Friday, July 11, 2014

The places you'll go!

July 4, 2014

Ordinarily, Devyn has strong opinions about what we will do and about where we will go, but not on the fourth of July. On this day, it mattered only that Devyn be allowed to read The Fault In Our Stars by John Green.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Louis C.K. saves Clifford the Big Red Dog

I have been trying to pare down our massive collection of children's books -- books that I'd started collecting well before I had children -- and it's not that easy. Notwithstanding the protests of my children, I have a hard time letting go. 

In the matter of Norman Bridwell's Clifford the Big Red Dog books, I have wavered. Certainly, both girls have enjoyed Clifford, but he was never their favourite book character for any discernible length of time. I like Clifford the Big Red Dog -- hey, we go back a long time -- but I don't need these books on the shelves anymore.

Then, I happened upon one of Louis C.K.'s stand-up comedy routines (Live at the Beacon) recently, and I was surprised to hear him speaking about the oversized dog. I really enjoy his darkish humour about the relative scope and depth of the Clifford books.

It's just -- they read Clifford the Big Red Dog to you at a rate of fifty minutes a page. And you have to sit there and be horribly proud and bored at the same time.
I hate Clifford the Big Red Dog. I hate him. There's fifty books about Clifford the Big Red Dog. Fifty books. There's seven books about Narnia that cover the birth and death of a nation, and mice with swords and a lion who's a god. They did it in seven books.
Fifty books about Clifford the Big Red Dog, and they all tell the exact same story: 'Look how big this dog is.' That's it. That's it...'Look how big this dog is.'
It's the whole book. 'Here's how big he was at the firehouse. Here's how big he was at Thanksgiving.' Who gives a ****? You just drew him big. You just on purpose made him bigger than people. It should be, 'Look how big I drew the dog in this book. Isn't that a mistake?' There's no story. You maybe even just drew him closer to the page. I don't even know if you did it honestly. 
On the issue of adding dramatic interest, Louis C.K. continues:
Tell a story about Clifford. Make something happen where maybe he steps on a policeman and shatters his spine, and it's devastating to the community. He hangs on for two months and then dies, and there's a whole, you know, funeral with bagpipes, and everybody is crying. And Clifford gets the death penalty and there's a whole book about his appeal process and how he found Jesus but everybody said it was b******* and the cop's wife was like, 'I want that dog dead!' And then he goes to the chair and they shave all his red fur off and now he's Clifford the Big Pink Dog. And they put him on a big, funny electric chair that the town got together and built...
Alas, one of my children no longer cares about Clifford the Big Red Dog, and the other only occasionally pays attention to him. All those moments in which I had found myself pleading inwardly, "No, not another Clifford book" and "No, not this book yet again" while experiencing the almost unbearable repetition of the same books day after day and night after night? They are the stuff of good memories. So, Clifford? I have to keep Clifford. Clifford stays.

(from PBS KIDS "Clifford Saves A Ferry")

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Please, play something else...?

I actually don't find the image creepy and, for the most part, Molly has enjoyed this book as it models social rules; but, when pressed for more information, she insisted, "Giraffes don't SKIP!"

Sunday, June 22, 2014

More books suffering indignities

Molly's indignation continues: she cannot understand why people mistreat books. It is a source of discomfort and confusion for her.

While watching a documentary at bedtime, a YouTube ad appears in which a person throws a book into a fireplace.

Molly: He just threw a book in the fireplace: a big, old, beautiful book! Do you ever have the problem where you think people are selfish sometimes?


Monday, June 16, 2014

Just makes me wonder...

I have participated in many conversations about the role of siblings in families of children with autism. These brothers and sisters can be miniature experts in autism with an extensive and seemingly innate understanding of their brother or sister, and I wonder how often their opinions are valued.

Of the several children's books that I've read since the end of 2013 which feature autism in a family setting, several of them have been written from the perspective of a sibling. One of my favourites is Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko because it addresses, among other issues, the value of such sibling insight.

It is 1935, and Moose Flanagan, who is twelve years old, lives with his family on Alcatraz Island. The following passage describes Moose and his older sister, Natalie.
Nat has the kitchen chair pulled into the living room, wedged between three crates. "Hey, Natalie, the sun get up okay this morning?" I ask like I do every morning.
She never answers, which used to really bug me...One day last year, I got so mad, I just walked right by her, didn't say anything. Not one word.
That day, after I left for school, my mom said Natalie sat outside my room and cried for two straight hours. Natalie isn't a crier, she's a screamer. You never see her cry for plain old hurt. I'd say my mom made it all up, but she didn't know I'd snubbed Natalie. My mom had no idea why Natalie had cried.
Now I ask Natalie about the sun every morning and it only bothers me a little when she doesn't answer.
(my journal 6/12/14)
So, while the parents and some hired professionals -- who have, perhaps, inadvertently allowed the desire to achieve a goal to overshadow the goal itself -- try to reach Natalie to instruct her in the rules of normative communication, Moose has already forged a relationship with his sister, has genuinely connected with her, precisely because he understands how she interacts as well as how she both receives and conveys information.

I am, by no means, an expert in autism, but it makes me wonder if Moose might be one of the best people in his sister's life to help her learn other methods of communicating, if only his parents could see what he sees...


Al Capone Does My Shirts
(A Tale from Alcatraz)
Gennifer Choldenko
Ages: 9-12
April 2006

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The ethical treatment of books

I actually try to keep track of the conversations between Molly and me that I find funny or cute or surprising.

While watching one of her favourite documentary-style shows about art and architecture tonight, I sensed her agitation and then I heard it:

Molly:      That's not right, Mum! That's NOT right.

Me:         What's not right?

Molly:      They're turning unwanted books into works of art... People should respect books!

I know that I was a reader at her age (7), but I don't recall having such a strong sense of justice regarding the treatment of books.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Writer at work

I am usually very insistent that the girls only play after school because I don't want them to watch television (or to use an iPod, iPhone, or iPad); however, after school, Devyn wanted to transcribe the notes of the first chapter of her story. I just can't be responsible for derailing a writing career!

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Sure. Why not?

Molly has insisted that I read Frankenstein to her. Though she is well accustomed to the Gothic elements in some nineteenth-century poetry, I worried that Frankenstein would be just too frightening for her; however, I grabbed a tattered, vintage copy of a version adapted for teens and, well, she loves it. It definitely isn't intended for seven-year-old children, but I'm not concerned.

We are slightly more than halfway through, but our reading has been slowed by the fact that she asks me to reread certain chapters that she likes. For example, she truly enjoys the chapter in which Victor Frankenstein successfully imbues the body that he has created with life -- using electricity. (Such an important part for many reasons.)

I like watching Molly, from the corner of my eye, revisiting the chapters that we've just finished.

Saturday, May 31, 2014


Toad ran home.
He planted the flower seeds.
"Now seeds," said Toad,
"start growing."
Toad walked up and down
a few times.
The seeds did not start to grow.
Toad put his head
close to the ground
and said loudly,
"Now seeds, start growing!"

(Frog and Toad Together - Arnold Nobel)

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Molly discovers graphic novels

An exciting moment as Molly picks up a graphic novel (Treasure Island) and reads it (rereads it later in the day).

Friday, May 09, 2014

Features of the gothic novel

I love this.

How to tell you're in a gothic novel--in pictures from (here)


Monday, April 21, 2014

Park season

After a long, gruelling winter, the girls and I have been eager to get back to the park.

As we were leaving, Devyn reached for her basketball; Molly said that she needed to get a book and ran back into the house. Upon reflection, I remembered that I'd been able to relax during the last park visit, and then I went back for a book, too.

Serendipities: Language and Lunacy by Umberto Eco has been on my reading list for years, and the very day on which I decide to take it to the park? I meet a linguist from my alma mater whose area of interest is semiotics.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

My glass shall not persuade me I am old...*

Recently, we took a break from reading the first book of Ingo (Helen Dunmore). Molly chose a simple, beloved picture book from her collection for a few minutes of light reading.

After a few pages, my six-year-old sighed and said, "This is very repetitive."

"It is," I said. "It reminds me of Brown Bear, Brown Bear..."

"Hmm. I wonder where that book is?" she mused, changing the subject.

"It's derivative," I added, tongue-in-cheek, fully expecting her to ask what that means.

"Yes," she agreed. "It is."

*from my favourite Shakespeare sonnet (22)

Thursday, January 23, 2014


Our front yard, and beyond, is covered in thick ice that resists any tool but a pickax and has been for at least one week (but I suspect longer).

No matter where you look, there is ice or snow covering ice. 

Admittedly, the ice and its effects -- quite beautiful.  

Still, I can't hide the fact that I am desperate for spring and, in spite of my rational self, I keep hoping that the nearest prognosticating rodent will not see his shadow.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Next up

Douglas Adams: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (John Carnell / Steve Leialoha) - a graphic novel that I've always wanted to read.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Every time

So, I have been promising Molly for ages that I would tackle our upstairs closet because she is interested in seeing some of the furniture, clothes, and toys that she and Devyn had used over the years. It's just time to clean it up.

Frankly, I have been avoiding that closet. It truly is the closet which, if opened carelessly, would release an avalanche of toys and household items, so we're glad that it has a lock. It scares me; or, it did scare me. It scared me until I very bravely opened the door and started our journey down memory lane today and turned right into the world where noisy toddler toys and overpriced baby furniture live forever.

Because Molly was helping, I rummaged through bins with the frustrated cadence of a hunt-and-peck typist: trying to find a block here that she had spotted and a teething ring there that she had to see and all before Molly could reach them herself. She was so much faster and managed to grab it before I could. Damn.

"Look!" she said in awe. "Mum, there are books, too!"

Well, there was one book -- a picture book, not a baby book, in very fine condition -- and it looked very much out of place among the vividly coloured walkers and shape-sorting cubes. It actually didn't belong in a bin, tucked away for years, out of sight and out of mind. It should have been on their shelves but I sort-of-accidentally-on-purpose stuck it in among the toys then quickly shoved the bin in, shut the closet door behind me, and forgot all about it for years.

Tonight, Molly wanted me to read it to her. She knows the song, but she hadn't heard this story which, she discovered, actually is the song. She didn't know at the time how averse I am to reading the story.

I don't actually hate Puff the Magic Dragon for its contents, but I hate it because it has made me cry every single time I've read it. It is unbearably sad, but I agreed to read it. At one point, as my throat tightened and my voice became unsteady, Molly looked up at me but, my eyes blurring the page, I stared at the words and just carried on.

Go ahead and read it. It comes with a CD much appreciated by the overly sensitive in our family.

Publisher: Sterling
Published: August 2007
Age range: from 3 to 7
24 pages
ISBN: 1-4027-4782-9
ISBN13: 9781402747823
Hardcover with Jacket & CD

Super Why?

It's one show that I really don't mind the girls watching (though Devyn is not very interested in it) because, as Molly told me today, "It teaches you about letters and how to spell."

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

More Sherlock...but 'tis the season

I always have a graphic novel on the go, and right now it is The Hound of the Baskervilles (illustrated by I.N.J. Culbard and adapted by Ian Edginton).