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Read Aloud for Earth Day!

22 Apr

I can hear my Nepenthe chimes singing in the breeze, making harmony with the birds. Lilac wafts through the kitchen screen door (even though it’s really too cold to have it open).  The sun through my dining room window is filtered by the delicate pink petals of our crab apple trees.  It’s Earth Day and our Chicago backyard seems to know it.  Usually, we’d be off for a hike or to pick up trash or in the garden planting flowers. But with my right ankle broken and in a cast, Culture Family will settle for planning the vegetable garden and enjoying the buds and bunnies in the backyard.

Culture Sprout will be 12 soon, but this post from 8 years ago — and updated with one terrific book — still highlights some of the best kids’ Earth Day books we know of. Enjoy! And get outside for mother’s day, Mother Earth, of course.

*And one more Earth Day note. I’ve linked to Indiebound in case you want to buy online. But, why don’t you walk to your independent bookstore instead? You get outside and your Earth Day books won’t require fossil fuel to get to you!*

My update starts with a special call out to my friend Jen Cullerton Johnson‘s book Seeds of Change. Published in 2010, Seeds of Change has become a classic of the environmentalist literature and continues to accumulate accolades. Because I can’t really do it justice, here is the blurb from her site:  “A non-fiction children’s book Seeds of Change demonstrates the connection between people and nature. A frank and inspiring invitation into the life and work of Wangari Maathai, Noble Peace Prize Winner and founder of the Greenbelt Movement.” Jen donates a percent of every sale of her book to an environmentalist cause, so please click here to purchase Seeds of Change.

When Culture Sprout was four years old, I volunteered to bring an Earth Day activity to her classroom.  As with most pre-school things I did, this prompted a trip to the library and the bookstore in search of something to read to the children.  After thumbing through about a dozen books, I settled on one that I thought would appeal to boys and girls, and would ignite discussion and action. I had no idea that I was discovering an author and a character who would change the way my daughter thinks about the world. Nor did I know that we would spend the next three springs eagerly awaiting the release of the next book in what has grown to be a series.

>

The eponymous character in Michael Recycle is a “green-caped crusader,” a young boy who flies around the world teaching people how to better protect the earth from trash, pollution, and over-production. Patterson’s language makes for a rollicking read-aloud and Michael’s optimism and can-do attitude appeal to pre-school and elementary school children.

In Michael Recycle, Michael teaches a town the three cardinal rules of recycling: reduce, reuse, and recycle. While he at first fights environmental evils solo, in subsequent books he meets other earth-saving heroes and/or convinces little villains to join him. In Michael Recycle Meets Litterbug Doug he tackles the eponymous litterer, forever winning his heart and loyalty. Michael Recycle Saves Christmas introduces Solar Lola and teaches us about solar power, making gifts out of “trash,” and the dangers of materialism. And new this spring, Michael Recycle and the Tree Top Cops shows us how we can all become earth activists, this time in the service of saving the Redwood Forest.

What I love about Patterson’s books is that their lessons and strong environmental views are not hammered into the reader. Rather they are couched within charming rhymes and accompanied by Alexandra Colombo’s lush illustrations.  The first book ends with ten ideas of how the reader can help (or help their parents) protect the earth, inviting each child to become an environmental superhero. We can all be superheroes, Patterson seems to say if we focus on the evils we can help conquer.

Some more Earth Day favorites:

Fancy Nancy: Every Day is Earth Day (Jane O’Connor, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser, 2010): Not much needs to be said about Fancy Nancy. She’s a favorite in pre-schools everywhere. O’Connor has followed up the original glittery Frenchified books with a line of I Can Read volumes, of which Fancy Nancy: Every Day is Earth Day is my personal favorite.  I love Fancy Nancy for her vocabulary—O’Connor isn’t afraid to introduce little kids to big words (and French words). I also love her for giving me, in this book, two of my favorite mantras: “Less than a mile, bike in style,” and “Please take note. Always bring a tote.”

Culture Sprout weighs in with this favorite for more autonomous readers:

Ivy & Bean: What’s the Big Idea? (Annie Barrows, illustrated by Sophie Blackall, 2011). The seventh book in this utterly charming series about best friends who “never meant to like each other,” Ivy & Bean: What’s the Big Idea taught Culture Bean about global warming.  Ivy and Bean’s science assignment is to find a way to combat global warming. After a series of hysterical mishaps, they decide that little girls can’t solve global warming on their own—they need to get grown-ups to care about the earth. At the end of the book, Barrows has included a brief primer to explain global warming and several ideas about how we, including little girls, can help.

What are you reading or doing for Earth Day?  Please add a comment and help me build my “Every Day is Earth Day” reading list and activity idea list. Ideas for all ages are encouraged!

  1. When the Earth Moved: What Happened to the Environmental Movement by N. Lehman for The New Yorker
  2. 5 Smart Ways To Celebrate Earth Day (news.health.com)
  3. My interview with Ellie Patterson

Curious about Dorothy Parker

7 Jun

I’ll admit it: I don’t know as much about Dorothy Parker as I wish I did and I’ve not read as much of her work as I would like to.

American writer Dorothy Parker (1893-1967)

American writer Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I know this: In the roaring twenties, Dorothy Parker was a lioness among literary men. A quintessentially American writer, she brought wit to her poetry, short fiction, and review essays. She penned a few screenplays, includeing Saboteur for Alfred Hitchock.

Parker was an independent woman in an era that did not like strong, independent women. She not only forged her way in the largely male-oriented world of New York journalism; she did so without compromising her own sense of humor or her womanhood.  Parker did not shrink from criticizing the fashionable society in which she lived. Rather, she was forever curious, often acerbic, and, it seems, timeless.

The only cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity. ~Dorothy Parker

She wrote for Vanity Fair, Vogue, and perhaps most famously, The New Yorker. And, along with fellow writer Robert Benchley and Pulitzer-prize winning playwright Robert Sherwood, she convened the now-infamous “Round Table” at the Algonquin Hotel, a literary salon of sorts where the best and brightest held literary debates. These conversations often grew sufficiently catty and sarcastic that the group was also called “the Vicious Circle.”

The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue. –Dorothy Parker

Jennifer Jason Leigh was nominated for a Golden Globe award for her portrayal of Parker’s wit, sensuality, and glamour in the 1994 film Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (d. Alan Rudolph). The film simply dripped with glamour and sex. And, Leigh’s lines at times seemed to all be one-liners culled from “The Quotable Dorothy Parker.” It made me, as a graduate student, long for a literary salon of my own.

All this I knew. What I didn’t know until this morning’s lovely piece on NPR’s Morning Edition was that Dorothy Parker also lived a politically active life and was particularly supportive of the civil rights movement. She left her estate to the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and upon his death, the estate passed to the NAACP. Parker didn’t know Dr. King.  It’s a rather extraordinary story of how this American writer, whose life and work couldn’t seem further apart from King’s and his mission, felt the import and change of her times.(See the link to the WNYC story below.)

I’ll leave it for Pursuit of Styleness to discuss Parker’s glorious dissections of fashion. It’s definitely worth following the link below.

“I hate writing, I love having written.”   ~ Dorothy Parker

After hearing this morning’s story, I dug a bit into Parker’s biography. Like Parker, I lived in NJ for half of my life (Yes, she was born there, I was not, but NJ is NJ). Like Parker, I worked for Vanity Fair (No, I didn’t write for the magazine, but I did work there in just after the magazine was reincarnated in the late 1980s).  And, like Parker I’m an inveterate bookworm. Her book review column for The New Yorker and the anthology of reviews were called Constant Reader. (Mine is “just another WordPress.com Site!)

Sad to say, the similarities end there (though I’ve been told I am funny and do crack the occasional snort-worthy wisecrack).  But, in reading her poems I recognize a sensibility that I share, or shared depending on the poem’s subject. And, like so many, I nod at the truth that lies under so many of her quips.

Mrs. Parker died 45 years ago today. She left a rich literary legacy that I intend to add to my summer reading list. What could be better on the beach than anthology of Dorothy Parker fiction?! And, perhaps I’ll cultivate my wit and my own literary salon, too!

Compilation of Hirschfeld's work, showing cari...

Compilation of Hirschfeld’s work, showing caricatures of Dorothy Parker, Alexander Woollcott, Franklin Pierce Adams and other members of the Algonquin Round Table (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Read Aloud for Earth Day!

22 Apr

When Culture Sprout was four years old, I volunteered to bring an Earth Day activity to her classroom.  As with most child-related things I do, this prompted a trip to the library and the bookstore in search of something to read to the children.  After thumbing through about a dozen books, I settled on one that I thought would appeal to boys and girls, and would ignite discussion and action. I had no idea that I was discovering an author and a character who would change the way my daughter thinks about the world. Nor did I know that we would spend the next three springs eagerly awaiting the release of the next book in what has grown to be a series.

>

Cover art for Patterson's new Michael Recycle and the Tree Top Cops

The eponymous character in Michael Recycle is a “green-caped crusader,” a young boy who flies around the world teaching people how to better protect the earth from trash, pollution, and over-production. Patterson’s language makes for a rollicking read-aloud and Michael’s optimism and can-do attitude appeal to pre-school and elementary school children.

In Michael Recycle, Michael teaches a town the three cardinal rules of recycling: reduce, reuse, and recycle. While he at first fights environmental evils solo, in subsequent books he meets other earth-saving heroes and/or convinces little villains to join him. In Michael Recycle meets Litterbug Doug he tackles the eponymous litterer, forever winning his heart and loyalty. Michael Recycle Saves Christmas introduces Solar Lola and teaches us about solar power, making gifts out of “trash,” and the dangers of materialism. And new this spring, Michael Recycle and the Tree Top Cops shows us how we can all become earth activists, this time in the service of saving the Redwood Forest.

What I love about Patterson’s books is that their lessons and strong environmental views are not hammered into the reader. Rather they are couched within charming rhymes and accompanied by Alexandra Colombo’s lush illustrations.  The first book ends with ten ideas of how the reader can help (or help their parents) protect the earth, inviting each child to become an environmental superhero. We can all be superheroes, Patterson seems to say, if we focus on the evils we can help conquer.

Culture Sprout is nearly 7 years old and she reads voraciously on her own, but she’s still ready to curl up with her favorite picture book heroes or listen to her favorite authors. Michael Recycle ranks top among those. She recently had the opportunity to ask Ellie Patterson what’s next for Michael Recycle and was tickled to learn that he will tackle pirate fishing. Culture Sprout is really concerned with the health of our oceans and she’s delighted that Patterson shares her passion!

Some more Earth Day favorites:

Fancy Nancy: Every Day is Earth Day (Jane O’Connor, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser, 2010): Not much needs to be said about Fancy Nancy. She’s a favorite in pre-schools everywhere. O’Connor has followed up the original glittery Frenchified books with a line of I Can Read volumes, of which Every Day is Earth Day is my personal favorite.  I love Fancy Nancy for her vocabulary—O’Connor isn’t afraid to introduce little kids to big words (and French words). I also love her for giving me, in this book, two of my favorite mantras: “Less than a mile, bike in style,” and “Please take note. Always bring a tote.”

Culture Sprout weighs in with this favorite for more autonomous readers:

Ivy & Bean: What’s the Big Idea? (Annie Barrows, illustrated by Sophie Blackall, 2011). The seventh book in this utterly charming series about best friends who “never meant to like each other,” What’s the Big Idea? taught Culture Bean about global warming.  Ivy and Bean’s science assignment is to find a way to combat global warming. After a series of hysterical mishaps, they decide that little girls can’t solve global warming on their own—they need to get grown ups to care about the earth. At the end of the book, Barrows has included a brief primer to explain global warming and several ideas about how we, including little girls, can help.

In our house, every day is Earth Day. We had planned to plant flowers and go on a butterfly walk today, but the rain has doused our plans.  Instead, Culture Bean is writing about the earth (look for her words later today on our family bog, Charlotte’s Journey Home). Yesterday, she made art about water at the Peabody Essex Museum. Tonight we’ll curl up with our current Earthy read: Mark Kurlansky’s World Without Fish. It’s not a happy book, but it is beautifully and lovingly written and it is teaching us a lot .And starting tomorrow, Culture Sprout’s school will celebrate Earth Week for five days. I’m looking forward to the ideas and provocations she’ll bring home.

What are you reading or doing for Earth Day?  Please add a comment and help me build my Every Day is Earth Day reading list and activity idea list. Ideas for all ages are encouraged!

 

Waiting for the Biblioburro (a book review)

12 Apr

Waiting for the Bibilioburro

by Monica Brown

illustrations by John Parra

Tricycle Press, 2011

Ana is a little girl who loves stories. She clings to the one book she owns, a gift from her teacher for working hard at school. The teacher has since left the village. With no teacher, Ana reads and rereads her book. She makes up stories of her own for her little brother. And, she wishes for new stories to read.

One morning, Ana wakes up to the sound of donkeys clip-clopping. She sees a man with a sign reading “Biblioburro.” Realizing that the man and his donkeys are loaded with “Libros! Books!”, she joins the village children in running to meet him. The man explains that his donkeys, Alfa and Beto, carry a mobile library.  He reads to the children and loans them each a book before he leaves. Ana is overcome as she discovers:

“So many cuentos! While Alfa and Beto chomp the sweet grass under the tree, Ana picks up book after book and finds pink dolphins and blue butterflies, castles and fairies, talking lions and magic carpets.”

Ana waits anxiously for the librarian’s return. She reads her book and writes one about him.  Finally, he returns, bringing with him more books and more possibilities.

Author Monica Brown and artist John Parra have turned the true story of Colombian librarian Luis Soriano Bohórquez into a tale about the power of reading. Seeing Soriano, who remains nameless in this tale, through the eyes of a child touched by his efforts, helps the reader imagine the anticipation and joy his visits bring to the children in a remote rural village. Brown captures eloquently the optimism of a young reader and the delight that the discovery of books brings to children. With a few Spanish terms peppered into Ana’s speech and thoughts, Brown easily places this story in Latin America, giving it a place while allowing it to retain its universality.

Parra’s illustrations convey a childlike sincerity and fancy. Using acrylics on board, he gives the reader a sense of the Colombian culture from which this story derives. Ana rides a butterfly as she “dreams she is flying over her country on a butterfly’s back.” We see the mountains, oceans, rivers, and jungles she envisions crossing and live with her the stories she dreams of collecting. Parra brings Ana’s imagination to life in a way that allows us to deeply understand how reading can change a child’s very dreams.

Brown and Parra were inspired by the true story of Luis Soriano Bohórquez. When he was a young child, Soriano’s parents sent him from his village of La Gloria, Colombia to live with his grandparents in Valledupar in order to protect him from paramilitary violence.  During the next ten years, he studied and completed his high school education.  Upon returning to La Gloria, Soriano began teaching reading to school-aged children.  He experienced through his students the transformative power of literacy: The violence around these children (which has since ebbed) was even more intense than what he had experienced as a child, yet through reading they were able to imagine a better world, and a better place for themselves in that world.

, traveling library in Colombia

, traveling library in Colombia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, he worried about the growing dearth of teachers in rural Colombia and the subsequent falling literacy rate.  When teachers moved away to escape the violence, they took the books with them, leaving the children empty-handed and teacherless. Determined to help those children, Soriano bought two burros, strapped books to their backs, and began to travel the countryside each weekend as a mobile lending library. He began in 2000 with 70 books. More than a decade later, he has amassed nearly 5,000 books and continues his important work. A lovely documentary by Carlos Rendón Zipaguata details not only the results of Soriano’s efforts, but the strain it sometimes puts on his family.

Brown has imagined a librarian who closely resembles Soriano. In her author’s note, she teaches us that Soriao is not unique: “[T]here are many librarians, and libraries, that travel long distances, just like the Biblioburro. In Kenya, camel caravans deliver books to nomads…Stockholm’s “floating library” delivers books to islanders…In Zimbabwe, there is a donkey-drawn mobile.” She honors the Biblioburro through Ana’s eyes. And, as importantly, she informs us that there are adults all over the world who go to extreme measures to get books into the hands of children. Her story is a must-read for all children, and the adults who love them. It will inspire conversation, and perhaps a little action to help get more books into the hands of more children.

A confession: In 2008, I clipped a story about the Biblioburro from the New York Times thinking it would make a lovely children’s book.  Several months later, I was honored to review Carlos Rendón Zipaguata’s documentary film about the Biblioburro for the Chicago Latino Film Festival.  Again, I thought, “What an excellent topic for a children’s book.” Monica Brown has written the book I wish I’d written!

World Read Aloud Day Wrap Up

16 Mar

Image

I’ve just added up the minutes. The students at the International School of Boston and their teachers (lower and middle school) read for a grand total of [drumroll please] 6,699 minutes!!! Some of these minutes were in the day or two before WRAD, I believe, but were accomplished as part of a lower and middle-school effort to raise awareness about global literacy and WRAD.

My hat is off to the stupendous Peggy Kirkpatrick, Alissa Rosellini, and the teachers and students for taking this idea and running with it!  Or as Charlotte says, “Hurray for World Read Aloud Day!”

At my house, four mothers from school gathered and read for about 20 minutes.  We had excerpts from Henry V (read with incredible dramatic effect), Roald Dahl’s “Dentist and the Crocodile,” Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, and a Rilke poem read in English and German. We had so much fun we nearly forgot to pick our children up from school!

Thank you so much to the moms for coming, the school for making this a reality, and LitWorld for inviting me to be an ambassador!

World Read Aloud Day! A story about the power of reading

7 Mar

Olly Neal and Mrs. Grady

*This story is based on  real people. Their words and thoughts have been invented by me, as have some of the narrative details.*

Mrs. Grady had been teaching English for a long time. She watched her students struggle, knowing that no matter how well they did, they would not have the same opportunities as the white children in town. Still, she worked hard to help them love reading and to be curious, hopeful that one day the world would change.

Olly lived in a small house with thirteen brothers and sisters, no electricity, and no hope. Watching his father toil on a farm, with a second-grade education, Olly couldn’t imagine a different future. What difference could reading make?

He was a particularly difficult student. He didn’t care about school. He interrupted Mrs. Grady, called her by her first name, and let her know that he didn’t share her optimism. Sometimes, Mrs. Grady bit her lip and held back her tears, sobbing as soon as he left her classroom.  She couldn’t give up, yet she didn’t know how to go on. Not with him. Not with Olly.

One day, Olly skipped math class. He wandered into the library to hide from the truant officer.  Mrs. Grady was on library duty. Seeing him, she almost sent him back to class. She hesitated, unwilling to incur his rudeness on that day.

Instead, she watched as Olly stalked the aisles. Eventually his eyes fell on the spine of a book.

“Frank Yerby,” Olly thought, “What a strange name.”  The title, The Treasure of Pleasant Valley was enticing. And the slightly sheer dress worn by the lady on the cover was titillating. Maybe he’d read this book.

But, Olly had a reputation. And reputations could be ruined by something as simple as checking a book out of the library. So, Olly slipped the book into the back of his pants and pulled his sweater over it.  He sauntered out of the library, undetected.

Or so he thought. Mrs. Grady had seen him take the book. She was about to reprimand him when she saw him look to see if anyone was watching. He didn’t look at her; he looked at the other students in the library. That’s when it hit her, “He can’t be seen reading. It’d spoil his bad-boy reputation.” Smiling, she watched him leave.

A few weeks later Olly slipped the Yerby book back onto the shelf where he’d found it.  “Hey, I don’t remember that one,” he thought as he noticed another Yerby book there. Glancing around, he slipped this new book in his waistband and sauntered out of the library.

“Uh-oh.” Mrs. Grady realized that she only had the two Yerby books in the library.  She worried that Olly wouldn’t read other authors. Mrs. Grady began driving around to used bookstores; seventy miles later she found what she needed. And the next week Olly found another book.

And so it went.  Olly would return a book and find another. Sneaking in and out of the library, he read every book Mrs. Grady put on the shelf, never knowing the risks she took to do so.

Olly had discovered not only a love of reading, but a black author, something nearly unheard of in the segregated South of the 1950s. He began to see the possibilities of a life different than his parents’. Like Mrs. Grady, he began to dream of a time when blacks might have all the same opportunities as whites.

Eventually Olly read other books. He read magazines and newspapers. He stopped worrying so much about his bad-boy reputation. Then, Olly went to college and law school.  Olly broke the barriers that had restricted Mrs. Grady, becoming the first black district attorney in Arkansas. He went on to be a judge and an appellate court judge.

Years later, Olly saw Mrs. Grady at a high school reunion. Only then, did he learn what she had quietly done to change his path from petty thief to successful judge, father, and man.

*Many thanks to Nicholas Kristoff and his New York Times op-ed piece, “How Mrs. Grady Transformed Olly Neal” (January 21, 2012) for the inspiration for this story.

Related Links:

Nicholas Kristoff’s inspiringop-ed, “How Mrs. Grady Transformed Olly Neal.”

Olly Neal Gets His Read On, From the Snap Judgment website, a re-posting of Neal telling his daughter this story as part of NPR’s StoryCorps. SnapJudgment’s  Glynn Washington’s introduction is great.

Three Read Aloud Stories

6 Mar

I want to share two of my favorite read aloud stories:

Story One:  From My Faulty Memory


My older brother has always loved fantasy stories such as the Tolkien trilogy and The Chronicles of Narnia. One of my favorite childhood pictures is of the two of us lying on a couch, maybe 9 and 4 years old, as he read The Arabian Nights. I don’t remember the photo being taken or what was going on, but I imagine he was reading to me. I may even be misremembering the book title as I don’t have the photo in hand, but I can see us with the book.

Not long after the picture was taken, my brother read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Again, I don’t remember him reading it to me. But, I do remember him handing me a cassette tape before he left for summer camp. On it he had recorded the book–my first book-on-tape–for me to listen to while he was gone. I had that tape for years; it was the first of many books that my brother recommended and that I have read and enjoyed.

Story Two: The Romance of Reading Aloud

A good friend once told me that she loved being read to. I responded that I, too, have lovely memories of being read to as a child. She said, “No, I love being read to now.” “By whom?” I had to ask. She explained that when her boyfriend came to visit they would sit up long into the night reading to each other. She talked about the melody and velvet of his voice and how sexy it was to have him read to her. In particular, they were reading Jeanette Winterson’s Sexing the Cherry. At the time, I was a big biker, and I thought there was nothing sexier than sharing a tandem bicycle. Once I heard this story, I thought there might be nothing more intimate than sharing a good book by reading it aloud to each other while snuggled up on a cold winter night.

Story Three: The Whole Megillah

Purim

Image via Wikipedia

As Culture Sprout’s Sunday school listened to the Book of Esther be read aloud in early celebration of Purim, I couldn’t help but think how appropriate it is that WRAD falls serendipitously on Erev Purim. The celebration of Purim involves reading  the  megillah or Scroll of Esther aloud.  It is meant to be a festive and rowdy, often turning into a big costume party.  The reader recites the age-old tale, and revellers respond by making so much noise that the name of the villainous Haman cannot be heard. Yesterday the reading of the megillah seemed as much a celebration of reading itself–of the joy of sharing our stories from generation to generation–as it is the celebration of a Jewish festival.

What does reading aloud make you think of?

A Read Aloud Canine Story, or My Mother the Reading Hero

5 Mar

My mother read to me when I was little. I honestly don’t remember if she read to me every night. I know she read some poetry to me because I’ve been able to recite from memory A.A. Milne’s “Now we are six,” “Sneezles,” and “King John’s Christmas” for as long as I remember. My love for those poems–the rthymns, words, and sentiments–helps me to understand why we call memorization “learning by heart.” Those poems are in my heart. And the care-worn volumes in which they are collected, once my mother’s books then mine, are on Culture Sprout’s bookshelf.

Illustration of Benjamin and Peter gathering o...

She also read a lot of Beatrix Potter, enough that when my parents went to London when I was an adult and asked if I wanted anything, I asked for a complete set of the beautiful miniature Potter books, my originals having long disappeared from my bedroom (probably given to another lucky child).  Culture Sprout doesn’t yet love Benjamin Bunny and Peter Rabbit as I did, but I know she will.

My mother loves to read.  She likes to tell how she would get in trouble for staying up too late reading, and how her father teased her for always having her nose in a book. My father often had two or more books going at once–one novel and one non-fiction–as well as myriad magazines and newspapers that he devoured. While I don’t remember him reading to me, he bought me books whenever he thought about it–lovely leather-bound classics like Wuthering Heights and Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Mom now takes her love of reading and nurturing reading on the road, as it were, combining it with her love of all things canine.  A long time volunteer with Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs, Mom takes one of her Bichon Frises to a local elementary school several times a month for the children to read to. You read that correctly–Mom doesn’t read to the kids. The kids read to the dog. Why? Reading Education Assistance Dogs (R.E.A.D.) help children overcome their insecurities about reading by giving them a non-judgmental, always willing audience. According ABC News, a 2010 University of California, Davis study proved that:

“Young students who read out loud to dogs improved their reading skills by 12 percent over the course of a 10-week program, while children in the same program who didn’t read to dogs showed no improvement.”

Below is a photo of a boy reading to my mother’s dog Lily.  You can’t see his smile or the beautiful eye contact he was making with her because I’m uncomfortable posting pictures of other people’s children. Trust me–this is a treat for him. Mom’s job is to bring the dog, hold the leash, and offer assistance if (and only if) the child asks her for some help. Lily’s job is to, well, lie down, listen, wag, lick, and look cute. She’s good at it.

My mom has taken her dogs to the pediatric wing of the Newark Beth Israel Hospital, to nursing homes, and to a staging center for 9/11 First Responders. With her therapy dogs, she’s helped more people than I know about in more ways than she’ll ever admit.  She doesn’t talk about it. But, R.E.A.D. she talks about. She’s moved by these children who read to her dogs and gain the confidence to improve their skills enough to fall in love with reading. I’m moved by her continued commitment to fostering a love of reading to another generation. Go, Mom!

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

2 Mar

What better birthday to celebrate in as we count down to World Read Aloud Day! Is there a person who learned to read after 1950 who didn’t grow up on Dr. Seuss books? Or a child who grew up since 1967 who doesn’t define the holiday season by watchingThe Grinch Who Stole Christmas?

Ted Geisel, American writer and cartoonist, at...

But did you also know that he:

  • Wrote for Vanity Fair?
  • Commanded the Animation Department of the U.S. Air Force’s first Motion Picture unit?
  • Inspired with his work two Academy Award-winning films (one animated, one documentary)?
  • Had his first manuscript (And to Think that I Saw it on Mulbery Street) rejected more than 25 times?
  • Worked as a political cartoonist?
  • First used his pseudonym to keep writing when he’d been forced to resign all activities in college?
  • And, most interesting, was commissioned by Houghton Mifflin to pioneer the “early reader” format, writing books that included words from a list of the 250 most important words to learn? This gave birth to The Cat and the Hat, as well as Green Eggs and Ham and One Fish, Two Fish. Each of those books still sells about 500,000 copies a year!

Some of that I knew. Some I learned today as I read several articles and blog posts honoring Theodor Geisel on what would have been his 108th birthday.

What I’d like to add is this: My graduating class at Brown chose for its honorary degree winners cultural icons who had marked our lives. Among these was Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel.  Our beautiful class speaker, Valerie Tutson, brought the house down with her storytelling, bringing Stevie Wonder to tears when she sang to us a reminder to call our family and tell them “I just called to say I love you.” I watched from the balcony as Mr. Geisel handed Mr. Wonder his handkerchief, only to receive it back to wipe his own tears when Valerie ended by telling her family that she’d grown up and found that she “really does like green eggs and ham.” That moment stands out for me, evoking the power of his words to not only teach us, to move us, unite our diverse experiences, and recognize the power of the written and spoken word. The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.~Dr. Seuss

A Read Aloud Memory: Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen”

1 Mar

Among my most cherished belongings are a set of leather-bound books that belonged to my mother and her sister. First published in the 1920s, the My  Book House series collects many cherished stories and poems from around the world.  I’m sure my mother read from them often, but the story I most remember is Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen. Perhaps my memory plays tricks with me, but I recall asking her to read this story again and again.

English: "The Snow Queen"
Image via Wikipedia

The Snow Queen tells of Gerda and Kay, two small children whose apartments under the eaves of their tenements connect via patios. The children love each other very much and play often. As frost creeps across the windows,  Kay’s grandmother tells them of the Snow Queen, the queen of the “white bees,”

she flies where the swarm hangs in the thickest clusters. She is the largest of all; and she can never remain quietly on the earth, but goes up again into the black clouds. Many a winter’s night she flies through the streets of the town, and peeps in at the windows; and they then freeze in so wondrous a manner that they look like flowers.

That night, Gerda dreams of the Snow Queen, watching a flake from the snow storm grow larger until

at last it was like a young lady, dressed in the finest white gauze, made of a million little flakes like stars. She was so beautiful and delicate, but she was of ice, of dazzling, sparkling ice; yet she lived; her eyes gazed fixedly, like two stars; but there was neither quiet nor repose in them. She nodded towards the window, and beckoned with her hand. The little boy was frightened, and jumped down from the chair; it seemed to him as if, at the same moment, a large bird flew past the window.

Unbeknownst to the children the Snow Queen is not just a tale. And, a malicious sprite has stolen the Snow Queen’s mirror and accidentally let it fall to earth. The magic of the mirror is that the Snow Queen’s reflection is young and beautiful despite the reality of her age and ugliness. It allows her to live alone happily in her remote ice castle.

When the mirror’s splinters lodge in humans, however, they create the perception that all that is lovely is hideous, all that is warm is cold: In other words, the splinters kill humanity and compassion.  Splinters lodge in Gerda’s heart and eye, turning him from a lovely boy into a cruel, heartless, and reckless child who abandons his friend, breaking her heart.

The Snow Queen searches the world to collect all the splinters of her mirror so she can restore it. Gerda has the last two pieces and she lures him back to her ice palace where she intends to have him solve the mirror puzzle and then to freeze him and get the last two pieces.

The rest of the story tells of Kay’s determined quest to find and save her friend. She travels many miles (barefoot), escapes enchantment, and even teaches compassion to a wild child. It is a magical tale, full of danger and hope, where love eventually triumphs.

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I’m not sure what drew me to the story as a child, but I couldn’t wait to read it to Culture Sprout from the My Book House edition.  I wanted, I think, to create for her a read aloud moment that matched my own. Or, perhaps, to recreate my own.

She liked it, but to my dismay she didn’t gravitate to it like I did.  Her questing girl heroes traverse Oz.  In thinking about that, I began to realize how dark H.C. Andersen’s tale really is; and how light-yet-moralistic L. Frank Baum’s tomes are.

Then we took Culture Sprout to see a stage adaptation of The Snow Queen by the incomparable American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge. In seeing the story play out (gorgeously) in front of me, I realized just how very dark one might find The Snow Queen. 

Think of the story this way: A strange woman comes to town and lures a young boy to her castle far away where she keeps him imprisoned and intends to kill him. His equally young friend strikes out alone, traveling miles and miles  to find and save him. She is trapped by a witch who wants to keep her forever (she escapes) and by a wild girl who wants to keep her as a pet (she talks her way out of it). Don’t worry. There’s a happy endng.

The A.R.T. production combined music, puppetry, and unrivaled creativity to bring the magic of the tale to the stage. The children (and parents) in our party were riveted. I don’t think any of us thought about the darkness while we were watching the play. But afterword, walking to lunch, we did talk a bit about how fairy tales are cautionary stories, teaching children about the dangers in the world without inciting panic or condescending. The little girls ignored us, twirling their roses and dreaming of snow. Andersen’s tale is timeless and I’m hoping that the A.R.T. production will become an annual treat.

H.C. Andersen’s The Snow Queen still ranks as one of my favorite read alouds, from my childhood and today. Maybe Culture Sprout will let me read it to her again!

Read about World Read Aloud Day and please share a read aloud moment of your own!

(Text in italics quoted from Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen.)

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