Bring A Case of Red Herrings to the gym.
During Beanie’s gymnastics class, I pulled our trusty Red Herrings (“Solving Mysteries through Critical Questioning”) book out of my bag and read one of the mysteries to Jane. As she peppered me with yes-or-no questions in an effort to puzzle out the solution, I noticed the other mothers, one by one, laying aside their magazines and listening in. By the time Jane cried out a triumphant “I’ve got it,” even the off-duty gymnastics teacher behind the desk had given up on paperwork to get in on the fun.
Jane pleaded for a second mystery, but Beanie’s class ended before she solved it. Jane and Rose ran into the other room for their class, and I put the book away and joined Wonderboy in his game of scatter-toys on the floor. But the other moms rose up in a body and demanded to know the secret to the mystery Jane had left hanging in the air. I made them guess. Yes-or-no questions only, please.
The Scrambled States of America by Laurie Keller.
I heard of this book a quite a while ago, but we never crossed its path until last week. Hilarious! One morning Kansas wakes up bored, tired of being stuck in the middle of the country. He convinces his kindhearted neighbor, Nebraska, that they need something to liven them up—how about a party for all of the states? The ensuing shindig is a roaring success, and all the states are inspired to strike out for a new section of the country: Florida heads north, Alaska goes south, and Kansas thinks the middle of the Pacific sounds like a swell place to savor life—for a while…
My kids were enchanted by the wacky plot, the quirky artwork, and all the funny bits of dialogue scattered around the pages. Immediately upon finishing the book, Rose begged me to read it again. Afterward, the girls dug out our big USA floor puzzle and spent a happy hour assembling it, rearranging it, and narrating a convoluted continuation of Laurie Keller’s delightful tale.
Looks like there’s a board game based on the book, too—hmm, whose birthday is next around here?
For more picture-book recommendations, visit my Booknotes page.
“A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water.”
A wee-hours snowstorm canceled our plans for the morning, much to the girls’ satisfaction. They’ve been waiting for weeks to try out the new sleds Scott hid in the garage, the ones they aren’t supposed to know about. (Sorry, honey—I left the garage door open one day. Oops.) Upstairs in their room an indoor blizzard is raging: mittens flying, long underwear leaping out of the drawer, layer upon layer of clothing sailing through the air en route to its exuberant young owners.
Myself, I’ve always been of the Carl Reiner school of thought when it comes to snowstorms. To me, snow is: an inconvenience, an excuse to drink hot chocolate, and a once useful but now overused basis for metaphor (in that order).
But the children of my best pal, Alice Gunther, recently gave challenge to my admittedly cantankerous point of view. Alice, inspired by Julie Bogart’s The Writer’s Jungle, asked her girls how they would describe snow to someone who had never seen it before. With Alice’s permission, I reprint parts of their descriptions here:
B (age 5) “Snow feels like a cut when it gets into your boots.”
“It is white as white paper.”
C (age 7) “Snow looks like a cluster of diamonds from a fairy tale. If you leave velvet out in the snow, you will find it covered with little snowflakes, and the points look like Celtic knots. Each one is different from the others, yet they could fit together like a mosaic or a flower. Snow looks like lace on the velvet, like a queen’s dress.”
M (age 9) “Snow feels like a very cold chick—a chick with hypothermia.”
“When you step on it, it sounds like baked taco shells.”
A (age 11) “Snow looks like frosting on a cake, with jagged peaks here and there, although it is soft in most places. Where you have walked, it is flat, and greenish brown grass peaks out. As you look ahead of you, all the ground in front of you is level and very wide, almost like a flat plain. If you pick up a scoop in your gloved hand and look closely at it, it seems to have tiny craters, almost like a sponge.”
Wow. These breathtaking bits of freewriting almost make me want to go dig up my own long underwear and venture out to see the stuff firsthand.
Almost. I think instead I’ll curl up with the aforementioned mug of hot chocolate and a copy of Andersen’s “The Snow Queen.” I’ll have to read it to myself, though. The kids are all outside.
To read Alice’s Writer’s Jungle review in its entirety, visit the Bravewriter discussion in the “Living Language Arts” forum at 4 Real Learning.
It’s Not My Turn to Look for Grandma by April Halprin Wayland, illustrated by George Booth.
Dawn was just cracking over the hills. Ma was splitting kindling on the back porch.
“Woolie!” she called out. “Where in the hickory stick is Grandma?”
“Dunno,” said Woolie. “It’s not my turn to look for Grandma!”
I’ve been reading this book to my kids for eight or nine years, and it still makes us all giggle. April Halprin Wayland (author of another of our family favorites, the quiet and lovely To Rabbittown), depicts this quirky backwoods family with wit and warmth, and George Booth’s illustrations are a hoot. Ma, a hardworking backwoods mother, needs Grandma’s help and keeps sending the kids to fetch her—but Grandma’s too busy sliding down the haystack with her dirty old dog, or doing something similarly outlandish. She’s never too busy, however, for a banjo band…
The rollicking text is a joy to read aloud. The writing is fresh and lively, and the characters are pure originals—especially that dirty old dog and a pair of disreputable porcupines. George Booth’s art, which would be hilarious even without the words, captures them perfectly. If I had to narrow down our picture book collection to ten titles (horrific thought!), this one would make the cut for its never-fail ability to invoke the belly-laughs I love.
For more picture-book recommendations, visit my Booknotes page.
One of my favorite things about motherhood is the way my kids force me outside the box of my own head. I like to collect the little moments when their startling pronouncements on life, the universe, and everything jolt me out of my sedate, grown-up patterns of thought and make me reassess my perceptions. Like these:
Jane was five years old and we were at a conference where I had a speaking engagement. At one point, a friend’s teenaged daughter took her to the drinking fountain. She later related this story to her mother, who passed it on to me.
Apparently young Jane was delighted by the arc of the water as it came out of the spout. “Look, I’m drinking a rainbow!” she cried.
Then she took a drink, paused, and added thoughtfully, “That’s funny, I always thought rainbows would be crunchy.”
Beanie was two years old, and I was reading her Dr. Seuss’s There’s a Wocket in my Pocket for the first time.
“Did you ever have the feeling,” I read, “there’s a wasket in your basket?” Bean burst out laughing.
“A wasket in my basket! Dat’s funny.” I continued: “…Or a nureau in your bureau?” Another enormous belly-laugh.
“A nureau in my bureau! Dat’s weally funny!”
By this time I was laughing too. I went on, “…Or a woset in your closet?”
This time, no laugh. She looked puzzled.
“Huh,” she grunted. “A woset in your closet. Dat’s not funny.”
When Rose was two-going-on-three, a friend gave us a “Bunny Bowling Set.” The bowling balls were little plastic cabbages with which you attempted to knock down plastic rabbit-shaped pins. Jane set the game up and played it for a while, then wandered off. I was in the next room, fixing dinner, and heard Rose playing with the game. But she sounded frustrated. I kept hearing her knock the bunnies over with the ball, and then she’d cry out in dismay.
Finally she hollered, “Mommy! It no WORK!” I went to watch her try again. She rolled the cabbage and knocked down half the bunnies.
I cheered. “There you go! You’ve got the hang of it now.”
She looked at me incredulously. “No! It no work,” she said, through gritted teeth.
“Sure it worked!” I said. “Look how many bunnies you hit.”
Her glare was steely with pity and forced patience.
“It—no—work,” she repeated, slowly, as if she were the adult and I the child. “Bunny won’t catch cabbage!”
February 20, 2005 @ 6:30 pm | Filed under: Poetry
In honor of The Great Backyard Bird Count, which ends today, one of my favorite poems:
Be like the bird, who
Halting in his flight
On limb too slight
Feels it give way beneath him,
Knowing he hath wings.
When I was setting up this blog, I created a category called “Things that Inspire Me” with Small Meadow Press in mind, but I haven’t had a chance to post about it until now. This is due in part to my urge to gush for pages about Lesley Austin’s beautiful notecards and illustrated quotations—I keep drafting posts that turn into novels. And really, I don’t need to say anything at all: Lesley’s lovely offerings speak for themselves. Her new “Notes on Gratitude,” with quotations from Shakespeare, Chesterton, and others, have got me looking forward to every opportunity to write thank-you notes, so delightful are they. I ordered her “Jane Austen Missives” stationery set to give to my niece for Christmas, and once I had it in my hands, I had to get quite stern with myself in order to give it up. I plan to tuck one of Lesley’s charmingly named “Small Useful Books” into my daughters’ Easter baskets—they’ll be perfect for our nature walks this spring.
See, I’m doing it again! I can’t help it! And I haven’t even gotten to the so-perfect-it’s-uncanny illustrated quotation I ordered in honor of Scott. (“What a dreadful thing it must be to have a dull father,” by Mary Mapes Dodge—accompanied by a sepia-toned picture that makes my girls, whose father is anything but dull, grin every time they glance at it.) I’ll stop now and let you see for yourself.
Wonderboy had his OT evaluation today. Our marvelous physical therapist, M., brought an occupational therapist, K., out to meet our little guy. I don’t know about Wonderboy, but boy was I exhausted when it was over. (Actually, he conked out even before they left, while they were writing up their notes.)
Watching his responses to various sensory stimuli and activities, I couldn’t help but marvel at the complexity of the human brain. Wonderboy’s brain abnormalities manifest in high muscle tone, irregular vestibular function, and gross & fine motor delay. What amazes me is how intricately everything is linked together. His sensorineural hearing loss contributes to vestibular problems, which contribute to gross motor delay, which is (in part) why he can’t yet, at fourteen months of age, crawl or transition from lying down to sitting and vice versa. But then again there’s the muscle tone issue which makes it hard for him to lift up his head from the tummy-down position, and babies with hearing loss hate to be cut off from visual contact with their parents. Another strike against crawling—and crawling helps a baby’s vestibular system develop properly, so it’s the chicken and the egg. Everything linked, everything working together to make motor function a challenge for this kid.
But the human brain is like a stubborn old man driving his car—no point in telling him “you can’t get there from here.” If the road is closed, he’ll just keep driving around until he finds some obscure, winding, unpaved back road that—eventually, after a tooth-jolting ride—gets him to his destination. Wonderboy’s brain hasn’t figured out crawling, and when you pull him to his feet he walks with a step-drag sidestep, but by golly he’s determined to move.
That determination, that drive, is what blew me away today (as it does so many days). Seriously, babies are my heroes. They push and push and try and try until they succeed—or fall asleep from exhaustion. Now there’s a work ethic for you.
There’s a redbellied woodpecker in the neighborhood who is very happy with my birthday present. Back in December, Scott bought me something I’d wanted for a long time: a heated deck-mounting bird bath. Because, yes, I am that big a geek.
He installed it on the back deck where I can see it from the family-room sofa. The suet feeder hangs from a hook nearby, and on the other side of the bird bath is the tube feeder with the fancy millet-sunflower-peanut mix that all the best birds go crazy for. At least, in theory they do. This year we’ve had mostly juncoes, mourning doves, and bluejays. A lone titmouse made several visits early in the season, and for a while two sociable cardinal couples dropped by every morning to gossip and munch on sunflower seeds, but I haven’t seen them since before Christmas. I’m hoping the bird bath will woo them back if the weather takes a downturn.
Mrs. Redbelly certainly displays an appreciation of the modern conveniences. Every morning, just about the time we’re finishing our breakfast, she arrives for hers. She dines on suet, refreshes with a few sips of water, and preens a while on the sun-drenched deck rail. It’s like her own personal spa.
The local mockingbird gets his kicks by harrassing her as she pops back to the suet feeder for another nibble, but Mrs. Redbelly isn’t easily cowed. She flaps at him and brandishes her rapier beak. He quickly retreats. Smugly, Mrs. Redbelly darts to the tube feeder for a peanut, showering a hail of millet seeds on the lawn below; then she returns to her sunny corner to watch the grateful juncoes feast in the grass.
Every year the kids and I count birds for Project Feederwatch. Mrs. Redbelly is the first woodpecker to visit our yard since we moved here three years ago, and it is with immense satisfaction that I click the “redbellied woodpecker” box when we enter our data each week. The official Feederwatching season lasts through April, but I hope Mrs. R. will continue her spa visits well into the spring. The mockingbird would be bored without her.
If you didn’t sign up for Project Feederwatch this year, you can still help count birds! The Great Backyard Bird Count is this weekend, February 18-21. Check it out at www.birdsource.org/gbbc.