Category: books

silly love songs

silly love songs

some people want to fill the world with silly love songs.

in this week’s new yorker, rebecca mead is wringing her hands over what she calls the percy jackson problem. for those of you who don’t have kids in the house,  here’s some 411:  percy jackson is the wacky protagonist of a series of books by (beloved-in-my-house) rick riordan. percy is a kid who has ADHD and behavioral problems in school — you know, that PITA kid whom every teacher wants to dropkick out the nearest window? percy, we also find out early in the series, is a greek demigod (which is part of the reason he struggles so.) through his adventures, kids (and the adults who read to them) often get their appetite whetted for the magical world of mythology.

so what’s so bad about percy? to paraphrase mead’s argument, between the use of slangy-current pop language and milieus and the less-than-deep storylines, folks in this camp are terrified that books like those in the percy jackson series are a gateway drug to a lifelong obsession with literary dross.  they believe that consuming these sorts of works results in less critical readers. in other words, popular fiction is dumbing down the world for kids.

(for those of you keeping score, this is #25,689 in the ways in which you are screwing up as a parent.)

when i was growing up, my mother took me to the library two and three times a week. no exaggeration here. the librarians knew us at both the ocean county library and the now-defunct bishop memorial library. if there were a 12-step program for bookaholics, my mother would be the queen and reigning champ. any time she has had a spare minute, her nose is in a book. if i woke up at ungodly o’clock a.m. as a kid, i’d usually find my mom,  black coffee and a romance or a mystery in hand. she has always been, and always will be, a book pusher. (ask my kids.) mom always had one rule at the library: take out whatever you want, but you need to actually read it.

now i still recall the day that dennis, the long-haired librarian at the ocean county library, stopped my nine-year-old self trying to take out romeo and julietgod bless you mr. rosewater, and war and peace. he looked at me squirrelly, then asked my mom whether she had actually seen what i was taking out of the library. (please don’t ask me why i had made those selections. it seemed like a good idea at the time.)

are you sure you want wreke taking out these books? he asked my mom.

she looked at me with the seriousness of an executioner. are you going to read them, wreke? she asked. i nodded that i would, in fact, tackle all three within the three allotted weeks i would be granted. she then looked at dennis. let’s take them out, then.

(the only one of the three i finished was romeo and juliet. in high school. kicking and screaming by then.)

yep, mom always let me read anything i wanted to read. there was the phase when i exclusively read partridge family and archie comic books. there was my sue barton, student nurse phase. there was every single book about the beatles phase. (that one is still in progress.) and of course, there was the time in seventh grade where i chose soul on ice for a book report. (i still wonder if my english teacher ever recovered from that one.)

in short, there have been plenty of generations of people reading all sorts of things — and somehow, we still continue to get great literature, great music, and great works of art. we all develop in weird and wonderful ways; and part of that is because we each receive such weird and wonderful input from all directions — from our families, from our friends, from our worlds — and of course, from our books. i know there are plenty of baby boomers who grew up reading all kinds of crap under the covers, and yet here we are. so please, get the hell off the backs of the younger generations. with all the other temptations out there, electronic and otherwise, it is difficult enough to get them to read. there will be plenty of time to refine things once they have caught the bug.

in the meantime (and with sincerest apologies to malcolm x), we need to get kids reading by any means necessary. i am not above enticing my kids’ interest in books however i can do it. i have read any number of silly things to them when they were little — i wanted them to just hear the words and love the sounds. over time, i would read chapter books that i thought sounded fun until they were old enough to make their own choices. i admit, though, that when they are a captive audience in the car with me driving four hours to see family, i break out books on CD that i get from my local library.  and they listen.

meanwhile, back in percy land… while waiting for percy jackson’s book five to come out, jools was jonesing for some riordan to read. we made a trek to central library, where we discovered that riordan has also written books… for GROWNUPS.  the boy borrowed mission road, a novel about a private eye trying to solve a murder. sure, it wasn’t his usual fare. but for a boy who loathes reading, he actually read it. granted, he was especially thrilled because there were CURSE WORDS! and INAPPROPRIATE THINGS! in the book. but you know what? he was reading.

what’s wrong with that? i’d like to know.

pet peeve: people who aren’t thankful on thanksgiving

pet peeve: people who aren’t thankful on thanksgiving

no, really. thank you.

sure, i picked the leitmotif of pet peeves this month. but that doesn’t conceal the fact that i am very, very grateful for a lot of things. i could list them for days and years. i’ll just list a few off the top of my pointed head.

1) thank you, BC: for being an awesome daughter who somehow gets me in a way that no one else does. you forgive me when i probably deserve a tween shriek thrown at me. you are one of the two greatest gifts i have ever been given, and i never forget that.

2) thank you, jools: for being an incredible son who picks and chooses the strangest moments to change from a delightful little boy into a wizened old man and provide me with a perspective that i sorely need to hear and grasp. you are one of the two greatest gifts i have ever been given, and i don’t ever forget that.

3) thank you, BS: my eternal partner in crime, the statler to my waldorf. you put up with me no matter what. you like me in spite of me being me. you make me laugh. you are always my personal bulldog. and you’ve got the most beautiful eyes i have ever seen. i am so lucky that mark wintle dumped a beer on you and therefore brought you into my life for keeps.

4) thank you mom and dad and aunt barbara: you have always been in my corner, and you have taught me the power of unconditional love. i’ll never be able to tell you fully how much you mean to me, but somehow you always know what i mean when words fail me.

5) thank you to my brothers, who never treated me like a girl but who always treated me as someone who needed to learn to be as tough as nails. i learned so much from both of you; and while i know i continue to get on your nerves in a huge way, i do it because i love you. (you’re welcome.)

6) thanks to my mother-in-law, my dearly-missed father-in-law, and all my husband’s family for treating me like one of your own. i know i’m a little bit odd in comparison to you all, but you’ve always welcomed me with open arms from the word go.

7) thank you to my friends, who seem to like me still. i treasure you.

8 )  thank you to america for taking my great grandparents in. my family has always been fiercely proud of our nation.

9) thank you to the Beatles for making the best music ever.

and last for today, but not least:

10) thank you, gutenberg, for inventing the printing press. for i do so love to read.

happy thanksgiving, everyone!



my right pinky is currently attempting to sever its ties with the rest of my right hand. it is assuming the hitchhiking position, a position that only my thumb should know how to do but generally fails (if only it hadn’t been pulled completely backward in a ninth grade game of kill the guy with the ball.) in short, my pinky — tiny, nearly useless appendage — aches and aches. the little bastard is currently punishing me for doing something i shouldn’t have done.

i went ice skating with the kids on saturday.

ah yes. last weekend, when it was get the kids the hell out of the house while the husband does income taxes weekend. i remember it well. usually, when this weekend in march rolls around, i escape to NJ with the kids. unfortunately, the three-day-weekend prior was chock-a-block filled with plans (mostly abandoned), so i was left with this past two-day weekend. and who really wants to drive 200 miles on saturday and then 200 more sleep-deprived miles on sunday with two kids in tow?


so of course i figured that i might just plan a fun-filled weekend for the three of us. the three of us turned into the four of us when BC’s pal J — a lovely, lovely girl who could move in with us as far as i’m concerned, as i think she’s very sweet, well-mannered, and, most importantly, doesn’t treat jools like he’s something that someone scraped off her shoe  — joined us in our exploits on saturday. my plan: take the kids ice skating. then a movie. drop off BC’s pal. take jools to his first-ever playdate with his pal h, which was going to be at the school playground during h’s older brother’s baseball game. simple, right?

those of you who’ve been here for awhile remember the ice skating debacle of 2007 and know that i get a little gunshy about ice skating. nevermind that preteen wreke went skating most fridays and saturday nights at our town’s ice rink. nevermind that i really DO know how to ice skate, though stopping is still a challenge. but our hero learned that when you fall at age…21 and a half, you don’t necessarily bounce back the way you did at 13.  yes, i did get back in the saddle again after that. but i think that was the last time i was on skates.

until saturday.

so off we went, BC, jools, J, and me.  J and BC are competent skaters; i truthfully don’t have to hover anywhere near them. jools…i wouldn’t call him a skater as much as i call him an ice runner. and damn, he’s fast.  LL Cool j (because deep down, even these two ladies love cool jools)  spent his time chasing the two girls, who had made friends with two other girls and were mostly ignoring him. i pretended i was a speed skater (pretended being the operative word. i’m about as fast as a glacier) and was in hot pursuit of all. not an easy task considering all the potential landmines there.

let’s see:

there’s the middle of the rink, where people are taking private lessons and doing all sorts of advanced tricks. somehow, my kids, as well as others, didn’t grasp the need to stay outside the cones. there were girly figure skaters there; there were burly hockey boys there; and there was a grey-haired, brittle-boned woman who looked to be nearing 60 with knee braces on doing little leaps. every time jools went near those people, he was nearly taken out. that boy is constantly flirtin’ with disaster.

then, there was the idiot father and son tag team who were literally racing around the rink playing — wait for it — tag. the son, who had to be about 15 and who was the size of a burgeoning linebacker, was zipping in and out of clumps of people, chasing his dad, who was doing the same. and when they tagged each other, they actually knocked each other down. oh, the hilarity. i was waiting for someone to skate over the dad .

dorothy hamill and dick button had decided that the middle of the rink was too crowded for their jumping and skating practice; the two, middle aged ice mavens took over the entire goal area of the arena for their training exploits. at one point, mr. button nearly took out my daughter as she actually skated where she was actually supposed to be skating. (silly girl.) and. he. scowled. BC, being 10, was completely oblivious to the situation. i, being 21 and a half (as previously mentioned)  was not. hey kids, i said to the four, let’s leave the kennel to lassie and skate further away. if i had only known that the two grownups who actually owned the ice arena were hard at work, preparing for the olympics, i would been more careful with my children.

and of course, lest we forget the clumps of people who decide to stop dead in their tracks in the middle of the skating path. there was the line of teen girls, stretched almost completely across the entire path, all holding hands and stopped. (i lied. there was one who was texting, right near the sign that said no cameras or phones on the ice.) there was the happy loving couple twenty-something foursome, taking turns taking pictures of themselves on the ice because gee, we’re fun people wearing fun, inappropriately fashionable clothes in a fun skating rink. we’re  just. TOO. FUN!

and, of course, my favorite: the clump of dads just standing and talking about hockey. every time i passed them, slowly manoeuvering myself around and just barely avoiding contact,  i learned a little bit more about the washington capitals and their success while on the road. [note to the men: there’s a snack bar where you can buy BEER and have that conversation. (yes, i said beer. now shoo!)]

in short, for 90 minutes, i lived in utter fear.

every now and again, jools would randomly skate across traffic and smack himself into the glass. i’d say a little prayer as he cut off countless skaters, all of whom were much larger than he and possibly not terribly adept at stopping. he always looked pained, so i would magically skate across traffic as safely as possible and get over to him. usually, he complained his back hurt him (what, are you my age already, little boy?); i’d tell him to come sit down; and he’d skate away.

one of these times, i essentially body checked myself. bashed my pinky. all 98 pounds of me barrelled down on my tiny little finger.

we survived our skating. we went out to lunch. we never made the movie, though we did end up meeting one of BC favorite authors and got her autograph at a local bookstore. it rained and rained and rained, so i couldn’t take the kids to a playground. that rain also doomed jools’ playdate later. oh, i saw my future, and it wasn’t looking very pretty. thus,  i did what any desperate self-respecting mom would do: i took them to dunkin donuts, got them sugared up, and drank myself a cup.

and lucky me. it’s thursday, and i still have a happy little black and blue remembrance of the day.


classical gas

classical gas

stealing from jaxx, who also stole it. because this is for a brain-dead friday.

The top 100 or so books most often marked as “unread? by LibraryThing’s users. Bold the books you have read, underline the ones you read for school, italicize the ones you started but didn’t finish.

this will show you just how illiterate i am — though to be fair, my period in english lit is american, 1920s. so phooey. in truth, there are several of these i have never read but HAVE seen the movie… or i’ve read the classics illustrated 😉

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Anna Karenina
Crime and Punishment

One Hundred Years of Solitude
Wuthering Heights
The Silmarillion
Life of Pi : a novel
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote
Moby Dick


Madame Bovary
The Odyssey
Pride and Prejudice

Jane Eyre

The Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel – saw PBS special
War and Peace
Vanity Fair
The Time Traveler’s Wife
The Iliad
The Blind Assassin
The Kite Runner
Mrs. Dalloway – saw movie
Great Expectations
American Gods
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Atlas Shrugged
Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books
Memoirs of a Geisha
Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
The Canterbury Tales – had to memorize in middle english. do i get extra points?
The Historian : a novel
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Love in the Time of Cholera
Brave New World
The Fountainhead
Foucault’s Pendulum
The Count of Monte Cristo
A Clockwork Orange
Anansi Boys
The Grapes of Wrath
The Poisonwood Bible
Angels & Demons
The Satanic Verses
Sense and Sensibility
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Mansfield Park
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
To the Lighthouse
Tess of the D’Urbervilles – i was tested on it. i do not remember reading it. but apparently, i did.
Oliver Twist
Gulliver’s Travels
Les Misérables
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Dune – i tried only because sting was in the movie. my monosyllabic title? YAWN.
The Prince
The Sound and the Fury
Angela’s Ashes : a memoir
The God of Small Things
A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present
A Confederacy of Dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
The Scarlet Letter
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Mists of Avalon
Oryx and Crake
Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed
Cloud Atlas
The Confusion
Northanger Abbey
The Catcher in the Rye

On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an inquiry into values
The Aeneid
Watership Down – books about bunnies? not my thing.
Gravity’s Rainbow
The Hobbit – books about fictitious little people? also not my thing.
In Cold Blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences – books about real psychos? my thing.
White Teeth
Treasure Island
David Copperfield

Tagging all who dare… Especially my reader pals KellyO, Nylonthread, and MamaBird. surely your bookshelves are littered with things better than mine.

the minerva louise series by Janet Morgan Stoeke

the minerva louise series by Janet Morgan Stoeke

we finish up books-a-go-go with a local author (well, to me, anyway), janet morgan stoeke.

do you have a four-year-old hanging around the house? then run, don’t walk, to your local library and pick up some books from the minerva louise series by Janet Morgan Stoeke, an author who actually lives in the next town over. i would lovelovelove to run into her in the supermarket and ask her how she gets into the brain of preschoolers!

the thing i loathe about books for preschoolers is that there seems to be so many that veer off into the direction of either books for boys or books for girls. you know — you end up reading about trucks or cars or dinosaurs when you’ve a guy, or princesses or fairies for girls. not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course, but it gets a bit wearing. i mean, after learning about 50,000 ways to talk about a fire truck, a parent can wish that they’d spontaneously combust.

but the minerva louise books — BC loved them when she was 4, and now, jools adores them! (in retrospect, it’s probably a sign of the apocalypse when they both agree on anything.)

minerva louise is a very silly, and possibly nearsighted, hen. she ends up mistaking a baby for a bunny; a school for a farm; and mittens for a hat. the illustrations make it quite clear to anyone why she would make her errors, and yet the fact that she makes these errors make little kids giggle and giggle. i love to read stoeke’s minerva books with my kids, if only because i love to hear my kids laugh 🙂

a new one just came out about christmastime; i’m jewish, but you can bet i’ll be out there looking for it.

Minerva Louise and the Colorful Eggs

Minerva Louise

A Hat for Minerva Louise

Minerva Louise at School

Minerva Louise at the Fair

Minerva Louise and the Red Truck

Minerva Louise and Her Farmyard Friends

mo willems and his bag of willems goodness

mo willems and his bag of willems goodness

pigeons get a bad rap.

dastardly and muttley were always trying to stop that pigeon. woody allen called them rats with wings. and G-d knows no one wants to be called a stool pigeon.

it’s a wonder a pigeon doesn’t develop a complex.

and mo willems’ pigeon does just that. he wants to drive a bus. no dice. he wants to eat a hot dog by himself. no dice. he wants to stay up late! nope. not happening. all not happening because your preschooler will be laughing so hard as s/he yells NO! every time poor pigeon pleads with him/her about it.

willems, a veteran of sesame street, knows preschoolers. and the humor is funny enough that jaded grownups (now, who could that be around here?) will crack up (especially at moments when the duckling comes in and asks whether the hot dog tastes like chicken). there’s a wonderful, raw quality to the illustrations.

willems now has branched out in pigeon board books (as well as some of his other titles, like Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale and Leonardo, the Terrible Monster (the latter, a major fave of jools’). you really can’t go wrong with any of them.

but in my house, that pigeon can’t be stopped. and he can stay up as late as he wants.

Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late!

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus

The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog!

I'm Mighty!  by Kate Mcmullan and Jim Mcmullan

I'm Mighty! by Kate Mcmullan and Jim Mcmullan

got a preschooler, especially of the male kind? then you need the McMullans. they absolutely get the favorite feelings of little kids — i’m tough, i’m stinky, and i’m dirty. what kid doesn’t want to be those? different vehicles show how you don’t have to be big to be cool. i especially love reading i’m mighty with a new york accent. it drives jools up the wall, but i don’t care. their writing is so authentic and wonderful, it makes me happy to pretend i’m gross, too.

(remember. i said p r e t e n d. i don’t want word to get out that i’m unclean.)

I’m Mighty!

I Stink!

I’m Dirty!

ian falconer's Olivia

ian falconer's Olivia

may i first say how much BC adored olivia when she was a preschooler? i mean LOVED! olivia is a cheeky little pig who isn’t quite perfection – she’s a little bossy and tough. and in the end, her mom notes that olivia wears her out — but that she still loves her. a message any parent could appreciate.

i also loved the fact that there were all sorts of artistic and cultural icons sprinkled throughout the work. olivia imitating jackson pollack is a moment i treasure — after reading this book, we went to the national gallery, where, thanks to this book, BC was able to spot jackson pollack easily on the wall (and i was nearly able to corrupt several young minds talking about painting while drunk. not me painting, silly. pollack.) falconer’s illustrations are among the best i’ve ever found in children’s literature. i love them that much.

that being said, olivia seems to be turning into a cottage industry. olivia counts, olivia reads, why, i’m waiting for olivia potty trains her younger brother. i don’t bother with those.

but i definitely bother with olivia. move over, wilbur, or olivia might kick your porky behind.


Olivia Saves the Circus

Olivia … and the Missing Toy

Olivia Forms a Band

Olivia Helps with Christmas (Olivia Series)

cars and trucks and things that go

cars and trucks and things that go

richard scarry has been around since i was a wee tike. i remember that along with Highlights Magazine, his books were a fixture of dentists’ and pediatricians’ offices. i found them incredibly boring (just like Highlights — did anyone ever actually read them??) and wondered whether any child in his or her right mind would read them. i mean, who the hell wanted a book that lacked a storyline? it was never my schtick, and BC didn’t care at all about them, either.

so it came as a major revelation when jools started to enjoy richard scarry. it was a loathsome chore, to be sure, to have to read through the books, chockablock filled with pictures and words. clearly scarry had gone to a ton of trouble drawing and thinking. but it all left me cold.

that is, until cars and trucks and things that go. see, the pig family is going on a picnic. and along the way, there are a zillion types of cars, some of which are, well, extraordinarily silly (a carrot car?? a pencil car??)), much to the delight of a preschooler. then, there’s poor old officer flossie, trying to catch up with naughty dingo, who not only speeds but mauls the poor parking meters. go, officer flossie, go! and then, there’s the added delight of searching for goldbug on every page, out waldo-ing where’s waldo by about 10 years.

[feminist girl here likes the fact that the prime fixer of cars happens to be mistress mouse. she can fix anything. would that i could.]

anyway, while not my favorite book, i actually enjoy reading it in bits and pieces, if only to see how my son giggles every time he sees yet another silly car.

cars and trucks and things that go

mr. lunch borrows a canoe

mr. lunch borrows a canoe

i heart mr. lunch.

the team of J. Otto Seibold and Vivian Walsh have created a book where the storyline really tests you, the grownup, to suspend all your linear storyline intentions. it’s crazy and kooky, but oh so fun. the illustration, which is inventive and offbeat (and i mean that in the best way possible), really shines, in my opinion — i understand it’s computer generated, yet there’s something so hip yet campy about it. i wish i could put my finger on it.

there’s a short series, but my favorite is mr. lunch borrows a canoe, precisely because the storyline is so zany. canine mr. lunch, you see, is a professional bird chaser. he ends up in a canoe, gets frightened by a bear (who is only trying to take a picture of the famous mr. lunch), and paddles all the way to venice. there, he ends up clearing a palazzo filled with birds, gets a medal, and then goes home.

yeah, i know. it ain’t shakespeare. but it delighted jools and his sister. any book that can hold the attention of a 4 year old AND an 8 year old simultaneously is a winner in my book. and me, i pretended i was on a little mental trip. it was nice to let go of reality for five minutes and end up back in a happy place 😉

Mr. Lunch Borrows a Canoe

Free Lunch

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