to instantly come up with a plausible explanation for whatever he was caught doing.  If he was acting out “killing a bear with my teeth,” for instance, he might say, “Oh, I was just eating one of these crullers.  Thanks for the crullers, boss!”

If the boss likes the excuse, he says, “Okay,” and the game resumes.  But if he doesn’t, he says, “You’re fired!” and the next person gets to be the co-worker.

Did I explain that right?  It’s seriously a lot of fun, and I’m so happy to know it, because if we had to play Simon Says one more time, Simon was going to say–

Well, I gave it a whole hour and a half, and even Googled “go play in traffic,” but I didn’t get to the end of that joke.  Sorry, folks.  Refunds at the door.

Old Year Resolutions

Back around New Year’s Day, when people were making resolutions, many of the good ladies of the internet were sharing their plans for self-improvement.   They all had long and laudable lists to accomplish, but they wanted to avoid that all-too-common problem with good intentions:   losing focus, petering out, or just plain forgetting.

To avoid this pitfall, they planned to distill their finest aspirations into a single, pregnant word.  They would post this word in a prominent place where they would see it often, and they would be encouraged and redirected throughout the day.

To this idea, Jen from Conversion Diary responded in a way that I could have done myself:

“Here’s the problem,” I told a friend.  Ann Voskamp’s word is YES, Rachel Balducci andArwen Mosher are both doing JOY…I feel like holy people like that can do this sort of thing, but I’m too much of an overly analytical grouch for it.” I thought that if, say, I were going to try to be more joyful, I would need specific, measurable goals in that department, lest I end up just rolling my eyes at the “JOY!” sign posted on my refrigerator as I shuffle around joylessly.

She’s a better woman than I am.  I’m pretty sure that the first time I glanced at “JOY!” on the refrigerator while crawling around with a wad of rags, trying to sop up the rapidly-congealing jello soup that someone forgot to tell me they spilled all over the floor, where they were, incidentally, storing their math books and their collection of unwashable fairy costumes, I wouldn’t be rolling my eyes — I’d be gnashing my teeth, and possibly actually biting someone.  Yeah, I got yer JOY right here.

So, no, this plan wasn’t for me.  (Jen, however, ultimately decided to go with “Fortitude,” which is a good, versatile word, and realistic.)

But why am I bringing this story up now?  Because I recently sorted through a bunch of old papers, and in among the long division worksheets and Cub Scout permission slips, I found a homemade valentine.

It was from my eight-year-old daughter to my seven-year-old son, and in a very few words, it illustrated such love, such consideration, and such a profound understanding of her brother’s character and basic constitution, that I decided to make it my mid-year Word.

I hung it in a prominent place, and every time I pass by it, it gives my heart a lift.  Even on the darkest day, I smile, and I remember anew what true love is all about.

7 Quick Takes: Toy With Me edition

Today for 7 Quick Takes, hosted by Jen Fulwiler at Conversion Diary, I’m sharing what we’ve learned from years of research in the field of toy-buying.  If you want to do your own seven quick takes, add your link to the list at Jen’s website, and don’t forget to link back to Jen on your blog.

7 Quick Takes:  Toy With Me edition

From the beginning of April to the middle of July, five of our eight kids have birthdays.   I think we spend more money on spring and summer birthdays  than we do on groceries for the whole year.  Any rational person with eight children would try and scale down birthday expectations, right?  And I know many of you will say, “Oh, we’re trying our best to raise our little Wyatt in a non-materialistic way, so for his birthday, we just put a soy candle in his organic kefir, and let him use the pillow that night.   If he remembers to say ‘thank you’ for the kefir.”

I don’t know what to say.  For some reason, it’s turned out that we’re trying to raise materialistic kids who expect to be treated like supreme galactic emperors on their birthdays (or, if their birthday falls on a day which is not convenient for a party, they expect that treatment on their actual birthday and on their party day).

Besides the cake, the candy, the party favors, the balloons and streamers, the games, the snacks, the craft, and the birthday throne, there are, of course, the presents.  So I thought I would share with you seven presents that we really like (and which the kids seem to like, too!).  Because I’m lazy,  most of the links are to  Amazon, but you can often find a better price if you hunt around a bit.

1.  The glitter ball.  It’s a bouncy ball filled with water and glitter.  Everyone loves it.  It’s beautiful,  it’s low-tech and non-batterified, it’s satisfyingly heavy, and it bounces well.  Use it as a prop in a play (the Princess and the Frog), use it as a way to soothe and mesmerize an overheated toddler, or just use it as, you know, a ball.  It comes in different sizes, but I recommend the jumbo one.  For all ages.  About $11

2.  Tribot.  This one is the opposite of the glitter ball:  it’s expensive and complicated and slightly obnoxious — but it’s also cute and appealing, and was pronounced the Christmas present that induced the most sibling jealousy, 2009.  It’s a red, remote-controlled, interactive robot that has motion sensors, so it skirts around obstacles on the floor; and if it falls over, it yells, “Master!  Master!  Suddenly my floor has turned into a WALL!”  It also has a funny alarm system, it lights up, it wiggles its eyebrows, it makes jokes — I don’t know, it’s just an appealing toy.  Absolutely perfect for a seven-year-old boy, but the rest of the family likes it, too.  Oh, and it has a fascinating wheels-within-wheels system of transport, so it is extremely maneuverable.  About $40

3.  Skwish.  So many baby toys are exciting and attractive, but they are hard for the baby to grasp, or they roll or tumble away too easily.  This one is super-easy to grasp, and it doesn’t get very far if the baby drops it.  Just a nice, bright, pleasant toy with lots of possibilities.  About $12

4. B. Toys FunKeys.  Babies love car keys, but I guess they have lead or something in them?  So you give them toy keys, instead,  but babies can tell they’re just plastic.  Plastic keys clatter, rather than jingle, and aren’t heavy and cold like real keys.  So these particular toys keys are actually made of steel, without being sharp or dangerous, and our baby is crazy about them.  They come attached to a holder with buttons for making car-related noises (mercifully muted in volume), plus a little light.  They come in a slightly irritating  “behold what a fabulously unique company we are” package, but that’s not so bad.  About $10

5.  Krazy Kar.  We haven’t actually bought one of these for our kids — it’s $75!  I had one when I was little, though, and I think I spent three entire summers inside this thing.    You crank the wheels with hand pegs, and make it go wherever you want, including in circles (the wheels move independently, like oars on a rowboat).  It’s hard to describe why it was so much fun — much more fun than a pedal car or a Big Wheel.  I just remember feeling secret and powerful as I sat in the little seat between those two big, yellow wheels, and smelling that smell of plastic that’s been sitting in the sun, and feeling the static electricity crackle in my hair.  It made a wonderful rumbling noise as it barreled across the grass.

6.  Snorta! A non-board game with funny little animal figurines.  Okay, so we lost the pieces and can’t play anymore, but it was fun while it lasted.  You turn over cards, and have to rush to be the first one to make the animal noise of the other person’s animal.   It’s a reasonably simple, entertaining game that isn’t too excruciating for adults (and it’s fairly easy to let younger kids be your “partner,” if they’re too little to hold their own, or if they’re the type who have slow reflexes and burst into tears when everyone else is faster.  If.)  About $18

7.  Care Bears Magical Care-a-Lot Castle.  This well-crafted, educational little wonderland

Ha ha, just kidding!  Only one of our kids really got interested in the Care Bears, and I think the Halloween costume I made, at her insistence,

cured her of that infatuation.  The rest of our kids had no trouble discerning that the whole Care Bear franchise is one of the most stunningly crappy aspects of modern day America, and should be taken out and shot.

And now I have to go and plan one more birthday, and then we will be off the hook until the end of September!  My daughter, who will be turning three, has requested a “wonky tonky.”  We think this means “walkie-talkie,” but we are not sure–she might actually want a wonky tonky.  I hope I can find one on sale.

See you on Monday!

Wordy Wednesday

Well, what’s the good of having your own blog if you can’t show off your pretty kids?  I was going to join in on Wordless Wednesday, a sort of community blogging project which encourages you to speak volumes without using words, and everyone who joins in gets links to each other’s photos.  But I got kind of hung up on the “no words” part.  I tried, I really did.  But then I just kept talking.

Well, some of my readers from the old blog may remember our little one who was born early, wasn’t gaining weight, gave us all a scare by being so sleepy and weak?  So, here she is today:

Blossoming, as you can see.

We had another little girl about 14 months ago.  We . . . how shall I say?  We worry less about her ability to seek out nourishment:

Okay, that’s it for today!  My one brother has been in Arizona for a year, and the other has been in Rome, but they’re both coming to see us this afternoon, so I gotta go buy some meat and beer post-haste.  Have a lovely day, everyone!