In our CM days, I used to keep rough daily lists of the books we read, lessons we did, games we played, “big ideas” we discussed, connections we made. The latter two categories were my favorite things to record, and I still keep notes about those. Sometimes here, sometimes in my notebook, sometimes at the old daily notes blog. I love to look back and marvel at all the places my children have taken me, figuratively speaking.
Today Wonderboy had speech therapy, and as the rest of us waited in the car we got into a lively discussion about perseverance and self-motivation. I’d mentioned a blog post I’d read that said kids don’t possess innate fortitude and need their parents to provide external motivation for pushing through challenging tasks, the parents providing backbone the kids themselves don’t have yet. Jane said, “But Mom! Remember in Eight Cousins when Aunt Clara wants Rose to wear a corset? And Uncle Alec gets mad and says that the custom of putting even babies in stiffened waists makes them grow up with weak backs?” Her mind had made a leap because of the backbone metaphor, and it was great to see how she analyzed the comparison and expanded upon it. “If someone is being your backbone for you, I don’t see where perseverance comes in.” Which is interesting, because that’s the same thing I’d thought when I read the post, but I hadn’t told her that. Sticking at a task because someone is making you would seem to require more obedience than perseverance.
We talked about external motivation vs. internal motivation, and people who succeeded at difficult endeavors through their own determination and persistence. She gave me a short history of Andrew Johnson, about whose pre-presidential life I knew nothing until today. It seems he was well past ten before he learned to read, and not until age 18 did he learn to write and cipher.
Me: How do you know all this?
Jane: From So You Want to Be President, of course.
That was one of Scott’s daddy-book picks a few years ago. He gives each kid a picture book for Christmas and birthdays. I should do a series of posts about those, one of these days. He finds the most interesting books.
In the parking lot outside speech, we saw what looked remarkably like a pair of Eastern bluebirds. They can’t have been, not in San Diego. We looked up blue birds (not bluebirds) in our Western Birds field guide back at home, but nothing we found looked right. So there’s a mystery we need to solve.
Rose wanted me to read the origin story of comic-book hero Adam Strange. Seems he was an archaeologist who discovered a hidden city of the Incas, including a vast treasure which had been intended for the ransom of the Inca emporer, Atahualpa, who was captured (and eventually killed) by Pizarro. Just as Adam Strange is about to be clobbered by the secret city’s protectors, he happens into a stray space-ray that teleports him to a planet in the Alpha Centauri system. Much sci-fi superhero action ensues. The girls had some wry commentary on certain gaping plot-holes, but they are great fans of Adam Strange nonetheless.
Jane asked me to do some of the puzzles in her Mensa Mind Puzzle book with her. This is a big fat book of brainteasers my father gave her. She adores it with the intensity of an Alpha Centauri space-ray. We sat on the couch together and worked on a couple of pages’ worth of puzzles. We’re both good at the number/logic ones and the word puzzles, but when it comes to the visual pattern solving games, I’m sunk. She’s very quick at those. My brain goes all fuzzy. We talked about Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory and visual/spatial intelligence vs. logic/mathematics intelligence vs. linguistic intelligence, and others.
Scott sent us this link, and we watched, and gasped, and realized, and laughed.
Toward the end of the afternoon, things fell apart a little. Squabbles broke out; I got tired. Beanie thought it would be nice to lie down together while she read me riddles from The Book of Think. She was right.
When Scott came home from work, he had all the kids out in the backyard running wind sprints. They were writing down their times and when they came in, the girls made a chart. Scott put on some David Bowie and I heard him quizzing the baby: “Who’s this?”
“Bow Ee!” She’s at that age where every syllable is its own word.
“That’s my girl.”
Now the little ones are asleep and Scott is reading Harry Potter to Rose. When last I saw Jane, she was crocheting while listening to something on her Walkman. Beanie is reading Adam Strange. I need to go sweep the kitchen floor.
Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, wrote a second book called Hey! Listen to This. It’s a collection of stories for reading aloud to young children. I read it many years ago and don’t remember anything about what stories are in the book; what I do remember, have never forgotten, is his story about the book’s title. He said his kids teased him about saying those words more than any other: “Hey, listen to this!”—and then he’d read aloud something that had fired his enthusiasm in a book, newspaper, magazine he was reading.
I laughed out loud the first time I read that anecdote, because that’s exactly what Scott and I did to each other all the time. We were practically newlyweds then, but it’s a habit that hasn’t changed over the years. At any given moment, someone, somewhere in my house, is likely to call out, “Hey, check this out” or “Whoa! You’ve gotta hear this!” and read a passage aloud for anyone in the vicinity.
Our bedsides are piled with books and articles one of us read and thought someone else would enjoy too. I suppose the flurry of links we email back and forth is an extension of that pile. Once upon a time, I was the one strewing reading material in Jane’s path. These days she strews just as much, or more, back into mine. Muse magazine has been the jumping-off point for a thousand heady discussions. I’m still working my way through the Redwall books she loves so dearly, not to mention the Arthur Ransome Swallows and Amazons series. She has more time to read than I do, so I get the fun of restocking her pile on practically a daily basis.
I’ve been reading Edward Eager’s Knight’s Castle to Beanie. It’s the sequel to Half Magic, and if you don’t know these books, you are so lucky because all the fun is still in front of you. Eager was (like me) a huge fan of Edith Nesbit’s children’s books. He set out to write books in the same rich and rollicking spirit, and he succeeded beautifully. Half Magic is the story of four siblings who find a magic charm that grants wishes. Sort of. It’s an old charm and only grants wishes at half strength, resulting in much mishap, hilarity, and confusion. For example, the youngest girl wishes her cat could talk, and the poor beast winds up able to speak a garbled, nonsensical half-version of English. The cat’s outraged utterances have become regular contributions to discussion around here. “Idgwits! Foos!”
The young heroes of Knight’s Castle, much to my children’s delight, are the children of the Half Magic kids. Jane tells me that the next book in the series, and I can’t remember if it’s Magic by the Lake or The Time Garden, but I’m thinking the former, is another story about the four Half Magic children, and then the fourth book is about their kids again. I’m told that the most delicious part is that the second generation of children actually get to meet their parents as children, though I don’t think they let their young future parents in on the secret.
One of my favorite things about Eager’s writing is his fondness for referencing other authors, other books. Nesbit in particular (the Half Magic and Knight’s Castle kids alike are great fans), but also Sir Walter Scott, Jane Porter, and many others. It’s as if Eager is always crying out, “Hey, listen to this!” and gushing about the books that set his imagination on fire.
Yesterday when I was reading to Beanie, Rose got sucked in. She’s read Half Magic herself but not the rest of the series, and she had thought she’d prefer to read them on her own but the snippet she overheard yesterday proved too bewitching, and she decided she wanted to hear the book out loud after all. She asked if I would catch her up, so we started over at the beginning and read all afternoon, and that’s why dinner was late.
In chapter two the children (two sets of cousins) are taken to see Ivanhoe, much to the delight of young Robert, who, we’re told, is in a yeomanry phase. Back at home, a massive Ivanhoe reenactment is set up by all four of the kids. The descriptions of Scott’s colorful characters had Rose and Bean clamoring to watch the same movie. (“In Technicolor, just like in the book!” says Bean.) Jane thinks it’s cool that Ivanhoe, the novel, makes an appearance in so many of her favorite books. It’s a plot point in one of the Betsy-Tacy high-school books, I forget which; I always loved the bit about how Betsy narrates the plot to two friends who forgot to read the assigned book over the summer, and they get perfect marks on the summaries they’re made to write on the first day of school, but Betsy herself, a devoted fan of the book, waxes on in such detail that she runs out of time while still describing the opening episode—and is severely rebuked by her teacher, who takes her paper as evidence that she never read more than the first chapter. Ouch, dear Betsy, I feel your pain.
When I was researching the fourth Charlotte book (I think it was the fourth), I found a Boston newspaper article from the year in which that book takes place excitedly announcing the arrival on U.S. shores of Sir Walter Scott’s latest novel, Ivanhoe. Naturally, I couldn’t resist including that event in the book, so Charlotte’s family enjoys it as their own read-aloud.
We were just talking yesterday about yet another children’s book that references Ivanhoe, but I forget what it was and Jane isn’t up yet. Probably there are many, but she was talking about one in particular.
I think Edward Eager would have gotten a kick out of knowing that Jeanne Birdsall set out to write her delightful novel The Penderwicks “in the spirit of Edward Eager and E. Nesbit.” The Penderwick children are also great devourers and quoters of books.
As I’m writing this, iChat is pinging me to let me know that Scott, making his early-morning internet rounds on the other computer, is saying “check this out” about something interesting he’s come across. Whatever it is, it’ll probably show up later in one of my del.icio.us link autoposts, the 21st-century version of “Hey! Listen to this!”