The misadventures of a first time father

Category Archives: Books and Reading

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?

 


IMagination LIbrary SealAs adults, it’s rare that the mail brings us much of anything other than a handful of bills to be paid yet again this month. Maybe the occasional solicitation from the car dealership. But let’s face it, it’s usually bills.

Remember when we were kids, though, and something in the mail felt like Christmas time?

It was exciting! It was joyous! And once a month, our son gets that feeling, as a new book arrives in the mail, bringing a smile to his face and an “I can’t wait!” impatience to open it up, leaf through the pages and sit down with mommy and daddy and hear whatever this new tale is.

And you know who we have to thank for it? Dolly Parton. Yes. Dolly Parton. That Dolly Parton.

Because with her Imagination Library initiative, Dolly is making brand new books – some classics, some new hits – available to children everywhere whose parents sign them up.

I have no other way to describe it other than simply wonderful.

The first book we received (and I believe everyone who signs up receives) is the classic The Little Engine that Could. After that, once a month a book has shown up in our mailbox. Books that range from Ferdinand the Bull to Peanut Butter and Cupcake to the Gingerbread Man Loose on the Fire Truck.

Started in 1995, Dolly Parton launched the Imagination Library in her home county in East Tennessee as a way to encourage a love of reading in preschool children and families by providing them with a free, specially selected book each month. The hope was that mailing these books in the mail would get children excited about books and the magic within. What’s more, it was available to families and children regardless of the family income.

The initiative proved so popular that five years later, in 2000, it was announced that the program would be available with any community willing to partner with it and support it locally. Since then, according to the initiative’s website, the Imagination Library program has gone from delivering a few dozen books to more than 60 million books mailed to kids in the U.S., Canada, and United Kingdom.

What a truly wonderful thing.

Whether you want to take part in the program for your kid, or start one in your own community, the first thing to do is to head to the Dolly Parton Imagination Library website. From there, you can find if your community participates and whether you can sign up online or, as we had to, contact an organization in the community that acts as a mediary, receiving the books and then passing them along to you via the mail.

I can’t encourage the introduction of books to children enough or as early as possible. I’ve said time and time again how glad I am that we made it a point to start reading within the first few weeks of our son’s arrival, and some nights, even prior, reading to my wife’s pregnant belly. The same for our now five month old daughter.

Creating excitement about books, reading as a family, equating books with family, love, and fun fosters a curiosity, appreciation for and quest for knowledge that can carry through an entire lifetime.

Sign on up. You won’t regret it.

And thanks, Ms. Parton.


I love Curious George. I really do. I very fondly remember reading the books as a kid and those cartoons that looked like the books come to life back in the 80s.

I even still have an old drawing of George I did when I was seven years old, discovered last year among some items at my parents’ house and now on display in our son’s room.

Curious George 1987

And while nostalgia made me glad to see George hit the big screen in 2006, I don’t think it really appealed to me the way that the animated series running on PBS currently does. Maybe I just had to be a parent before I could truly appreciate the idea of a man trying to keep his life together while caring for a monkey stand-in for the role of precocious, eager to learn, exuberant toddler.

These days, I feel, George is more engaging and relatable than ever thanks to the hit cartoon series – even more so than the cartoon version of my own youth. The writers, producers, artists, and an amazing voice portrayal by legendary voice-over artist Frank Welker, have designed a George that reflects a preschooler’s behavior, emotion and wonderment, giving the children in the audience a character they can relate to, through whose eyes they similarly see the world.

And for us parents, we can surely relate George’s curiosity, humor, and hijinks, through the lens of the protective, but ever-exhausted Man in the Yellow Hat, played to such likability that I don’t even have words for it, by another voiceover legend, Jeff Bennett.

But George wasn’t always a stand-in for a small child. Early on, and by that I mean, really early on, when he first debuted back in 1941, he was…well, just a cute little monkey with a penchant for getting into trouble.

I didn’t really know this until recently, to be honest, when my son came into possession of a copy of the first Curious George story (aptly just titled Curious George) and wanted to read it before bed.

And it was with that, that we discovered a slightly different type of world for Curious George than we know today. Or, as I like to call it…The Secret Origin of Curious George!!

We first meet George in the jungles of Africa, having fun and swinging from trees.

Pic - This is George

“He was very happy.”

It’s here that George is spotted for the first time by The Man in the Yellow Hat who decides he’d like to take the little monkey home. They haven’t met yet, but that doesn’t seem to stop the man.

Pic and Text - George was Caught

From there, the now kidnapped (monkeynapped, perhaps?) George is brought onboard an ocean liner bound for another country. He’s told by the Man in the Yellow Hat that he’s being brought to…no, not the man’s home..but a zoo. The man then tells George to run along and play until they get there, while the Man smokes his pipe. George, playing on the deck, or perhaps at the thought of being pulled from his home to cross the ocean and end up in a zoo, goes overboard.

Don’t worry, though. It’s not the end of our monkey-pal. George is rescued by a pair of sailors on the ship.

Man Overboard

You feeling okay, George? You’re uh…throwing up whole fish.

Once in the city, George makes himself at home with the man. Perhaps a little too at home.

After a Good Pipe

Your poor little monkey lungs, George…

We do get what will become a familiar glimpse of George and the Man together at home, but it’s only brief enough for the Man to make a call to the zoo to prepare for George’s arrival moreso than any fatherly bonding. When the Man leaves, George, as would become the modus operandi of the little primate, gets curious and decides he wants to use the phone as well. Only, the number he calls is the fire department, which sends a slew of panicked firefighters over to the man’s home. There’s no fire to be found, only a little monkey, and the firefighters are not happy.

Firemen and in Jail

Do not. Repeat. Do not fool the Fire Department.

George has survived in the jungle, though, and no jail can hold him. It’s not long before he knocks out a guard and escapes, quickly finding a balloon vendor and taking his entire stash of balloons on a trip high above the city.

Pic - Jailbreak

Silly escaping monkey.

Sometime later, George and the balloons begin to descend and come to rest atop a traffic light. Naturally, this causes a bit of a traffic snarl. But among the angry motorists is The Man in the Yellow Hat whose thrilled to find George again.

Pic - Snarling Traffic

So this is it, right? This is where they realize how much they need each other to survive in this big ol’ city and begin the path to that father-son relationship that melts my heart?

Pic and Text - George in Zoo

No. This is where the Man gets him back and promptly puts George into a zoo as he planned from the beginning.

Thankfully, at some point H.A. Rey had the foresight to get George out of that zoo and into domestic living with the Man, and in time we got the father-son type relationship that resonates so well today.


Every now and then I get a new book to try out at storytime via the Independent Book Publishers Association. Storytime always proves to be the best litmus test, as opposed to me just reading a book and telling you what I thought.

Honestly, who cares what I think if the book is for kids. Let’s see what the little guy thinks.

So, with that in mind, the other night we read “Nap-A-Roo” by Kristy Kurjan and Illustrated by Tyler Parker. A board book from KPO Creative LLC, it’s the quick tale of a Kangaroo in a zoo in Timbuktu who is ready to take a nap-a-roo.

Sensing a pattern yet?

That’s right. It’s my favorite type of book to read at bedtime. One with rhymes. And boy does our little guy love rhyming. There’s times in the car, or when he’s sitting on the potty that all he wants to do is rhyme, shouting out a word (“cat!” “bat!” “rat!”) and waiting for me to chime in with words that rhyme.

It causes fits of giggles, and needless to say, so did the cute rhymes of “Nap-A-Roo.”

In fact, by the time we got to page 3 and the word “Timbuktu” he was giggling, rhyming and having a wonderful time., even anticipating some of the rhyming words to come. I was able to pause at the end of one page and he instantly knew, based on the rhyming pattern, what word was coming.

A quick, brisk read, it really was a lot of fun. Coupled with adorable illustrations by Parker, I think this is one we’re going to be pulling out again and again.


https://i2.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/518df2Onf4L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgAnother book recently came our way from Independent Publishers Group – “One Gorilla” by Joy Dey and Nikki Johnson. Amid pages of watercolor images of various animals is a story of one good deed leading to another among the mighty creatures of the jungle, big and small.

The overall message of the book is great – that even one small act of kindness might be all it takes for a domino effect that changes the world, or your world at least. The animals of the jungle begin the story ready to pounce, to cackle, to frighten and to scare. But when a chimp, who often throws rocks and items at his animal neighbors, falls out of a tree and hits his head, he is the subject of laughter and ridicule by other animals. It’s not so nice being on the receiving end, the chimp learns. A helping hand from an elephant, who knows the hurt all too well, marks a sudden change in the jungle. The laughter stops, and the chimp begins to show the same kindness the elephant gave her. And it spreads through the jungle, even to the smallest turtle.

I really liked the message the book set out to deliver, and the watercolor images to accompany it are honestly unlike anything I’ve seen in a children’s book so far. I admit that it took me a little bit to register everything that was going on as we read.

We read this book, blindly, at bedtime, and the first part of the story, with the animals ready to hunt, prey, laugh, etc, alongside the splashes of paint, made some of the creatures seem a little nightmarish. But I quickly learned this was an intentional decision, as it sets up the jungle as a scary and not so kind place, leading to the change when one good act leads to another.

As we turned those pages, our 2 ½ year old there with us, I became a little anxious, unsure of where the story was going. In the end, I was able to see exactly what I think the author and illustrator set out to do – create a world of fright and mean behavior in the jungle, until one elephant acts kind enough to set off a chain reaction of good actions.

It works, and while I may have been apprehensive at first, I should have had more faith in my own son’s ability to grasp it, which he did far quicker than I. He knew the animals were acting bad at first, but started to be kind once they saw an example of it. And it must have struck a chord, as it wasn’t long before he asked for “the gorilla book” again.



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