The misadventures of a first time father

Category Archives: Books and Reading

Birthday Comic 19If you’ve ever watched the holiday classic Miracle on 34th Street, you’re likely familiar with the buzz created when the real-life Santa Claus (mistaken for an actor playing the role) is put into the throne at Macy’s with the intention to push overstocked toys and instead starts telling parents and children alike where to find the items they just can’t seem to find there at Macy’s.

Sending them to other stores?! Gasp! It sends the head of the toy department into a tizzy but strikes Mr. Macy himself as a brilliant marketing ploy of goodwill to make Macy’s the friendly store, the helpful store.

There’s really something to be said for customer service, isn’t there?

The Halloween he turned himself into a superhero that inspired it all.

You see, the past few years, an annual tradition has developed where on his birthday, I present our son (and last year at her birthday, our oldest daughter as well) with a custom-made comic book based on the super-hero persona he created for himself one Halloween back in preschool. I try to keep notes of the various characters his imagination develops as he played back then or creates in stories or drawings he makes currently, and incorporate them into these breezy little adventures that are all his own. And I try to have extras on hand as additional party favors for anyone at his birthday who may want one.

The tradition started three birthdays ago.

As in years past, I had ordered via an online printing service that does great work. Only this time, (through no fault of theirs) I made a mistake in the types of books I ordered, paper used. I admit being a bit obsessive about aesthetics at times and realized that these would stick out like a sore thumb amid the ones I’ve given him in the past. But re-ordering for such a small picky thing like that would’ve been too costly and wouldn’t arrive in time for his birthday.

So I started thinking local.

I stepped foot into a local printing and lithograph company that handles a lot of large scale orders in the area, including several magazines. I explained what I was looking to do, but that I only wanted 10, maybe 15 copies of this gift and party favor. They do large projects, but they told me the printer across the parking lot from them would have no problem handling the job well.

They didn’t tell me no and send me packing. They didn’t turn their nose up. They sent me and my business to someone more suited to it.

It was my Miracle on 34th Street moment.

So across the parking lot I hopped into Presto Print, where I was surprisingly greeted by a classmate from high school. An added bonus! I explained the project, what I needed, and she told me ‘no problem.’ To boot, they had it ready the very next day for me.

Thanks to these heroes, I had what I wanted when I needed it, all in time for my little hero.

There’s really something to be said for customer service.

Advertisements

Little Lamp booksSo, this is a pretty important week for me.

Not because I’ll be one step closer to forty by the time the week is through, but because a tale that’s been floating in my mind for many years is finally seeing the light of day.

This week marks the release of my first children’s picture book, The Little Lamp. It’s the story of a small table lamp who shines his love on a family for many years. But as their lives change, so does his, and as the years pass, he finds himself old, dusty, and eventually at the curb. And it’s with that he starts to re-think what these changes mean for him and what purpose he might still serve in life – as he has so much more love light to give.

Available in hardcover, paperback and e-book, it’s a story I hope offers some inspiration, some hope, and some, all pun intended, bright light to anyone of any age, going through a life change, doubt, and just wondering how they fit in. It’s beautifully illustrated by artist Ada Konewki, with whom I loved working with and hope to one day get the chance to do so again.

It also holds quite a lot of meaning because The Little Lamp has been with me since I was about nine years old, a doodle inspired by the small table lamp my parents bought for my bedroom, which then became crudely-drawn, xeroxed stories passed around to my elementary school friends.

And now, thirty years later, here he is, for anyone to enjoy.

It really means so very much.


pinkalicious 5 minute storiesOur two and a half year old daughter has a book she adores called 5-Minute Pinkalicious Stories, filled with 12 different stories featuring her favorite animated counterpart, Pinkalicious. It was found in her Easter basket, a gift from that hippity hoppity Easter Bunny, and has become a staple of almost every evening storytime.

Twelve stories and adventures in imagination to choose from. Yet, of those twelve, we’ve probably read three. And of those three, two have been read only once. Instead, we’ve read “Pinkalicious and the Sick Day” several nights a week for the past two months. At times I feel like I could recite it in my sleep and tell you all about Pinkalicious getting chosen to be Principal for the Day before getting sick, or Principal Hart getting sick, or having pink tea with mommy while home from school. For a while I had tried to encourage, perhaps, any of the other stories inside the book collection as I grew slightly weary of this same tale over and over again, or our 5 ½ year old son growing impatient with the same story and losing focus, moving about the room with attention anywhere but the story he’s sat through as well for so many times.

I just couldn’t understand why we were doing this again, and again, and again, but I obliged and we read “Pinkalicious and the Sick Day” night after night upon her request. Then one night, I got it. It took some pointing out from Meg, but I got it.

One night, within the past week or two, our daughter insisted that she wanted to read the story to us. “Okay…” we said, agreeing but unsure of what we were in for, handing the book over to her excited little hands. “Pinkalicious and the Sick Day!” she happily shouted and then….began telling us the story. No, she wasn’t reading it, but she was telling it, following along on each page and illustration, giving us an abbreviated, but still accurate story, with complete sentences taken right off the page as had been read to her.

kid reading on couchShe was retaining, she was remembering, and she was comprehending it.

That was the power of repetition on her young mind.

A study out of the University of Sussex has shown not only the vocabulary benefits of children hearing the same stories over and over, but that they actually may receive more benefit from fewer stories on repeat than newer stories all the time.

“…each time a child hears the book they are picking up new information,” says Psychologist Dr Jessica Horst who led the study. “The first time it might just be the story, the second time they are noticing details of description, and so on. If the new word is introduced in a variety of contexts –  as happened with those who were read three different stories – children are less likely to focus on the new word.”

So, the next time she wants to hear about Pinkalicious’ Sick Day for the 79th time, or once again “read it” to us, I’m all ears, because I know she is too.


library-shelvesRepository of knowledge. Information Center. Bibliotecha. Whatever you call it, libraries are the bomb.

Do kids still say the bomb?

I absolutely love libraries and these days I’ve rekindled that romance after a shifting mindset with an emphasis on simplicity and purging. This summer, Meg and I made it a goal to sort through the numerous boxes in our basement and closets that have sat there since we moved, and some well before that sat dormant in the basement of our previous house. And while the amount of ‘stuff’ varied, one thing that we certainly had a lot of, was books. Books we’ve read, many books we hadn’t, books we’re likely to never, ever read that just looked nice on a bookshelf. But of those books we had read, they were rarely, if ever going to be read again.

First LIbrary Card Rev1And so this growing fire of simplification was inspiration to start using the public library system more for things that were only going to get one use. The best part of all – we brought the kids with us.

On our son’s fifth birthday, Meg took him to our local library where he excitedly signed up for his first library card and walked away with an armful of books to sift through at home (yes, even though mommy told him to limit it to three). The next week or so were filled with great new stories at bedtime and any random time. And the best part – when we were all done, we brought them back.

No finding shelf space or storage space, no added clutter around the house.

And the selection! So much to choose from, right at your fingertips! Whether some Dr. Seuss and Mo Willems for the kids, or a non-fiction or novel for mom and dad (or graphic novel, even!), we get to enjoy the pleasure of reading, enjoying, then returning and it’s wonderful.

Yes, at times it can be a bit of a struggle to pull the kids away from the fun of toys in the play area, or the cool games on computers or tablets set up for public use. But it’s just part of what the library has to offer folks and I can’t encourage patronizing your local library enough.

library booksLibraries are books, they are knowledge, they are information for the masses versus only those who can afford it. It is access to technology to complete homework, to apply for a job, or conduct important research. They’re more than stacks. They’re a community center.

I know. I know. This post reads as if I only just discovered the library.

On the contrary. I worked in a public library for a bit of time when I was in college and my wife is a school librarian. And we’ve both been visiting our local libraries since we were little, but I think in this modern, internet-commerce world, it becomes easy to hop online and drop a few bucks (or a lot of bucks) for a book we have a sudden urge to read, but might never read again.

Are we done with bookstores and online ordering? Gosh, no. But we’re just becoming pickier about what we want to have eating up space, about what we’re buying that we don’t need to. And visiting our local libraries has certainly helped.

Yes. I’m excited to talk about my love of the library because let’s just think about this for a minute. There is a place where anyone can go, find information on almost anything, or entertaining reading on almost anything, catch up on the newspaper, use resources we may not be able to afford on our own, and all for free, provided we return it or use it in certain parameters.

To me, that’s simply amazing.


Party - Birthday Boy 2We recently had a birthday party for our little guy. It was the first time we ever actually had it at our house. Usually we relied on the kindness of grandparents on both sides to get us through over the years, as our house had long been too small to have anyone over beyond a group of 2 or 4.

With our new digs, though, we figured it was finally time to give it a try, and try we did, not only with family, but this time inviting some of his friends from pre-k to come as well. And was it ever worth it to see the look on his face when he was surprised by the arrival of each of these friends.

Rain the day before and morning of forced us to change up plans a bit, moving from the backyard to the garage. Well, after it was emptied and cleaned out, of course. Then with two pop-up tents from parents placed outside the garage door, and tables and chairs inside, we were good to go as family and friends arrived for this gathering of little heroes.

The theme was his choice (Superheroes), brilliantly executed by Meg with foods that added a heroic flavor such as Captain America Shields (circle pretzels with white chocolate and a red, white or blue M&M in the middle), kryptonite bars (rice krispies treats with drizzled white chocolate and glowy green sprinkles), and some foods that gained their super powers through some signs I made using the PicMonkey app on my phone and a variety of superhero images.

Party signs total

We transformed regular sheet pizza into Plastic Man’s Power Pizza, a vegetable tray into Poison Ivy’s Veggie Platter, and drinks stations became Joker Juice or for the adults, Chief O’Hara’s Adult Beverages (Begorrah!).

Meg also took giant cardboard boxes leftover from a swing set we assembled the week prior and created a backdrop of buildings for little superheroes to have their picture taken by.

Party - Kids and worm

Apparently all we needed for a party were crayons and a worm.

The kids crowded around a table to color super hero print outs, ran around wearing paper super hero masks from Party City and even enjoyed the arrival of a little sunshine just long enough to dry out parts (emphasis on parts…watch your step unless you like mud) to get some time in running through the backyard.

Oh, and never underestimate, much like the crayons and coloring pages, how something as simple as a worm coming out of the ground can create a fascination in a group of children that can be hard to pull them away from.

It felt just plain wonderful.

And when it came time to open gifts and he had oohed and awed over various toys, Legos, and books, I gave him a gift I had spent the past several months putting together for him.

You see, back at Halloween, he designed his own costume, which Meg made come to life – a superhero version of himself.

Hallowen heroes

Us at Halloween as a self-styled superhero version of himself.

But post-Halloween, something wonderful happened. He kept the character going, imagining new adventure after new adventure, as well as a rogues gallery of villains that he was going up against with each backyard or bedroom crime fighting spree. I did my best to covertly take notes of the superpowers, the villain, and turned it into a script for a short comic book story.

I then dusted off my drawing pencils and illustrated the story, handing it over to my good friend and collaborator on two indie comic book series, who graced it with his inks, colors and lettering skills. From there, I sent it out to a comic printer, and upon return, had a limited edition comic book of my son in his super hero persona, solving a mystery, overcoming the very villains he’s created as he plays, and making it to his birthday party to find family and friends waiting.

The shock on his face “Wait…what…how did…how did you get a comic book of…me?” when he opened it was everything. The fact that he asked me to read it for him four separate times that afternoon and again before bed was everything else.

With each passing day, he grows a little more, shows me more of the world and myself than I thought possible, and though not every day is perfect for us, every day he becomes more and more my real-life superhero.

Party - Montage of comic


Scrooge 124

I grew up reading comic books. It all goes back to that copy of Uncle Scrooge in “North of the Yukon” that was in a pile of old comics my grandmother kept in the closet for when we were home sick from school. I sat on the couch, leafed through its colorful pages (and beautiful Carl Barks artwork, even if I didn’t know it was him back then) and fell down a rabbit hole that has now been going on for more than thirty years.

My comics tastes varied over the years, from Disney Ducks, to Dark Knights, back to Disney Ducks and Brighter Knights, but the thrill of reading a good story with amazing artwork never got old.

As I became a parent, though, my perspective changed a bit and I started actively seeking out comics that were suitable and enjoyable for the entire family, not just the 13 and up audience.

lacey 1.jpgAnd that brings me to Lacey & Lily, a comic book series that I have been absolutely thrilled to be a part of, penning Lacey’s adventures alongside the incredible artistic storytelling talents of Andrew Cieslinski.

Lacey & Lily is a comic book series with an initial story spanning four chapters (issues). It’s the story of a middle school girl named Lacey, and her dog, Lily, who discover a pair of costumes in her late grandmother’s old trunk and while playing with them in the backyard discover they give them super powers.

Being the pure of heart and noble girl she is, Lacey and Lily put their newfound powers to work helping others, from stopping bullies, helping the elderly, or stopping a super-villain or alien invasion. You know, whatever a typical Tuesday brings about.

It’s fun, it’s adventure, and it’s family. Through her actions in and out of costume, Lacey shows that it doesn’t matter your age, your gender, your size, that anybody has the makings of a hero.

This book and this entire process has been a collaboration in the truest sense of the word between myself and the incredibly talented artist Andrew Cieslinski. We truly work together creating and building this world and it’s been a wonderful ride so far doing so.

The books are already available digitally via the Amazon Kindle and comiXology, but this Kickstarter campaign is to raise enough money for a large-scale print run of the first two issues of the series, which will allow us to get the book into the hands of many more readers around the world.

ll kickstarter covers

The covers to Lacey and Lily #1 and #2.

We have until 9 a.m. on August 5 to raise all our funds and make this a reality.

Lacey & Lily is aimed at all-ages, meaning it’s okay for kids and just as much fun for adults.

Hoping you’ll give it (and us) a shot!

 


happy-birthday-dr-seuss“Today you are you. That is truer than true. There is no one alive more youer than you.”

That comes from Happy Birthday To You, one of the myriad of books in the catalog of Dr. Seuss masterpieces that decorate many a bookshelf and have influenced any number of childhood, and foster a creativity across all ages.

And today, March 2, 2017 marks the 113th birthday of Dr. Seuss, or Theodore Geisel, as he was born.

You look quite terrific for one hundred thirteen,
the lessons from you, we still every day glean.

These days, it’s hard to think of a time before Seussian rhyming and characters like the Grinch and the Cat in the Hat weren’t part of our everyday culture. Words like Nook, and Grinch have become a part of our lexicon.

There is so much that could be talked about personally about Geisel, who was born to German immigrants in Springfield, Massachusetts. He experienced quite the share of discrimination and hate as a child as Americans fought Germany in the era of The Great War, now known as World War I. He lived on Mulberry Street, and it’s been said that on walks with his older sister, other children would throw bricks at them, spout hateful threats and call them names due to their heritage. It’s said he was the final scout in line to receive a medal when Theodore Roosevelt came to town, but by the time it was his turn, he received no medal but a lecture from Roosevelt. Some historians theorize that anti-German people within the town tampered with the medal count that day and believe that incident teamed with the screaming lecture from TR may have led to the classic Horton Hears a Who Line “a person’s a person, no matter how small.”

Throughout many, if not all of his tales, Geisel seems to have a common theme that resonates no matter our age – fairness, justice for what’s right, doing the right thing, and celebrating the differences among all of us.

a-persons-a-person-no-matter-how-smallWhether it’s Horton in Horton Hears a Who, trying to save the Whos that are on the head of the flower despite the other creatures of the jungle making life downright miserable and tortuous for him, the Sneetches learning that just because some have stars on their bellies and some do not does not mean that they’re truly any different from each other and can get along, or the importance of opening our eyes to what is around us and seeking out knowledge to better understand people, places and our shared world in I Can Read with My Eyes Shut, it’s all about learning to better understand each other.

So many of these books that we read as children, we now read to our own kids. A well-preserved copy of One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish of mine now sits on my son’s bookshelf amid other classic Seuss outings as well as some newer editions by new authors influenced by his trademark style. Most notable of these newer entries is The Cat in the Hat Learning Library series, which our son adores, each book engaging young minds as the Cat and his rhymes teach about everything from bugs, to space, to money, or animals.

best-kind-of-sneetchesOne of the running gags between my son and I are to suddenly take our conversations into rhyming territory, going back and forth, sometimes to a point where he ends up making up his own Seussian type words just to keep the rhyme going.

And while it’s all in good fun, it’s even better to know that some researchers say there’s more than just the silliness behind Dr. Seuss’ rhymes.

“The words that he made up are fun for children — they see the cleverness behind the word construct and the meaning of the word,” said Ann Neely, a professor of children’s literature at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College in Nashville, Tennessee told Live Science in 2015.

It is true that some parents have concerns about the silly, made-up Seussian words, that it could lead to confusion in children, but Neely goes on to say that all that nonsensical jumble actually helps children on the path to reading, raising their awareness of the sounds that letters make.

the-more-things-you-read-the-more-you-will-know“The words that he made up were often funny, and it helps children with their literacy skills later on as they’re learning to read if they’ve heard how language can be played with,” Neely also told Live Science.

She added that the predictable rhythm of the sentences also could play a large  role in teaching children to read.

“That gave children confidence in their own reading ability,” Neely said. “In some ways, it’s like Mother Goose rhymes, in that when we say, ‘Oh, he’s like Humpty Dumpty,’ we know that it’s because ‘all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again.'”

Theodore Geisel or Dr. Seuss leaves a legacy that still carries on generation after generation, and as I say, it’s hard to imagine a world without his imagination, his doodles, his rhyme, and his wonderful way to make us all think about the world we share.

“Shout loud, I am lucky to be what I am! Thank goodness I’m not just a clam or a ham! Or a dusty old jar of gooseberry ham!”

What’s your favorite Seussian tale?

 



%d bloggers like this: