April 11, 2019 § Leave a comment
One of the superpowers young children possess is the ability to transfer human qualities onto inanimate objects. My Emily might be eight years old—well versed in the impossibility of stuffed animals coming to life—but she still likes to tell me about the skydiving adventures her plush lamb has at home while she’s off at school (apparently in cohorts with my stuffed bear). When I tuck her in at night, it’s not uncommon for Emily to inform me that Baba will be keeping watch for bad dreams. Whenever her pride is bruised or her tears are flowing, Emily predictably runs to her room, snatches up Baba, and presses the soft frayed body to her cheek. (Baba has also been known to “peck at” prime offenders, otherwise known as Older Brothers.)
It’s remarkable, this ability of children to draw entertainment, companionship, and comfort from non-living things. It certainly plays a part in why children are naturally resilient, even or especially when the humans around them fall short. After all, an object can be whatever a child wants or needs it to be. It can be a kind of “stand in,” or a bridge to a time when that child might reliably find that entertainment, companionship, or comfort in another living being.
Lubna and Pebble (Ages 4-8), an impossibly gorgeous and profoundly moving new picture book about the refugee experience, takes at its center the conceit of a young girl’s redemptive friendship with a pebble, which she finds on the momentous night she arrives with her father at the “World of Tents.”« Read the rest of this entry »
April 6, 2017 § 4 Comments
Last summer, we vacationed in Acadia National Park in Maine. It was our family’s first foray into one of the major National Parks, and we had gotten the idea six months earlier while watching National Parks Adventure, the astoundingly beautiful and nail-biting IMAX movie (can we talk about those mountain bikers?!), directed by Greg MacGillivray and narrated by Robert Redford. All four of us left the Smithsonian theater feeling like we were missing out. Our regular hikes around our local wetlands preserve—beloved as they are—suddenly didn’t feel like…enough. Turns out we were right. In Acadia, after days of hiking around sparkling lakes and in and out of deliciously fragrant pine forests, of scrambling over vast expanses of rocks flanked by crashing waves, my son exclaimed, “This is what we should do on every vacation! Which National Park should we visit next?”
Next week is our spring break, and we’ll be stay-cationing. But, while our feet will be traversing our neighborhood parks, our imaginations will be taking flight on the adventures in the mountain of spring releases that have recently landed on our doorstep. Of all the new spring titles, probably the one I’ve most anticipated is Jason Chin’s Grand Canyon (Ages 9-13), a staggering and richly informative window into the ecology, geology, and history of the Grand Canyon. « Read the rest of this entry »
October 18, 2013 § 2 Comments
I may have given an audible little yelp the other day when I discovered that Jessie Hartland had published a new title in her “museum” series, but it was nothing like the squeal of joy that my six year old emitted when I brought it home and gave it to him. You see, How the Dinosaur Got to the Museum (Ages 4-8) and How the Sphinx Got to the Museum (Ages 5-10) are among our All Time Favorites, rivaled only by Hartland’s newest addition to the series, How the Meteorite Got to the Museum (Ages 5-10). All three books are brilliantly simple slices of science and history; they introduce children to paleontology, Egyptology, and now astronomy by following a specific artifact from its discovery in the field to its place in the exhibition hall of a museum.
Most great science books take their inspiration from true historical events. Here’s an especially awesome one: on a clear night in October of 1992, a meteor that had been predictably orbiting the sun for four billion years suddenly and inexplicably changed course, entered the Earth’s atmosphere, flew over Kentucky, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, and crashed into the trunk of a Chevy Malibu parked outside a house in Peekskill, New York (that’s right, crashed—as in, totaled the back of the car and sprung a leak in the fuel tank and precipitated a 911 call to police and fire fighters—pretty much the coolest thing my six year old has ever conceived of). « Read the rest of this entry »
July 19, 2012 § 2 Comments
We just returned from a week at the beach. I’ve decided that the beach is the Perfect Montessori Classroom. In fact, if someday the public school system fails me, I may just throw my kids on a beach all year long and be done with it. What can’t you learn while playing on an ever-changing natural landscape with a bountiful array of tactile materials and a giant open space in which to explore them? (After all, doesn’t Montessori teach kids with sandpaper letters?) Our particular beach, beautiful in its rawness, is on the Ontario side of Lake Erie; it’s a piece of property that has been in my family for generations. It’s also just about the “dirtiest” beach you’ll ever find—full of sticks, stones, seaweed, and (yes) even the occasional dead fish carcass—which makes it disappointing for sunbathing teenagers but paradise for intrepid little explorers. This past week, JP spent every morning and afternoon on the beach, digging and dumping and filling and building (all the time engaged in an excited and not always coherent dialogue with himself.) This year, he was especially interested in the plentiful rocks, largely because my grandmother kept asking him to bring her the “most interesting ones” for an edging wall she was building back at the house. JP needs very little encouragement to pick up rocks (see my earlier post on collecting), but this assignment gave me a chance to encourage him to consider and refine a bit before plopping a stone into his bucket. I was reminded of a book that was published last year, titled If Rocks Could Sing: a Discovered Alphabet, by Leslie McGuirk (Ages 4-99). After 10 years of rock-searching on her beach in Florida, the author ended up with all 26 letters of the alphabet—that is, she found a rock shaped like each one. The end result: a totally unique alphabet book with a different page for each of the photographed rock-letters; as a bonus, there’s also a rock-object or rock-face that corresponds with each letter (that’s right, she actually found a rock that looks like an elephant’s head for “e,” and a mere 14 heart-shaped rocks for the “v is for valentines” page). I’m always looking for books that visually represent letters out of their typical print format (you know your kid really grasps what a M looks like when she can spot it in the arches of the Brooklyn Bridge; see Stephen T. Johnson’s Alphabet City). But in addition to getting kids to see letters in different ways, If Rocks Could Sing presents a beautiful opportunity to open up little eyes to the great imperfections of nature. Think of it as a stop-and-smell-the-roses alert—but for rocks. With careful inspection and avid imagination, there’s no end to what rocks can inspire in kids. Last week, JP discovered a fossilized rock with etchings of what appeared to be some kind of plant or algae (“Mommy, I’m now a fossil collector! This rock has probably been here for hundreds of days!”). Truly, the beach does seem to make its own time, and I especially enjoy McGuirk’s afterward, which discusses her painstaking process of trying to find the letter K, the last piece to complete her alphabet puzzle; what a clever way to talk to your kids about patience! Like I said, the classroom starts here.