High Variance


Learning to walk, talk, or ride a bike are all big milestones in a child’s life. We usually remember how old our kids were when they reached them, but the actual point in time is somewhat arbitrary. How many steps is considered walking? When does babbling turn into talking? When do they really have control of the bike?

What isn’t arbitrary is that moment when you say to yourself “Holy Shit! They’re really doing it!” R is completely fearless in the water and has always been an enthusiastic splasher. I have to watch her like a hawk any time we’re near a pool or at the beach, and I can’t count how many times she has over-estimated her abilities and needed a helping hand or a full fledged rescue. She took a short swimming class last summer and learned to hold her breath and go under water, but as far as I could tell there wasn’t much actual instruction. This summer she had swimming lessons at camp, but she reported spending most of her time wearing a floaty bubble aroud her waist.

For the past two weeks we’ve been on vacation in California, and we’ve had some good times playing in the pool and in the surf. Yesterday in the pool R was enjoying climbing on and off a boogie board in the shallow end. When it got away from her and floated to the deep end, she dog-paddled over to get it and kicked her way back. I blinked my eyes a few times and told her I thought she could have made it to the ladder (on the other side of the pool) if she wanted to. She shook her head and said “I don’t think so,” but the gears were turning. A few minutes later she just went for it. I swam right next to her. She arrived at the ladder with a big smile on her face. And then swam all the way back.

Holy shit, the girl can swim!

Getting Kids Hooked on Poetry #IMWAYR

I still remember in third grade when my grandmother got me my first book of poetry. I looked at it suspiciously and cast it aside. I don’t think I opened it more than a couple times and I have no idea what happened to it. Much later (as a pretentious young adult), I started taking poetry as seriously as song lyrics, and slowly built up a real appreciation for it. But even after all these years, it still feels a little like a foreign language.

My theory has always been that I would be fluent in poetry if only it had been a regular part of my life when I was little. In our household we’re testing that theory with the girls by mixing a fair bit of poetry in with our usual large helpings of stories and nature books. So far, it’s going well–The girls think of poems as a completely normal form of expression. I think the key is reading widely, but making sure to hit subjects that the girls already enjoy. Here are some of our favorite collections:

  • Sharing the Seasons: A Book of Poems (collected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by David Diaz) These vivid poems are clever and really capture the variety of life across the seasons. This collection is probably the house favorite and R loves to recite this spring poem:

“Don’t You Dare” by Beverly McLoughland

Stop! cried Robin,
Don’t you dare begin it
Another tweety rhyme
With a redbreast in it.

Another cheery verse
With a cherry tree,
Don’t you dare
Write another spring poem about me!

Take your pad and pencil
To the reedy bog
When you feel a poem coming–
Think Frog.

  • The Complete Book of the Flower Fairies (written and illustrated by Cicely Mary Barker) This collection is incredible and I don’t say that lightly. Ms. Barker is most known for her beautifully detailed drawings, but I think the accompanying poems are just as wonderful. If the flower grows in England, Ms. Barker has almost certainly written about its fairies.

“The Dandelion Fairy” by Cicely Mary Barker

Here’s the Dandelion’s rhyme:
See my leaves with tooth-like edges;
Blow my clocks to tell the time;
See me flaunting by the hedges,
In the meadow, in the lane,
Gay and naughty in the garden;
Pull me up-I grow again,
Asking neither leave nor pardon.
Sillies, what are you about
With your spades and hoes of iron?
You can never drive me out-
Me, the dauntless Dandelion!

  • A Child’s Book of Poems (collected and illustrated by Gyo Fujikawa) I’ve been a huge fan of Mr. Fujikawa’s pen and ink drawings since I came across Oh, What a Busy Day. This collection is full of “serious” poetry by the likes of Wordsworth, Blake, Coleridge and Tennyson as well as plenty of silly rhymes by the prolific Anonymous.

“Rain in Summer” by Henry Wadworth Longfellow

How beautiful is the rain!
After the dust and heat,
In the broad and fiery street,
In the narrow lane,
How beautiful is the rain!
How it clatters along the roofs,
Like the tram of hoofs!

How it gushes and struggles out
From the throat of the overflowing spout!
Across the windowpane
It pours and pours;
And swift and wide,
With a muddy tide,
Like a river down the gutter roars
The rain, the welcome rain!

  • Wonton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku (written by Lee Wardlaw, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin) I’ve been meaning to write about the best cat books for cat lovers, and this book would definitely make that list too. It follows a cat on his journey from the shelter to a new home. And as the title says, the author really does tell the story as a series of perfect haiku.

“The New Place”

Deep, dark bed cave. Me?
Hiding? I’m no scaredy cat!
I like dust bunnies!

“Here, kitty, kitty.”
Ha. I’ll stay put till I know:
Are they friend…or foe?

Yawn. String-on-a-stick.
Fine. I’ll come out and chase it
to make you happy.

I’m always looking for more kid-appropriate (and kid-accessible) poetry so please share your favorites below!

Originally hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, Jen over at Teach Mentor Texts along with Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers host kidlit versions of It’s Monday! What are You Reading? All three sites are great places to find new books for yourself and your kids.

Kid Book Review: Eclectic Edition #IMWAYR

The three picture books described below have little in common beyond being very popular in our house. One is a diamond in the rough, another is a fantastic collection of poems, and the third is a quirky reference book. None are new, but one or two might be new to you:

  • Henry’s Happy Birthday (written and illustrated by Holly Keller in 1990) The soul of Dick and Jane lives on in a lot of forgettable books in beginning reader series out there. These stories are often so formulaic you wonder why anyone would pick one up when there are so many other great books to choose. We got this book as a hand-me-down and when I saw it was part of the Weekly Reader Children’s Book Club series, I had low expectations.

Henry has a vision for his birthday, and things don’t according to plan. Among other things, he’s not allowed to wear his favorite t-shirt, his wrapped presents look lame, his cake isn’t chocolate, and he loses in musical chairs. He’s pretty disappointed, but things quickly take a turn for the better when his dad surprises him with a birthday crown and a bunch of balloons. He ends up having a great day. In our household we really value the ability to appreciate the good in situations and having faith that things will work out in the end. This story is terrific at teaching those lessons. The illustrations are definitely not high art, but they are cute and work well with the text.

Henry’s Happy Birthday should be required reading the night before any birthdays or highly anticipated play dates.

  • Bow wow Meow Meow (written and illustrated by Douglas Florian in 2003) I’m not sure how I’ve managed to miss out on Douglas Florian all these years, but I sure am happy I found him a few weeks ago at the library. This collection of short poems about dogs and cats is hilarious for all ages. R and B regularly quote “Who always yanks the tail of the manx?” and R memorized all of the amazing opener: “Dog Log”. The illustrations are creative and fun too.

  • Animals Speak (written and illustrated by Lila Prap in 2006) Ever wonder what horses say in Hungarian or what frogs say in Farsi? Here are your answers. R studied this book for weeks and had lots of fun finding out how her multilingual friends would say neigh, buzz, or meow. The book’s pictures and flags of the world make it much more approachable for kids than Derek Abbott’s giant table.

Originally hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, Jen over at Teach Mentor Texts along with Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers host kidlit versions of It’s Monday! What are You Reading? All three sites are great places to find new books for yourself and your kids.

Violence in Picture Books #IMWAYR

Violence is rampant in kids’ books. The Hobbit and the Harry Potter books are filled with magical blades and fierce battles. The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew are dodging bullets and getting bound to chairs in every other chapter. Even Charlotte’s Web starts with a near ax murder. My kids (age 3 and 5) aren’t quite old enough to be reading these books on their own, and we are pretty careful about what we read to them. A while back I wrote about R’s fascination with Greek mythology, but this turned out to be a phase–The closest she gets to violence these days is a food fight with Jigsaw Jones.

Both girls still spend most of their time in the relatively safe world of picture books. I say relatively safe because occasionally we happen across some surprising brutality. Here are a few examples we’ve happened upon recently:

  • Millions of cats (written and illustrated by Wanda Gag in 1928) The illustrations are uniquely beautiful black pen and ink drawings and the story is about a very old man who goes out looking for a cat but has trouble deciding and ends up returning to his wife with millions of potential pets. (This happens to me sometimes when I go grocery shopping hungry, albeit on a smaller scale.) Unfortunately, the story takes a Malthusian turn when the multitude of cats start fighting about who is the prettiest:

They bit and scratched and clawed each other and made such a great noise that the very old man and the very old woman ran into the house as fast as they could. They did not like such quarreling. But after a while the noise stopped and the very old man and the very old woman peeped out of the window to see what had happened. They could not see a single cat! I think they must have eaten each other all up said the very old woman, “It’s too bad!”

Too bad indeed! Luckily one kitten who didn’t think he was prettiest survived. In this case One Direction was right when they said “You don’t know you’re beautiful and that’s what makes you beautiful.” Seriously, I loved this book when was a kid and only found the millions of deaths mildly unsettling.

  • Feathers and Fools (written by Mem Fox, illustrated by Nicholas Wilton in 1996) Mem Fox has written some tremendous books, but no matter how you slice it, this book about two flocks of birds who don’t get along is not young-child-appropriate. You might as well just read the latest news stories of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to your kids at bed time:

But the swans, seeing them coming, made ready. Soon cries filled the air and blood darkened the earth. A cloud of feathers rose into the sky and haunted the sun.

Of all the birds, not one remained alive. Silence hung over the gardens. And over the the lake.

Then, in the shadows of the gardens, an egg hatched, and a small bird staggered out into the bloodstained silence.

Among the reefs beside the lake a second egg hatched, and another small bird teetered out into the ruins

  • Mr. Nosey (written and illustrated by Roger Hargreaves in 1971) I’ve written before about how much I love the Mister Men and Little Misses, but this particular book is one that I actively avoid. Mr. Nosey is just one of many annoying but endearing Mister Men in the series who get their comeuppance. What’s different here is that Mr. Nosey is actually physically abused. Even worse is the pleasure the abusers take in hurting their victim:

“BANG” went a hammer right on the end of Mr. Nosey’s nose.

“Oh dear. I AM sorry!” said old Mr. Chips, who was nailing up a loose plank in the fence.

Poor Mr. Nosey had to go home immediately and bandage his poor red sore nose.

Mr. Chips grinned a broad grim.(sic!)

The Plan was working very well indeed.

The real world is violent place. Eventually my girls will have to learn this and figure out how to live in it. We’re going to shelter them until we think they’re ready. I don’t know when that will be, but I know it won’t be for a while.

Originally hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, Jen over at Teach Mentor Texts along with Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers host kidlit versions of It’s Monday! What are You Reading? All three sites are great places to find new books for yourself and your kids.

My Favorite Podcast App: It’s Not What You Think

The whole Internet seemed to go crazy today about the release of Marco Arment’s new podcast app for iOS: Overcast. He’s a nerd celebrity and he’s been teasing his fanbase (myself included) for what seems like a year as he worked on it and talked about it. Marco is an accomplished entrepreneur and engineer, and this release was highly anticipated. As a fan and a regular podcast listener, you might think I would be one of his first customers, but you’d be wrong.

I’ve been using Network for the last six months and am very happy. The UI couldn’t have less chrome–All you see in the app is the artwork from your podcasts, episode descriptions, and a plus sign for adding new podcasts. Your interaction with the app is almost entirely through gestures. It’s not completely intuitive, but it makes me smile and reminds me a lot of the Clear to-do and reminders app.

Instacast, Downcast, Pocket Casts and now Overcast all have a lot more features than Network, but I don’t need a lot of features and I certainly don’t want to fiddle with my podcast app while I choose avocadoes and listen to John Siracusa complain about LCD TV’s. Some of Overcast’s features (e.g., Smart Speed) do sound cool and non-intrusive, but for now Network is perfect for me–It plays my podcasts and just melts into the background.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #IMWAYR

So it turns out there are people out on the Internet out on the Internet besides me that read and review picture books! Not only that, a whole bunch of them gather on Mondays to share their latest favorites. I guess this has something to do with this “social media” thing that is so trendy these days. Sigh, I feel so old.

Without further ado, here are the three books in heavy rotation on right now with my three year-old that I love:

  • Alexander and the Wind-up Mouse (written and illustrated by Leo Lionni) I’ve written about my love for Leo Lionni before and this is my personal favorite. It’s got magic lizards, beautiful artwork, and the last page brings a tear to my eye every time I read it. The amazing thing is that my three year old seems to love it just as much as I do.

  • Norman the Doorman (written and illustrated by Don Freeman) Corduroy gets more attention, but Don Freeman was far from a one-trick pony. This book about a mouse that works at a museum by day and creates art at night is lovely story with a sweet message.

  • Zack’s Alligator (written by Shirley Mozelle and illustrated by James Watts) This story is pure fun and I’ve never met a kid who wouldn’t do anything to have Zack’s alligator keychain. It’s like reading a smarter Danny and the Dinosaur with a strong female lead character.

Kid Book Review: The Mister Men and Little Misses

For weeks now our house has been coated in a thin layer of Mister Men and Little Miss books. We have about 70 of these brilliant little square paperbacks, and both girls love them. My three year old carries bundles of them around the house in little bags. She pages through them looking at the pictures, trying to sound out the names, and laughing her head off. It takes her ten minutes to select just the right set to read at bedtime. My five year old will also grab a stack and try to wrap her brain around the stories and the British vocabulary.

The funny thing is that my wife and I amassed our collection before we had kids.

1983: Revisited

In the weeks after I posted my case for 1983 as a crucial year in heavy metal history, I went through a crisis of faith. What about Judas Priest? What about Iron Maiden? And what if I forgot an even bigger band or album? Luckily I could turn to my metal sensei in this time of need. The same Mike who dragged me to the import metal bins at the Rockin’ Mania record store in Framingham and opened my eyes to a whole world of music was just an email away. Here’s what he had to say:

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