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I have an article up on Great Memoirs for New Moms”, on a blog called Flashlight Worthy Books.

I love the idea of their blog: assembling lists of books so good you can’t put them down, on a variety of topics. I also love the execution; I’ve linked to them a few times because their lists usually are as good as they say they are. It’s an honor to write for them, and you should check it out.

One book I did not include on my list of mommy memoirs is Heather B. Armstrong’s new book, It Sucked and then I Cried. This is because I have not read it yet. Based on the quality of her blog and the press her book has gotten, I think it likely to be very good. Flashlight worthy even. I’m looking forward to reading it.

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rio’s reading game.jpg, originally uploaded by MzMuze.

Rio made this!

Background:
I’ve been reading an interesting book, published in the 70s, called the Home Guide to Early Reading. This is pretty much the opposite of the Waldorf approach I’ve taken with my kids thus far. The author advocates a playful but structured approach to teaching reading beginning at about four years old.

Rio seems to be on the cusp of reading readiness, and while I have complex feelings about this, I thought we’d try a few of the exercises in the book. The first one was an exercise to encourage children to develop a directional sense, so that they can follow the flow of text on a page.

Following the book’s instructions, I made a narrative picture with a series of dotted lines in it. She needed to trace my dotted lines to get from the house to the apple tree to the bridge to the fairy circle, etc.

Rio unexpectedly loved this, and spent a long time on it with me. When we’d filled an entire page with my story arc, she said, “Mama, I want to do the next one. I’m going to make the pictures and you have to trace it and write.”

And then she did it. She even made the right number of lines for me to write my name at the bridges (a little game-within-a-game we made up, writing one’s name to ‘pay the troll’ at the bridge).

I guess I don’t have to worry about her falling behind on the whole reading thing. She can teach this stuff!

The Shrinking of Treehorn

The Shrinking of Treehorn

Serena took this book out of the library. I think she chose it because it was a nice shade of green and charmingly square.

When we got it home, I noticed that the drawings were by Edward Gorey, a favorite artist of our entire family’s. We’ve been to visit his house on the Cape, and generally find his whimsical, creepy art about our cup of tea on most occasions.

The story is a lovely, strange tale about a little boy with clueless parents, too much TV and a breakfast cereal fixation who one day begins to mysteriously shrink. The author deftly avoids wandering into drab moral lessons while skirting close enough to let the reader come to her own conclusions about the value of 56 favorite television programs and endless plastic toys in a child’s life.

The book is novella length, but all the kids in my morning program have sat through it several times and keep asking for it again. Unlike most books the kids adore, I actually enjoy reading this one and have been happy to oblige them.

Yesterday, Rio said that even though she is not going to have any babies when she grows up and explores the world as a singer, she will have just one baby, and name it Treehorn, just to see if it shrinks.

“It will be an experiment, Mama,” she explained. “First, I will be pregnant. Then, I will give birth to the baby. Whoosh! Then, I will see that it is a boy, and name him Treehorn. After that, I will see if he grows until he is three or so and then starts to shrink again. That is the experiment part.”

The ALA has published their annual list of most challenged books for this year.

Sadly for me, Tango Makes Three still tops the list. We bough this book a few years ago on the strength of it’s being listed here, and it’s been a bedtime favorite ever since.

Somebody write a compelling, cute, offensive to closed-minded bigots children’s book again, please?

Being a mom in fiction is a rough deal. If you haven’t been killed off to make way for the Evil Stepmother, you’re probably wasting away with illness. Or hopelessly out-of-touch, like Coraline’s mom.  Or, like Eloise’s, simply absent from your child’s life.

There’s a good reason for these tropes. Much great literature for children is focused on the child, and the child’s ability to solve problems for herself, or grow into an adult role. Removing adults, especially mothers, from the story often provides the space and motivation for children to have these adventures. You’ll notice that it’s much more common to be an orphan in literature than it is in real life.

As Sharon Lamb and Lyn Mikel Brown put it in their excellent book, “Packaging Girlhood,” “As in children’s literature, myths and fairy tales, these books also tend to show parents are useless or dead. Perhaps this is a common concept because mothers are so important to children; however, it also means we rarely see good mothers represented.”

While there are many wonderful stories that focus on children who have been separated from their parents by death, boarding school or a serendipitous fall down a rabbit hole, it’s refreshing to be able to share a tale with one’s daughter that doesn’t fall into these stereotypes.

Flashlight Worthy Books recently posted a lovely list of stories in which children connect with their moms. I’ll be watching for these titles at the library.

Here are a few of my favorites from our home collection:
Tucking Mommy In, by Morag Loh
Little Bear, Elsa Holmelund Minarek
On Mother’s Lap, by Anne Herbert Scott

I note that these are all books for Very Young Children. I wracked my brain a very little bit, and can think of almost no Good Mothers in literature for older kids or young adults. A few of L.M. Montgomery’s books, and Little Women. I hope that as my daughters and I grow through their childhoods, we’ll find many more images of powerful moms to treasure in our library.

Rio’s favorite read these days is the Frog and Toad books, which I love because it was my favorite when I was her age.

Right now, we are both loving the chapter called “Cookies”, in which Toad bakes far too many cookies, and he and Frog have to figure out a way to stop eating them before they make themselves ill. After many false starts, and the consumption of many cookies, Frog gives the whole box of cookies to birds, who fly away with them.

It ends thusly:

“Now we have no more cookies to eat,” said Toad sadly. “Not even one.”

“Yes,” said Frog, “but we have lots and lots of willpower.”

“You may keep it all, Frog,” said Toad. “I am going home now to bake a cake.”

This morning, Rio followed me around for hours with a notebook, asking me to spell words for her so she could write them down. She wrote stories and then read them aloud to me.

I knew this day would come. The day the pieces just clicked into place and she had  a new skill and that skill was writing words on a page. When I decided to homeschool her, when I trusted the “print-rich” approach over any kind of reading lesson, I trusted she’d learn to read and write on her own.

Still, it was like watching a baby’s first steps. You may have known the kid would learn to walk, as nearly all kids do. You may have realized those steps were close. But the moment the baby moves toward you on her own two feet is still magic.

After the thrill wore off a bit (around hour three), it got annoying. I had things to do other than spell every word Rio could think of.

At lunch we had a talk about plagarism. “I’m not going to spell words for you all day,” I said. “If you want to know how to write ‘Madeline went to the park’, look the words up in your Madeline book and copy them.”

“But Mama! Copying someone else’s work is not nice. I am not going to copy!”

After some difficulty, I persuaded her that in this instance it was OK. She spent the rest of the day copying words out of her children’s books and bringing them to me to read aloud for her.

She was so physical in this, her whole body vibrating with the effort. She ran, she shouted, she stood beside me and stomped her foot impatiently while I put down the dish I was washing or the bill I was paying and turned to read what she’d written.

“Drip.” “Drop.” “Bunny.” “Amazing.”

Here she interrupted me.

“I know it’s amazing, Mama! But what does this word say?”

“Amazing.”

We stared at each other for a moment. Then I told her the word says amazing, and that amazing starts with an ‘a’. And she was off and running again, to copy it onto three more pages, in different colors.

Amazing.

Flickr Photos

A little bird told me…

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