Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Message in a bottle

Hi there!

It has been a long time. This weekend I am going to go pick up supplies for the third incarnation of the egg hunt pictured below. That picture looks more like Penny now than Claire, and Penny will probably wear that same dress to the hunt.

Here is Penny feeding the penguins at the zoo today:

Those are some well fed penguins.

She only likes her hair done in ways which copy particular American Girl dolls. Here we have "Molly." I probably don't need to tell you that our oldest child had no idea what an American Girl dolls was at this age. She also likes zombies, and told me the other day, thinks one of the popular zombie jobs is to paint the sky every night, to make it that "annoying blue" color it is when there are no clouds.

She is definitely our weirdest child, and we have a lot of weird to choose from.

I don't know why I dropped off blogging. Lots of reasons. I lost the camera cord to upload pictures. I got busy with lawyering work. Other stuff. I fell into reading only economic nonfiction and 19th century Slavic literature and immediately became depressed (kid-ding! Who doesn't love Notes from the Underground on a Saturday night?).

I probably wouldn't have picked it back up again, but I think if you have a thing you talk too much about for polite society you should just get a blog. This is why new mothers and devoted fans of Twilight everywhere need to have them. Right now my thing is children's literature. I got asked 3 times last week where I get all those book recommendations, I don't think so much complimentarily as...bemused. The way you look at an old great aunt who always manages to return the subject to the happenings of her feline companions..

I often (and loudly) accuse Mat of being a hoarder. I believe he has a FULL collection of junior high school science notebooks circa 1988 somewhere in our basement, whereas I had to be bodily stopped from throwing away a 100 year old teacup collection that was irritating me by being on a shelf I might have preferred empty. It's not so much that I hate clutter. A house with teetering stacks of books and coats a bit asunder feels flexible and rich, where priorities are straight and adventurous plans are hatched. That is a place where people come and go to exciting enough things that they don't have time to perseverate over right angles and rug placement. But I hate having to care for things- it makes me feel owned by objects, instead of the other way round. So I like to get rid of them whenever I can. Take that, old pair of shoes. I'm onto you, outdated iPod. Sayonara, old flower pots for plants we will never have in our house. Enjoy your new home at Goodwill. They can categorize you and dust you off and recharge whatever needs recharging. I am going to go read my children a book.

If he wants to mutter something about pots and kettles, though, Mat can just point at the children's bookshelves. I don't think it's an exaggeration to guess that our house contains a thousand children's books. Maybe more? Maybe more. Bookshelves and bookshelves of picture books and chapter books, and then rows of chapter books on top of the bookshelves. "I just go to the library, lady," you are thinking. I do! The big two bring home 10 a week from their school library. We bring home books from our large urban library by the shopping bag full on a regular basis.

But still I want more. We can't possibly not have Phantom Tollbooth within reach; what boy can survive all of childhood without the first three Hardy Boys at least? Someday when they stop being heathens the children will finally appreciate Nesbit, and I will hand them House of Arden with only the merest hint of a smirk.

I have a lot of opinions about kids' books, I am saying.

It's not completely clear to me why. I did not read a lot of children's books when I was an actual child. Around 7 I discovered Agatha Christie and Stephen King, and apparently I felt the time had come to set aside childish things never having read Mary Poppins. Because Needful Things is surely where life's meaning will be revealed? But now that I have kids I read a lot of it, and I think a lot about what they will like and what I want them to read while I still have a little influence.

Anyway, now that the kids are off and running with reading, I find that I don't have time or energy to preread everything they are going to read. If Mat wants to get into those Star Wars novels Simon devours he is welcome to, but I'm not gonna. They are both better readers than they are emotionally mature, which narrows the field. So I scour the internet and our library for reviews, levelled books by topic, if-you-like-this-try-this's, and though there is a lot of help out there, there could be more. I keep wishing there were lists out there for kids with closer to their tastes, at close to both their reading and maturity level. But there are not, so I am going to try adding something to the great collective. I am hoping to review books for the two types of kids they are- generally advanced readers with pretty average emotional content ability. Claire Helen can probably take more historical context than average and can deal with more complicated plots than average. Simon has a high scariness tolerance and can deal with complicated fantastical settings. I hope as I review more books the "types" will become clear, and you'll know whether Claire Helen type books or Simon type books might be good for your kids, too.

I think my goal will be to review at least a book a week for each of them (and who knows, when Penny starts reading more than Elephant and Piggie, maybe one for her). I like the Fountas and Pinnell guides, so I'll post that too, whenever I can, but it's not always available. So I'll add the Lexile number, which I think kind of stinks, generally, but are better than nothing.

Here are the captains of our little ship:

Claire Helen, the oldest.

Claire Helen likes- strong female characters, fantasy elements (especially time travel), mysteries, good dialogue. Dislikes- battles, scatalogically funny, too many descriptions (especially of "olden time life"), things I suggest too often. Emotional tension scares her; death- even the serial killer in Egypt Game!- does not. Her favorite books are Harriet the Spy (Fitzhugh) and The Secret of Platform 13 (Ibbotson). She also still adores the Ivy and Bean series by Annie Barrows, which she read in kindergarten, and I wish I could find something like it at her level now.

Simon, (always in) the middle.

Simon likes- boy leads (but not exclusively), funny, anything funny, will tolerate fantasy if it is clever enough (or Star Wars), action. Likes to read a lot about what the main character is thinking. Nothing scares him. Nothing. I think I need 3 favorite books- Homer Price (McCloskey), Nicholas (Goscinny), and the How to Train Your Dragon Series (Cowell).

I'm going to leave this post separately as an introduction, and make the next post the first reviews.

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