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reading

Holidaze

I Can’t Believe It’s Almost Christmas! (Part II) What should I buy my Mom/Dad/Husband/Wife/Cousin/Sister/Best Friend?

Sure, they want gift cards. But what could be less personal than 10 or 20 bucks towards a meal at Panera or a mani/pedi?

Give the folks you love permission to turn off the phone, the television, and global politics, and disappear into a good, juicy book.

Here are just a few of our favorites:

For people who need a laugh, try Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, by David Sedaris, or Today Will Be Different, by Maria Semple (though if you have not read Where Have You Gone, Bernadette? maybe read that one first).dadvmom-com_christmasbooks_dressyourfamily

For folks who might want to think about religion and the way it both hurts and heals, Searching for Sunday, by Rachel Held Evans, is haltingly lovely and wise.

For someone who needs a story to disappear into for awhile, Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, took the immigrant tale I thought I knew and made me rethink the promises of our nation. It was a sweeping story with really beautiful writing. In a different vein, Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad really is as good as everybody has said, making us imagine what if there really had been a railroad beneath the ground transporting slaves, and what, if anything, freedom might have looked like on that journey northward state by state.

For the World War II buff, All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, Mila 18, by Leon Uris, and The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, all take a familiar story and make it both strange and somehow more important. Similarly, Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies take us inside the court of Henry VIII to consider a story we thought we knew through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell.

For folks who keep skipping book club, but want to catch up with both new and old favorites, try The Paris Wife, by Paula McClain (or her newer one Circling the Sun, for the Out of Africa afficionados on your list). Life of Pi, by Yan Martel, is beautifully written and metaphorical, and The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah stayed with me more deeply than I initially anticipated. Or try a Brooklyn trilogy – A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith, Another Brooklyn, by Jacqueline Woodson, and Brooklyn, by Colm Tóibín, would make for a great comparative series.

dadvmom-com_christmasbooks_lifeofpiAnd if you are looking to escape into a world of romance, try the debut novel Just Enough, by Elizabeth Oaklyn, Austenland, by Shannon Hale, Elizabeth Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series, or the Outlander series, by Diana Gabaldon.

Short stories are always a good bet for folks in between lengthier reads. Jhumpa Lahiri is one of my favorite writers of this genre. The first story in Interpreter of Maladies might be my all-time favorite, though Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth collection is also quite stunning. Similarly, books of essays are always a great gift. I love to revisit E.B. White essays, and love any edition that includes “This Is New York.” I disappeared into Joan Didion’s collected nonfiction last year. We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live is some of the best writing I have ever encountered.  And though I love Ann Patchett’s fiction, I especially appreciated her nonfiction collection from a few years ago, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage.

Poetry books are perfect stocking stuffers. The Trouble with Poetry, by Billy Collins is always a good place to start for the poem-o-phobes in your life, and you can’t go wrong with anything by Mary Oliver. Dream Work is one of my favorites.

As a writer, I am a sucker for books about writing. Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird was one of my first loves. And, though I never was a huge Stephen King reader, his slim book On Writing is a great look at the writing life.

And it is never too late to become the parent, the partner, or person you always thought you might be. Try Siblings Without Rivalry, by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish, Love Warrior, by Glennon Melton, or Shrill, by Lindy West, to examine the assumptions many of us have about women, men, children, and marriage.

And finally, of course, there is always this old thing. If you have not yet picked up a copy of our book, we’d love to come hang out under your tree. Here Be Dragons: A Parent’s Guide to Rediscovering Purpose, Adventure, and the Unfathomable Joy of the Journey is a love story for families just trying to make every day a blessing.

All of these books are available NOW at your favorite independent bookstores or online stores and they are also super-easy to wrap. Grab some for people you love today.

Holidaze

Aack! I Can’t Believe It’s Almost Christmas! What Should I Buy My Kids?

 

When in doubt, our answer is always books, books, books.

Here are some of our kids’ favorites:

Ages 0-4Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Eric Carle. We sang this as a lullaby to each of our kids, sometimes changing the words to “I see Mommy looking at me” or “I see Henry looking at me.”  A quintessential sing- and read-aloud book.

The Runaway Bunny, by Margaret Wise Brown. Of course, all of our children loved Goodnight Moon, the perfect bedtime book to read again and again. But not everyone knows this story about a mommy bunny proving her love for her little bunny boy by describing all the places she would travel (the mountains, the circus, the ocean) and all the things she would become (a mountain climber, a fisherman, the wind) to care for her child. Our kids especially seemed to love this book when they were seeking reassurance and extra snuggles.

ABC, by Alison Jay. We LOVE Alison Jay’s interlocked illustrations in all of her books, especially the way stories are told between the pages.  This is the kind of book we came back to again and again with our kids and always noticed something different.  They loved looking for the “hints” between the pages.

Seals on the Bus, by Lenny Hort. Most younger readers will encounter the “Wheels on the Bus” song in preschool or at the library.  This book is a humorous rewrite with animals hopping on the bus (vipers instead of wipers on the bus, seals instead of wheels).  We laugh and snort every time we read it. www-dadvmom-com_aackitsalmostchristmas_sealsonthebus

Ages 5-7 –The Junie B. Jones books, by Barbara Park. I know folks are fiercely divided about these.  Some think the grammatical mistakes teach kids the wrong way to speak or that because Junie makes a lot of bad choices, the books teach children to behave poorly.  But I think these books are so funny, and they always end the right way, with Junie learning her lessons, and trying to behave better. There are 26 volumes in the series and we have read all 26 out loud twice, once to our now 11-year-old and once again to our now 7-year-old.  I anticipate reading them all again when Henry, age 4, is ready. All of these books are terrific for early and emerging readers, especially for children anxious about starting kindergarten.

The BFG, by Raold Dahl. Dahl’s books are such timeless, wonderful read-alouds. I remember first thinking that his books might be “too scary” for my kids, but they are always just the right kind of scary – a giant who turns out to be friendly, mean adults who get punished. The worlds Dahl’s characters inhabit are always safe and always funny for kids. Our 7-year-old daughter’s teacher read The BFG to them at school and Lizzie loved it so much that she came home and wanted to read it again with us.

 

Ages 1-99Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst. I know they made a movie about this a few years back, but the book is truly excellent. So funny, so lovely. Especially good to have on hand to remind kiddos that everyone, everyone, everyone has bad days . . . even in Australia:)

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The Missing Piece, by Shel Silverstein. This is one of those rare books that works for all ages.  It works for a beginning reader, an intermediate reader, a teenager and an adult.  Children will love the humor of the different shapes trying to fit in the circle.  More mature readers will love the metaphor of being their own complete person without seeking another person to fulfill them and meet their needs.  All three of our kids have reached for this book at many different ages.

 

And here are a couple of middle reader/tween reads.  Folks are always asking us for books for this age (aside from the awesome Harry Potter and Hunger Games series, of course).

  1. The Dork Diaries series, by Rachel Renee Russell. Our daughter began reading these as a 3rd grader and still enjoyed them through the 5th grade.  While they weren’t always my cup of tea, she treasured them and shared them with friends, and seemed boosted by the difficult days endured by Nikki, the main character.  Even now, in middle school, she still keeps the series on her shelf.
  1. The I Survived series, by Lauren Tarshis. These stories are great for both girls and boys, escorting children through a firsthand look at difficult days in history — earthquakes, hurricanes, the sinking of the titanic.  With a happy ending because the whole time, you know that your narrator survives the ordeal.dadvmom-com_aackitsalmostchristmas_isurvivedbooks
  1.  The Giver series, by Lois Lowry. Many kids encounter The Giver in middle school, but there are 3 additional books to fill out the quartet – Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son. Our daughter counts them among her favorites.
  1. A Night Divided, by Jennifer A. Nielsen.  This is the story of 12-year-old Gerta, and her family, living on opposite sides of the Berlin wall. The book launched our oldest daughter into a reading spree about real historical events as seen and experienced in fictionalized stories narrated by children. Others like this include Fever 1793, by Laurie Halse Anderson, and The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly.
  1. Wonder, by R. J. Palacio. This is another book kids usually encounter in middle school. It tackles familiar topics of friendship and bullying through the eyes of 10-year-old Auggie who has severe facial deformities. It is a great book for middle readers to think about how they handle differences and nonconformity, and instructs them to be more sensitive and accepting.

 

Young Adult/Books for Teens

  1. Pretty much anything by John Green, but especially Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars. These books were not written when I was a teenager, so I had to read them as an adult, but they resonate well with teen readers looking for wry, wise narrators, and a little (okay, sometimes a lot) bit of heartbreak. Plus, with John Green books, smart kids are celebrated and awesome, not nerdy kiddos to be picked on.
  2. The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker. A great read for the Science Fiction lover or kiddo not afraid of What Ifs. This is a story of what might happen if our days got just a little longer and a little longer. Such an interesting look at how an initially insignificant change can have much larger consequences.
  3. The Lords of Discipline, by Pat Conroy. I loved all of Conroy’s books as an adult, but this one resonated with my most as I was thinking about college. This one is a beautiful story about male friendship and courage, not to mention an ode to the city of Charleston, South Carolina.
  4. The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. Death is the narrator here, helping readers navigate what it might have been like to be a German girl during WWII whose family is hiding a Jewish man. An important and beautiful read.
  5. Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson. This is not a book for younger readers, but it is an important book for high school students. It tells the story of Melinda who is being ostracized after calling the police at a teen party. This book gives voice to victims and those who feel powerless in the face of violence or bullying.

 

Yes, the children would probably like iTunes cards and movie theater tickets more. Or clothes. Or money. But reading fluency is the single greatest predictor of college-readiness, not to mention one of the best lifelong gifts you can give your child. For a very Merry Christmas, we say, bring on the books.

Have a wonderful book title for kids?  We’d love to hear it.  Leave a comment or email us at info@dadvmom.com.

 

Ease

A Case for Summer Screen Time

It’s summer vacation. Woo-hoo!

But now what?

If you are anything like our family, you awoke this morning and lounged – TV, pancakes, jammies ‘til noon. It was probably spectacular.

But now it is 1:15 pm and all the kids want to do is squabble and eat ice cream and melt their brains with the iPad. For today, we just might do that. But what about the rest of the summer? With sloth and gluttony rule the days? We wait all school year to get our kiddos back, but how do we make the most of June, July, and whatever time we are allotted in August? How do we do summer right?

I read a compelling essay last year about offering children unlimited screen time. I confess I only clicked on it to see what kind of nut-job of a parent made that decision. But the reasoning was pretty great. One mom offered her kids unlimited electronics after they completed several previously agreed-upon tasks—the usual things: reading, cleaning, and something active or creative. Her theory was that kids tend to stick with what they start with. Give them a hot glue gun at 9:30 am and chances are they’ll still be crafting when it’s time for lunch. Insist that they read for an hour and they’ll probably keep a nose in a book for two.

I was doubtful, but the kids and I brainstormed our own list and gave it a try. We decided that they could have as much television and iPad time only after:

  1. Reading
  2. Exercise
  3. Something Creative
  4. A Chore

Lots of my ideas die before I ever fully implement them—the one about not washing any clothes until the prior load is folded and put away, the one about no food in the car. But this one, the one where we made a list and ordered our summer really, really worked. Reading daily turned into more trips to the library for reinforcement books, and sunbathing sessions in the backyard with the Junie B. Jones series. Exercise meant walking the dog, biking to the beach, and neighborhood games of sharks and minnows. Creativity flowed freely every single day. The kids wrote books and made birthday cards, and Lizzie taught herself to draw a horse rearing up in a field. Katie composed music, made a radio, played the piano, and distributed homemade donuts to all her friends. In fact, the kitchen became a second playground. We made our own pizza and ice cream, lemon bread, apple sauce, strawberry jam, caramel, and crepes. We rolled our own sushi and experimented with boba tea. And even the chores got done. The kids folded clothes, made their beds, and scrubbed the bathroom with far few complaints than ever before.

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Now they were still my kids. Plenty of days they groused about the list. They still fought over the iPad and who was in charge of the remote. But they also settled into the routine. Our list provided structure – but not too much – and freedom – but not too much. Some days, we breezed through the list and watched too many episodes of Supergirl. Other days, a lot of days, we never got to any screen time at all. We rode our bikes to the pool for exercise and stayed all day. We baked and shared the results. We summered.

And this morning, over pancakes, we made a new list to try it all over again.

Join us. We would love to hear your results.

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Goals & Dreams & Sandwiches

Help! My Baby Stole My Novel

A few years ago, a friend sent me a question.  She was a new mom and she was having a tough time.  The days were long, the diapers were many.  She had grown accustomed to life in the parenting trenches.  But she missed literacy.  Sharpness of mind.  And the friendship of a good book.  What she wanted to know was:  would she ever read again?  What follows is the answer I wrote for her.

Will you ever read again?

The short answer is No.

At least that’s what it will feel like. You will examine warning labels on baby Tylenol. You will peruse pediatric websites at 2 am seeking guidance on teething, green poop, or how to get your baby to leave you alone. You will discover notes to yourself that you do not remember writing. You will read the expression on your partner’s face that tells you s/he is in the mood for love.   S/he will read the expression on your face indicating you are in the mood for cereal. But will you read books? No, probably not.

It is normal that a sensitive, educated parent might miss reading. So, what follows is a 5-step program for reclaiming The Book.

Step 1: Chaucer Coasters

Believe it or not, TV and sleep are necessary pursuits if you ever want to read again. As a new parent, I was wonked out. Despite plans to “revisit the classics” during my maternity leave, whenever I touched a book, I promptly fell asleep. Pick up a book if you must, but then set it down and put a cold drink on it. Books make good coasters. Sip your beverage and catch up with Real Housewives. Check in on The Deadliest Catch. Watch a vacuum cleaner infomercial at 3 am, just to say you have. Slum some with basic cable. When I wasn’t napping, Sex in the City reruns and Ice Road Truckers massaged my brain where literary information had previously been stored. Television helped me hit rock bottom. It is said alcoholics bottom out before seeking help. New parents need to do the same. I once watched eleven cooking shows back-to-back, leaving the couch only to change the baby and toast Pop-tarts. TV saturation gave me the drive to read again.

Step 2: Embrace Kid Lit

A runner returning from an injury doesn’t start with a marathon. A model on maternity leave doesn’t come back for a swimsuit shoot. They stretch, ease in. The same is true of readers. Start slow. Reawaken the memory of simply holding a book. After the birth of my daughter, Katie, my first book had a fabric cover and no discernable title, plot, or, in fact, words. It consisted of three pages – one depicting a doggie, another a kitty, and finally (and always surprising to me), a bunny. It wasn’t much, but those were the first pages I successfully comprehended. We “read” this book often. Before long, legitimately lovely children’s books followed: Goodnight Moon; Runaway Bunny; The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I was educating myself with reruns of Gilmore Girls, but at least I read to my kid. It was a start.

Step 3: Forgive Your Brain

After children’s books, I figured grown-up reads were not far behind. However, babies melt brain cells. As a parent, I was dumber. My husband tells me I confuse left and right for about two years after the birth of each child. This makes reading challenging. Whatever you do, DON’T return to something you were reading pre-baby. Unless you start all over, you will not recall even the basics of the plot. Take my experience with what I am told is a gripping tale of historical intrigue, An Instance of the Fingerpost, by Iain Pears. I began this novel when I was pregnant, and picked it up again when my daughter was six months old. Technically, I did complete the book, in that I turned each of its pages. But at the end, I was left with two important questions:

  1. What was the Instance to which the title refers?
  2. What exactly was a Fingerpost?

I do not fault Mr. Pears. His characters performed surgeries and ate dinners in consummate detail. But my life was upside down and covered in baby vomit. I could not summon enough info from my first reading to inform the second. My eyes read words that my marshmallow brain refused to process.

Step 4: Forage in the Bathroom

So maybe whole books aren’t the best way to start. Graze instead. Nose through a Pottery Barn catalog; chew on Disney fliers that will magically appear in your mailbox as soon as you have children. I read magazines instead of cleaning house. And because I failed to clean, magazines were everywhere—clogging kitchen counters, cluttering coffee tables, and decorating every bathroom. In fact, most of my after-baby reading happened in the loo. I was alone there. So I dallied. I bopped from article to article, inching back towards literacy. I studied recipes I did not cook, and learned exercises I did not do. I read eight-month-old news articles that were still news to me. Whether my source was Oprah or Obama, I savored every stolen bathroom minute.

Step 5: Recovery: Vampires at the Beach

After magazines, books are yours. Drag your bambino to library story time and start browsing. Don’t be surprised if your stamina has altered during the months (or years) away. If you previously fancied Victorian novels or tended towards tomes with Russian heft, now, even in the dead of winter, you may crave a beach read. Unfamiliar with the genre? Just find a cover with a glassy-eyed woman staring into the mist. With a title like Love Promises or anything After the Harvest. But don’t laze in the sand for too long. Cultivate new interests. I discovered young adult novels after the birth of my daughter, Lizzie. Teen books aren’t all wizards and vampires. The Hunger Games rescued my neighbor from the brink. Looking for Alaska, a sweet and wry little adolescent romance, set me on the road to recovery. Nonfiction was also appealing. Essays were easy to pick up and put down. I found E.B. White again. Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions helped me laugh about parenting. To escape parenting, anything written or breathed upon by David Sedaris was always a good bet.

 

Eventually, the reader in you will resuscitate. For me, it happened one fall. Six years after my first maternity leave, I finally returned to the classics. I curled up late one night in my favorite rocking chair, and thumbed through Pride and Prejudice on my iPhone, with my baby daughter drowsing on my lap. Elizabeth and Darcy saw me through those nighttime feedings. Their flirtatiousness, their wit, their passion…it awakened in me a desire I had not felt in years.* I wanted to keep on reading. And, for once, I did.

 

*Of course, it also awakened in me other desires. Not long after, I was pregnant again, and right back at Chaucer Coasters. But, for a little bit there anyway, there was hope. And I know there will be again.

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A version of this piece was originally published on The Huffington Post.