I’m circling back to yesterday’s topic. The bird clock chirped before I got to the best kind of connections! A few hours later, laughing with Huck and Rilla over a math problem, I knew I’d want to revisit the subject today.
We’ve been doing the enrichment pages of Math-U-See’s Pre-Algebra book together, the three of us. Side by side on the old green couch—a housewarming gift from Scott’s parents in 1999 when we (then a family of four) moved from our little Queens apartment to a one-bedroom-bigger place on Long Island. That sofa has seen some life, let me tell you. Our first Christmas here in Portland, my parents gave us a nice new Ikea sectional—finally enough comfy seating for the whole family—but my entire crew refused to hear of the removal of the old sofa. It lives now under the windows in our dining area, a favorite place to flop and read or listen to music.
So: the green sofa, a page of puzzle problems on my lap, Huck and Rilla on either side. Huck had sharpened all the pencils right after breakfast, so I had a nice fresh point. The final problem on the page elicited a gasp from Rilla. That gasp—the inrush of breath that signals a connection has just been made—is my chief delight as a homeschooling mom. And in the connection of ideas, we connect with each other.
Huge chunks of this blog are devoted to chronicling those moments. My own notebooks are full of them—connections the kids have made between this book, that game, this show, that moment of hilarity in the kitchen; and my own connections too, the synthesis of ideas and images gathered on my greedy, plate-loaded-at-the-buffet, rabbit-trailing, metaphor-mixing lifelong learning adventure.
Rilla (who is celebrating her fifteenth birthday today, if you can believe it) jumped up and grabbed an Oz graphic novel off the shelf. The Eric Shanower & Skottie Young Oz adaptations were her favorite books to pore over as a tiny child; they’re basically the books that taught her to read. (Along with good old Bob.)
Our math problem had reminded her of a tidbit she’d puzzled over many times as a little girl. In the book, Scarecrow and friends are plotting an escape from a flock of jackdaws. They have a handful of wishing pills but not enough to go around—not, says the Tin Woodman, unless they can count to seventeen by twos. The sawhorse declares that’s easy to do, if you just start counting at “a half of one.”
Rilla remembered being extremely confused by the sawhorse’s logic. She could never figure out how he arrived at that solution. While we puzzled it out together (spoiler: he cheated), I absently doodled on the page. The kids laughed at me—this, too, is a longrunning point of connection for us and amusement for them. It’s extremely hard for me to focus on what anyone is saying if I can’t doodle or stitch or do something fiddly with my hands. (One reason I always encourage kids to draw, or play with Sculpey or beeswax, or crochet while I’m reading to them.)
And I guess the quiet pauses while kids work out math problems are another place I need the help of a pencil. The margins of their math books are full of nonsense drawings. I have a shelf full of elementary Math-U-See instruction books I can’t resell because I’ve scribbled all over them!
Ack—there’s that bird clock again. Time to go! We have birthday biscuits with chocolate gravy to make.
• encounters with beauty
• encounters with living books
• meaningful work
• imaginative play
• big ideas to ponder and discuss
• white space
If this post ends abruptly, here’s why.
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Oh, May. You beautiful, terrible month. I can’t say I’m sorry to see the back of you. Massive workload, plumbing woes, multiple trips to the children’s hospital (which sounds more alarming than it ought to—here in San Diego they send your kids to Children’s for every little thing; for example: a chest x-ray when your child has pneumonia even though there is an x-ray lab RIGHT NEXT DOOR to the pediatrician’s office, AHEM, and a four-hour wait and a three-second x-ray later the radiologist will say, all right, I’ve just sent these to your doctor, zap)…but it’s June now, let’s put all that behind us.
I suppose, though, that May did have its moments. Scott surprised me with a trip to a big art supply story downtown, a wonderland full of pens singing at me. I came home with a metal brush pen, aka my new best friend, it feels amazing when you pull it across the page; and a tube of raw umber paint because I have been unsuccessful in mixing a shade the color of chocolate with my basic color palette. Rilla’s birthday breakfast is still waiting in my sketchbook to be painted. Since April, sheesh.
In May my boys’ writing class wrapped up—this was a group of nine homeschooled boys ages 10-14 whose mothers approached me about putting together an eight-week writing course. We had us some fun, let me tell you. A highlight of my spring was watching our freewrites transform from “TEN WHOLE MINUTES??!!?” to “Oh wait can I please have a bit more time?”
Huck discovered the delights of the Oz books—specifically the Eric Shanower/Skottie Young graphic novel adaptations that Rilla loves so much. He spends a lot of time like this:
blurry photo but it’s all I got
He’s also enjoying the Magic Tree House books, like so many of his siblings before him. Scott read him the first one to get him started. The corresponding nonfiction volumes are particular favorites, and I am once again being treated to daily factoids about sharks and pirates. Never gets old.
Oh sure, I can write the date, but that doesn’t mean I can believe it. I’d have laid money we weren’t past the 6th or 7th yet. Blink. WB goes back to school on Thursday (!) and Rose starts a Spanish class at the community college next week (!!). I will probably wake up tomorrow and discover that Huck has enrolled in graduate school.
On the forums for my Phone Photography class, someone (possibly my friend Stephanie Elms?) recommended an app called Timehop that, once connected to your various social media accounts, will compile for you each day a look back at what you posted on this date in years past. Thus it was that I discovered today is four years since we (sans Scott) visited Rocky Ridge Farm, where Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote all her books.
In which we continue the family tradition of being unable to all smile for a photo simultaneously, unless Scott is standing behind the photographer working his magic.
It has been a BIG four years. Three of those girls are taller than I now, and that chubby little side of beef is a long, lean boy. There’s a lot less pink in the laundry these days (nearly all of it Rilla’s).
Here’s what we did this weekend: I was asked to be on a panel at WinkieCon, an annual celebration of the Oz books, which I grew up loving as wildly as I did Little House. You can imagine my delight, then, at encountering none other than Ozma herself.
Is that not the most incredible costume? She nailed it perfectly. In addition to being a talented costumer, Natalie makes wonderful jewelry and art.
And that’s not all. My young Polychrome was tickled to meet this fellow:
After the “Playing in Someone Else’s Sandbox” panel there was a booksigning for the authors (Edward Einhorn, Caroline Spector, and me). Look who kept me company at the table!
The convention was a delight for me and my girls, especially Miss Rilla, who dove into a ribbon-hunting quest with considerable verve. She had to seek out attendees with Doctor Who “Companion” ribbons on their badges and ask them to pose for a quick photo; for every five Companion photos she brought back to the game table, she earned a new ribbon for her own badge—starting with Dalek and working her way up through several levels, past Time Lord to a Companion badge of her own. She made a lot of friends that day, let me tell you. 🙂
One of the highlights of the convention was—I can hardly tell you how fluttery I felt, walking into this room—a collection of Judy Garland’s costumes. Meet Me in St. Louis, The Harvey Girls, Easter Parade—so many treasures there. And we met Judy’s son. Such a nice man. It was quite a day.
If you ever get a chance to go to an Oz convention (especially Winkie Con, which is such a class act), I highly recommend it. Fascinating people, gorgeous books and costumes and handmade wares, really interesting panels—Jane particularly enjoyed “Oz and the American Musical,” which I wish I’d attended myself—and all in a venue MUCH less crowded and overwhelming than, say, Comic-Con. Many thanks to Eric Shanower for the invitation to speak on the panel.
…to get the latest Eric Shanower/Skottie Young Oz graphic novel for your birthday.
She’s been waiting for this one for a long time, in girl-years.
August 28, 2013 @ 7:34 pm | Filed under: Books
Illustration by John R. Neill
I loved the Oz books as a kid. Loooooved them. Collected the whole series, the Baum-authored ones plus a couple of the Ruth Plumly Thompson sequels, and enlisted my father’s help to track down the Very Best Editions, the white-bordered oversized trade paperbacks with John R. Neill illustrations.
I reread the entire series regularly all through high school and even on college vacations. Dorothy, Ozma, Tik-Tok, Scraps, the Hungry Tiger, the Glass Cat, Betsy Bobbin, Billina, Polychrome, General Jinjur, the Shaggy Man, Button-Bright: this astonishing array of lively characters peopled my imagination and taught me a great deal about diversity, varying points of view, and fun. They were an outspoken bunch, these Oz folks. They had strong opinions; their perspectives clashed; they worked through conflicts and celebrated one another’s quirks. I adored them. Still do.
Strangely, the Oz books never seemed to take off for my kids as read-alouds. Baum’s prose is, I confess, a bit arch, sometimes saccharine. His genius was for character and plot, not lyricism. My older three girls went through waves of reading the series on their own, but they didn’t seem to catch Oz fever with the intensity I had.
Enter Rilla. Well, first enter Eric Shanower and Skottie Young, who are bringing the Oz books to a new generation of readers via truly gorgeous graphic novel adaptations published by Marvel. Oz, overflowing as it is with colorful, outlandish characters, was made for graphic depictions. Eric Shanower (who has become a friend of mine through Comic-Con and SCBWI) is a true Ozian—why, his own press is called Hungry Tiger, and his contributions to Oz literature and fandom are staggering. His adaptations are faithful, deft, and affectionate. And Skottie Young’s art, while a departure from the John R. Neill images burned into my brain as canon, is wholly delightful. It’s clear he is having tremendous fun bringing these creatures to life.
I’ve mentioned before that Rilla, as a reader, is drawn to books with a heavy illustration-to-text ratio. She prefers Brambly Hedge to Little House, for example; those gorgeous, intricately detailed drawing of tree-stump pantries and attics can occupy her for a full afternoon. She’ll spend an hour talking to me about Eric Carle’s techniques. For her, art is the magic; an accompanying plotline is simply a nice bonus.
We brought Eric and Skottie’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz home from SDCC last month, and Rilla—well, you’d have thought we gave her an actual trip to the Land of Oz, she was so excited. It’s the longest, hardest book she has read on her own. Oh yes, it’s a graphic novel, but the text is quite sophisticated: there’s some nice meaty vocabulary in the dialogue. Baum didn’t talk down to his young readers, and neither does Eric Shanower. (And of course I’ve written volumes before about the excellent reading skills imparted by comics: there’s a lot of complex decoding going on as a young reader navigates those panels.)
“Bad news,” she told me mournfully one day. “I finished the best book in the world.”
“Guess what,” I whispered. “There are more.”
Her gasp, her shining eyes: no Princess of Oz was more radiant.
The next week’s worth of bedtimes saw her poring over The Marvelous Land of Oz, one of my favorite books in the series (both the original and the graphic adaptation). Every morning, she narrated the previous night’s events to me, dancing with suspense as the story unfolded, and belly-laughing over the ending.
Then came Ozma of Oz, a book for which my deep affection renders me nearly incoherent. Even that sentence is on shaky grammatical territory. Imagine a lot of squealing noises and some Rilla-esque bouncing around. I mean, I mean, Tik-Tok and the Wheelers! The lunch-pail trees! The loathsome, fabulous Princess Langwidere and her collection of interchangeable heads. SHE WANTS DOROTHY’S HEAD FOR THE COLLECTION, YOU GUYS. Come on. And then the Nome King and his high-stakes guessing game (shades of Heckedy Peg), and Billina the Hen’s surprising trump card. Oh, oh, oh.
Don’t tell Rilla, but I’d already given a copy of Ozma to my goddaughter, Vivi, whose mother is, if anything, an even bigger Oz fanatic than I am. She even looks like Ozma. (Krissy, why why why didn’t we ever go as Ozma and Polychrome for Halloween?)
Polychrome, the Rainbow’s Daughter, meets Princess Ozma. Illustration by John R. Neill.
Rilla hasn’t met Polychrome yet. She will swoon, mark my words. The Rainbow’s Daughter? Polly of the swirling robes and floaty hair? Rilla’s a goner. Like Ozma, she’ll make Polly’s acquaintance in The Road to Oz. I can’t wait to see what Skottie Young does with Polychrome and the Shaggy Man. Both characters are bubbling over with the whimsy he captures so well.
But first comes Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz. Even for Baum, this is a bizarre tale. Dorothy gets caught in a San Francisco earthquake and falls all the way to the center of the earth, where weird vegetable people (as in, they grow on vines) called the Mangaboos are on the verge of executing her when, whew!, who should float down in his balloon but Dorothy’s old acquaintance, the Wizard?
After that comes The Emerald City of Oz. Rilla and I may not be able to wait for the collected edition; we might have to start picking up the floppies from our local comic shop.