Tuesday, July 16, 2013

In Which I Have a Lot to Say About Books and my Kids.

I currently have 77 items checked out at our local library.  Maybe 7 are novels for me (okay, I admit it--YA novels and trashy mysteries).  Another half dozen are DVDs.  The remainder are books to read with the kids.  Pictures books, easy readers, a few nonfictions on topics of interest, and three books of science experiments.  We didn't get them all at one time, but each trip we get, oh, 40 or so items, then a few weeks later we round up all the duds, the ones that we can't renew any longer, the stupid fucking based on a TV show books I hate to read to them but they keep checking out anyway, and the ones that we are willing to give up in order to justify getting new ones.  We bring 'em back, so we can swear under our breath (oh wait, that's just me) at the library's new "automated" book return, which accepts one item at a time, except that after each three items it kind of gets nervous and shuts down for a bit.  Nothing is more fun than trying to return 30 books and DVDs one by one, while the machine stalls out, the kids squabble over who has handed in more books, and I try to remember to keep the cursing internal, or at least subvocal.  Oh, wait, I do know what's even more fun--being the person behind us in line.  Sorry, that person.


Several months ago, Linden came home from school asking if I'd read the Elephant and Piggy books.  I hadn't, although I felt as if I'd heard of them.  "Can we look for them at the library?"  she asked.  "They're by Mo Willems!"  So the next visit, I went looking for books by somebody Williams, because I figured she had the name a bit wrong.

She didn't.  You probably knew that.  May I just say how much I adore that her kindergarten teacher has taught her to pay attention to the author's name, so you can find other books by the same person?  That was totally a Mr. B. thing, not a Mom thing.  I guess there are some ways in which 35 years of teaching kindergarten give you some clues as to what kinds of things they need to know.  Me, I'm constantly being surprised.  Either, "You know that?  How do you know that?!?"  or "You don't know that?  Wait, was I supposed to teach you that?  My bad."

So.  Mo Willems.  My literary hero, although I'm not sure why Knuffle Bunny got the big awards.  The Pigeon books are hilarious, and Elephant and Piggy have this unique power to make my kids want to read them aloud.  Both kids are just barely starting to read, but when I pull out the E&P books (or, to be more precise, when they are slammed into my lap by eager children), the kid who grabbed it out of the pile fastest gets to choose their "part," then the other kid chooses theirs, and I get whomever is left over.  Linden has memorized the stories Mr B. read them, so she can get through those just fine.  Oak sometimes gets frustrated halfway through and asks me to take over, but between the humor, the way the words are color-coded to the character, the way the type fact reflects the emotions of the speaker, and the memorable quality of the stories, he is always willing to give it a try, and gets further each time we read.  I guess it's because it's dialogue rather than narration--a kind of built-in readers' theater.  I realized early on that, other than "books" that are horribly summaries of some  stupid My Little Pony or Dora movie, kids' picture books run the gamut from amazingly wonderful to pretty darn good.  But Mo Willems is in a class of his own.

(Then there was the time I was coerced into reading one of the horrible ML Pony books, and as it ground to a halt, just before I exploded with "Oh. My. God.  Nothing happened!" Linden gave a happy little sigh and said, "That was nice."  Nice.  Okay.)

On our most recent trip to the library, we noticed and checked out a book we'd renewed for months awhile back.  It's a sweet little "I love my daddy!" kind of book about a bear cub and his father.  Yes, I go out of my way to check out books that promote loving family relationships.  They asked me to read it tonight, putting it in the highly prestigious and hotly debated "last book of the evening" spot by unanimous decision, because "it's not silly" and "it ends with them going to sleep."

I opened the book to the familiar illustrations, and began to read.  "Hmm," I thought  in the back of my head.  "I don't remember the rhyming being quite this sing-songy."  As I kept reading, I figured it out.  I had never actually READ the words to this book before.  That other time we had it out must have been quite a long time ago, because the words I remember saying along with the pictures were really poorly translated summaries of what was going on in each scene.  I had read it to them (and they fell in love with it) in my pidgen attempt at their first language.

When I feel somewhat panicky that my kids are barely reading, it helps to remember that less than a year ago, they did not know any English. Now, they can follow along with not just picture books, but those short chapter books known as "early readers."  (Here, a shout-out to Cynthia Rylant.  I know her YA books, and am delighted to discover her different series of charming little chapter books.)  They have learned SO MUCH.  Reading will come.
When I read to the kids. Linden sits on my right, Oak on my left.  Then they lean.  They're trying to see the pictures, I know.  But the amount of weight pushing against me, especially on my left side, has increased dramatically over time.  I can talk to you about reading readiness, English language development, the beauty of children's literature, and fostering a love of reading, but what really keeps me reading night after night, despite my complete inability to stick to all the other schedules and plans I've put in place, is that lean.

It feels like love.

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