Saturday, May 30, 2009

Full of questions

"Daddy, what was the first thing in the world?"

"Well, there are many interesting and different stories about that, and..."

"Where did God come from?"

"That's a good question. Maybe God was always there."

"Where did the first egg come from? Daddy, I'm just so full of questions. How many questions should I have?"

"You should have as many questions as you need to get the answers you want."


"Is magic for real?"

Friday, May 29, 2009

Illustrated by

  • grass -- at bottom
  • one flower -- yellow
  • caterpillar -- series of circles above flower
  • the roof of the fairy princess ballet dance house -- hatch marks to right of caterpillar
  • dragonfly -- black, above caterpillar
  • butterfly -- circles above dragonfly
  • rainbow -- obvious
  • mosquitoes (only 2 are allowed in fairy princess land) -- blue spots above caterpillar
  • stars (orange) -- top of page
  • night sky -- top of page
  • writing that says "HI HO! Where is Genevieve? Illustrated by Reesa." -- squiggles on left margin

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Weekly quarter

Our children receive a weekly allowance of $0.25, not tied to work or cooperation or anything. We provide this amount in order to let them begin to experience the exchange of money for goods, to see that there are some things that you can get for yourself, and some things that you can get for yourself if you wait and save, and some things that you can get sooner if you want to cooperate and pool your money with your sister, and some things that it would just take to long to save that much money, and some things to which mom or dad just say "no."

Other money they get as gifts they are directed to place into their piggy banks. The plastic pigs that don't break, with the once-removable-but-now-glued-shut-by-daddy snouts

Here's some of what our children will do with their weekly riches:
  • breath mints
  • gum
  • toys from gumball machines
  • apple
  • grapes (to which Genevieve sat down, pulled out a grape and a straw, stuck the straw into the grape, and proceeded to attempt to drink the grape juice that should gush forth, just like from a juice box)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Ghost story

“Daddy, let’s tell scaaary stooories!”

It was dusk at the regional annual Quaker gathering, and I volunteered to take Reesa, the three year-old, back to the cabin for bedtime. At the time I attributed it to the mosquitoes, but after arriving at the cabin I recognized that my field mouse headache had turned into a growling bulldog. I was happy to get a chance to get to sleep early, especially after failing to find the pain reliever.

That’s when Reesa made her proposition.

“Here, we’ll sit on this blanket for the story.” She had spread out one of her children’s fleecy blankets on the hard tile cabin floor.

“Ooo, I think we should lie on my bed. Under blankets and in the dark.” My headache was asking for those conditions. “That will be scaaaary.”

“Okay. That way we can cuddle, too.”

So that is how my headache, Reesa and I came to telling our ghost story.

“Once upon a time, there was a ghost that lived in a rutter cave, and…”

“Wait,” I interrupted. “Did you say rutter cave?”


“Is that like a bear cave?”

“Yes. So this ghost lived in the cave, but then one day the ghost left the cave to do scaaaary things.” Pause. “Okay, your turn daddy.”

“Hmmm. Well, this ghost came to a house, and there were people that lived there, and they were home. So he did scaaaary things, and the people in the house were afraid. Your turn.”

“Well,” Reesa said, thinking. “The people left the house, so the ghost went to another house and scared the people there. Your turn daddy.”

“The people were so scared, they ran away from their house, too. This time the ghost decided to have a ghost party for all of his ghost friends, so he called them up on the phone and they all came to this house and had a b-i-i-i-i-i-g party, and it was really loud. Your turn.”

“So the police came and kicked them out. And they caught all of the ghosts except one that they didn’t catch, and that one was hiding.” Pause. “Your turn daddy.”

“The ghost waited for the police to leave, then went out to another house, scared the people away, called up other friends for another ghost party, and they had lots of fun but not for too long because it started to get light with the sun coming up, so all of the ghosts disappeared for the daytime. Your turn.”

“The next night, the police came, and the ghost ran away from that house, and went to a different city. Your turn daddy.”

“Well, that ghost was getting tired of being chased, and this time instead of scary someone out of the house they lived in, he looked around for a house that no one lived in and was a little broken down, so that the police wouldn’t be called in to chase them out. And that is what happened, and that is why to this day ghosts live in abandoned old houses. The end.”

And I gave her a kiss, and she went to sleep.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Great Quillow

By James Thurber (c) 1944
Our library has the Harcourt Brace & Co. 1994 edition with illustrations by Steven Kellogg

Ooooo, this is really good.

Message: intimidation and brutality are overcome not by weaponry or physical traps, but rather by storytelling, planning and toys.

Story: Long for a three-year old, but our five-year old has the attention span for it. Gets a little detailed with the town council bits, but the repetition of the reactions of all the different tradesmen is fun. Other townsmen want to crush, poison, burn, etc. the giant, but the town toymaker sees the futility of this and convinces the town to participate in stories he weaves, eventually driving the giant to his own destruction.

Illustrations and layout: This edition is in a large layout format, with a mix of layouts for the watercolor-and-ink panels. The variety of presentation has been good for a half-dozen readings, and will be good for many more.

On the list of one of my potentially great children's books. Let's revisit it in a couple of years, yes?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Power of... stickers as an entertainment device!

Overheard from our back seat on a recent 10 hour car drive after a dance weekend. Notes courtesy of She-Who-Loves-Fatherhood-in-three-easy-lessons. The conversation took place while exchanging and pasting stickers of doe-eyed anime figures over everything in reach of their five-point harnessed position, especially all over themselves.

"We're going to win against the bad girls!"
"The bad girls?"
"Yeah! They're trying to win, but we have to beat them."

"We're mermaids!"
"We're princesses!"

"Do you need some slime? They eat slime."
"Yeah, give me some slime."

"Huh-Huh-Huh!" (cartoon sound of panting)

"Let's use corn power."
"I don't like corn power. I like rainbow power."
"No, I want to use star power!"
"Let's use star-rainbow power."

"Ooooo, she has a lot of slime."


"Oh no! They're winning."

"I'm Rosie and you're Jessica."
"I don't want to be Jessica. I want to be Emma."
"I'm not really a mermaid, I'm a princess."
"I'll be Emma-fairy."

...and on and on for a good hour.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Deal

"Daddy, can you do, you know..."

"Yes, Reesa, I know The Deal. I'll watch you go down the stairs, you turn on the basement light, and I'll be here in the kitchen while you get your clothes."

"Right. And then when I get back upstairs, you can leave the kitchen."

That's the deal, and Reesa wants to have that conversation every time she goes downstairs to get clothes from her relocated dresser. We set up a turned-over milk crate so that she can reach the light in order to chase away the monsters.

If she had been able to cease from tossing half of her clean wardrobe across the bedroom floor every day, she would still have a dresser in her bedroom rather than the basement, but she couldn't learn that lesson, so we have The Deal. (The placement of the dresser in the basement has resulted in many fewer clean clothes tossed around. I am particularly happy with it, since I had come up with that ploy. Desperation begets the occasional good solution.

Monday, May 18, 2009


Once, I researched a list of recommended books with which to raise independent-minded girls. I don't remember what I found, or where the list went. I do remember finding a few good books off of it, but at the the moment I don't recall which ones. For the most part, my approach to finding good children's picture books has been the filter-by-volume method. I typically have 25 items checked out of the children's section of the public library at a time, and we read everything we get, often a half dozen times.

I've just come across the illustrated children's version of Brundibar, complete with the eye-catching illustrator/author combination of Maurice Sendak and Tony Kushner. This is hardly a new book (2003), just new-to-me. Reading it has started me thinking about the qualities that make for a very good children's book.

The "Do Not Pass Go" test: do the children like it? If they don't like it, then it doesn't matter what I think. If I really like something they could care less about, then maybe it's just a book for adults in the guise of a kids book.

For illustrated books, one quality is (DUH!) the illustrations. Not every book in my very good category has to have fabulous illustrations, and there are two sets of tastes that have to be considered -- do the illustrations satisfy a child, and do they satisfy an adult.

For adults, are the the illustrations engaging? complex? multi-layered in meaning? For kids... do they like them? on the tenth reading?

Layout. This includes story flow, quantity of text to complexity of illustrations, eye flow, and are the eyes a non-literate child likely to flow to pertinent illustrations while hearing the text.

There's more, but I'll get into Brundibar.

First, there are a couple of background items for this book:
Brundibar the book is adapted from Brundibar the Czech opera, and I suspect that fidelity to the theater script rated more highly than creating a children's (or adults) literary text. The essentials of the plot are there, but it's chunky. There is content that is engaging for both adult and child, but I couldn't help but feel like an outsider for not having seen the opera first.

I believe that Reesa maintained her interest mostly on the Maurice Sendak illustrations (she loves Sendak). Their flow and variation careen between the dark underside of Jews in Nazi Europe and irrepressible youthful hope in the face of desperation. And, hey, isn't that the baker from In The Night Kitchen making a cameo appearance?

Bottom line: not a great book, but despite that it is a book that will get you curious about the story behind the story and the opera. Worth it for adults to read it, and the kids won't mind.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

There's a biyana at the door

Knock knock
Who's there?

Banana who?

Knock knock
Who's there?
Banana who?

Knock knock
Who's there,
Orange, who?
Orange you glad I didn't say banana!

That's the way the joke's supposed to go. Reesa's version, which she cracks up to every time she says it is twisted up...

Reesa: Knock knock
Victim: Who's there?
Orange who?
Orange who?
Orange who?
Banana who?
Orange you glad I didn't say biyana! HA HA HA HA!!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

These days

These days are burrowing into deep corners of our minds
Our young children still in love with us
But beginning to find other role models, becoming more interested in friends

These days more precious than rare earth elements
Of tricycles, and wrenches used to put on and take off training wheels
Small eating utensils and toy tea sets
Of the smell of crayon, pee-pee accidents, and sweet breath
Stubbed toes healed with a kiss, the simple glee of a balloon
Of sidewalk chalk, shortened naps, and first words read
Snuggling in the early morn, reading picture books, the thrill of a merry-go-round

If our lives are graced with long duration
These are days that will be cherished after the pitter-pat on hardwood is gone
Even when memory of the past hour is unrecoverable, unknown, immaterial
These days will be sharp and clear, poignant and biting

Written for my loving wife on the occasion of mother's day
My partner, and mother of our children without whom I could not be the father I am

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

See sewer robots

Why doesn't my calendar look like this? This was Genevieve's day.
  • Sleep in a little late.
  • Breakfast.
  • Shop at farmer's market. Buy flowers and cookies.
  • Play with balloon animals.
  • Play freeze tag with friends in a beautiful downtown place.
  • Eat cookies.
  • Listen to bagpipes.
  • See sewer robots. See yourself on the sewer robot TV monitor.
  • Eat lunch. Give flowers to teachers.
  • Nap.
  • Music time.
  • Play time.
  • Dinner.
  • Go to friends house and play.
  • Get picked up to go home to bed.
What did I do? G-a-a-c-k! Nothing nearly so fun.

The only slight improvement I would make would be to replace "bagpipe" with "banjo," but that might just depend on the day.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Water fun

"What are we going to do that's fun?"

This is the question that Genevieve asks of me lately when I pick her up from preschool or daycare. I ask you, is it my duty to provide her with fun in the park every day? I'll be carting her off to daily dance or soccer or swimming or violin soon enough -- she can learn some self-entertaining skills that will come in handy. Climbing down from my fatherly soapbox now.

Tonight, I said that we would (with proper behavior) take the canoe down to the lakeside for the first time this season and go for a paddle. They behaved, we paddled (more or less -- this is a motor skill not yet mastered by these kids), we stayed dry, and had a successful first spin on the lake.

Last week, I took the family fishing for the first time. No one got hurt, the children left with a positive-enough memory, they want to do it again, so I'll call it a success. I'll also see if I can get the girls out one-at-a-time for the next try -- it's amazing how quickly great lengths of fishing line can get tangled in an unassailable ball when you're busy helping the other sibling.