When I was in elementary school, there was nothing like the day the teacher would pass out those colored pieces of newsprint paper, folded into a makeshift catalog, brimming with choices of the literary sense. It was like a periodic Christmas catalog hunt, reading through every summary, your eyes passing over every book cover sitting there in the Scholastic book order form.
The only thing that probably matched up to it was when your book order actually came in. Even that might be questionable because, let’s face it – it was that cornucopia of choices, the anticipation for the books to arrive that brought about that feeling of excitement and euphoria moreso than actually having the book.
So, when Meg (who is a school librarian, or Library Media Specialist as they are today called, because they do much, much more than in years past) had her annual week of the Book Fair coming up for school, I thought two years old might be a good time to introduce the little guy to the awe and wonder that is the school Book Fair (as well as give him a peek into where mommy goes every day).
Making our way through some dark, snowy back roads one recent night, we made it to Meg’s school for the one evening during the week when she stays late for any parents who want to come with their kids after school or after extracurricular activities to check out the books.
It was truly an experience for the little guy, even before we stepped foot into the library. As we made our way from the car and across the parking lot, we talked about this being not only where mommy worked, but that it was a school. He’s heard of school before, in books and in cartoons. But he had never actually seen one, and he was truly excited that he was seeing ‘mommy’s school.’
Then we got to the library and you’d have thought we walked into Santa’s workshop.
Only a few customers were there when we arrived, but that didn’t stop the monkey from running exuberantly to the shelves and grabbing any book he could with a cover that appealed to him. It wasn’t long before he was plopping down on the floor of the library and just shifting through the colorful pages.
As Meg occasionally tended to the business at hand, I watched over the little guy – or chased after him as the case may be, once he noticed there was so much more to do beyond those Book Fair shelves. (Note: smartboard markers and erasers are not toys. But try telling a two year old that). In between her customers, we’d have the whole library to ourselves, where, as a family, we’d look through shelves, talk about which books we’d like, and generally just have a good time. Probably more fun than you were supposed to be having in the library as a kid. But, hey, we’ve got an in with the librarian. She’s pretty cool, I hear.
From shelf to shelf, book to book, it was an overwhelming experience. It was sort of like our trips to Barnes and Noble, but this time it was where mommy worked, and he seemed to fully understand the full advantage he was taking of the situation, from going behind the library desk, or just shouting ‘chase me, dada!’ as he ran through the library stacks.
He seemed to be having a “Mr. Social” Day, greeting many who came in to the Book Fair,
getting in the way of walking around with other kids as they tried to peruse the book shelves. At one point, he even tried to play the role of assistant. A student who was probably about 8 or 9, I would say, came in and asked Meg for a book. It wasn’t on the Book Fair shelves, so Meg went to look in the back. At which point, our guy turned to the girl who was looking for the book and says “Nope. No more books…” Luckily, she took his passion for being a part of things with a smile.
It’s hard to express just how grateful I am that he loves books as much as he does. I know I’ve probably talked ad-nauseam since starting this blog about how special our pre-bedtime storytime routine is. It’s the sort of thing that pains me if I have to miss. We’ve been doing it, quite literally, since he got back from the hospital. Now, it’s just part of what we do. Only these days, he picks out the books he wants himself.
I’ve read that there are several points throughout life where children decide if they are going to continue being readers or not. My hope is that by having books (and such excitement for them) be such a presence in our lives, that it will help continue to foster that love of reading, and of the imagination he seems to have in abundance. I consider us truly blessed for this. I really do.
I bought several more books for him than I had intended, but a) it helps benefit the school and b) there were so many good kids’ books, how could I not?!
All in all, we really had a great time.
Even I felt like an eight year old again when I walked amid the Book Fair shelves.
And it was awesome.
I wonder if Meg has any of those book order forms lying around…
As I’ve probably mentioned before, we’ve been incredibly blessed that our little guy started to use the potty when he did, which was around Christmas time at about a year and a half. We were shocked, surprised, a little overwhelmed, but completely over the moon that he decided to guide himself and tell us that he was ready to start using it.
Lately though, there’s been an odd little trend developing – the potty as a delay tactic.
Much like a well-planned army strategy, the little guy will very agreeably go to bed, per routine, after we’ve read a few books. All seems well until he begins to realize he doesn’t quite want to go to sleep. First, you hear the rumbling in the crib of a little one moving around. Next, the toys that talk as he plays, puttering around as we hope he starts to fall asleep. Then it comes.
“It’s sleepy time, buddy. Time to go to sleep.”
“Potty! Go potty!”
One of us enters the room.
“You’ve gotta go potty, buddy?”
“Uh-huh. Potty! Go!”
And it’s into the bathroom, plopping him on the potty (with his cushion-y little seat adapter for little buns) and away we go. Sometimes, yes, it is quite legit, and we’re very thankful that he tells us so that we can avoid the alternative. But there’s some nights, like a recent Monday night, where while legit, quickly turned into a 45 minute gab session as he sat on the potty, done for a while and just wanting to talk.
“I think you’re done, buddy. Are you all done?”
“Okay, well give it a try to get anything else out.”
And we sit and we talk, and we talk. And before you know it, a half hour or 45 minutes has flown by and you start to realize “he has completely played us.”
And I fall for it every time.
One builds his house of straw, one of sticks and one of bricks and when the Big Bad Wolf comes calling, it’s only the pig in the brick house, who spent the time working hard on his home instead of goofing off and taking the easy way out like his siblings, who the Wolf can’t get to.
At least, that’s how I remember it.
But apparently, I’ve had it wrong all these years.
You see, our son recently received a collection of books based on Rand McNally’s Junior Elf book line published from 1947 to 1986. Some still maintain the original art while others have updated illustrations. And for some reason, our little guy frequently gets drawn to two, in particular, out of the entire set – The Three Bears and The Three Little Pigs. Maybe it’s a numerical thing, who knows.
Leaving the three bears in the woods for the moment, a few frequent readings of The Three Little Pigs recently got me thinking about the story on the page versus the story in my memory – as they greatly differ.
In this book version, recreated from the Junior Elf version in, I believe 1957, the mother pig can not afford to keep her three sons and sends them off into the world to find their fame and fortune.Rather than have any type of intention as to what to do for shelter, each one chances upon people carrying materials along the road – one straw, one sticks and one bricks. And they each build a house. There’s no lesson about planning or thinking ahead, or working hard. Just a chance encounter that leads to how they build their homes.
The story progresses as the Wolf arrives and Pigs One and Two lose their homes (but not their lives) and the Wolf heads to Pig Number Three in his brick house. Just as my memory recalled, he can’t blow the house down. But that’s not where the story ends.
The story then takes a turn as the Wolf, day after day tries to lure the pig out of his brick house.
By inviting him to go places.
The Wolf invites him to go pick beets from a garden and sets up a time to meet the next day. Because, why wouldn’t you accept an invite to meet up with a beast who is standing outside your door and threatening to eat you?
The pig shows up to the garden early and picks the beets before the Wolf even shows up. And when the Wolf tries the same trick with apple picking, the Pig does the same thing, showing up early, but finding the wolf showing up early too. The pig throws an apple at the Wolf and runs for his life back to the brick house.
At this point, you’d think he’d want to stay inside and away from this wolf, right?
No, no. Because the Pig then accepts an invite from the Wolf to go to the fair.
The pig goes to the fair, early once again – and by early, the books says 2 am early. What the heck kind of fair is going on at 2 am?!
And at the fair, the pig buys a butter churn which, when he sees the Wolf coming toward the fair, he hides in. It tips and goes rolling down the hill, scaring the Wolf, who later, for some inexplicable reason, stands outside the house of the pig and tells him how scared he was that a butter churn was rolling after him.
The pig laughs and tells the Wolf that he was inside the butter churn.
Shortly thereafter, the Wolf tries to come down the chimney of the brick house, where the pig has a pot of water boiling on the fire and the Wolf dies. I tend to skip this part (as I don’t think a two-year old really needs to know that) and just ad-lib that it was so hot the Wolf went flying back up the chimney and ran away.
Normally, I wouldn’t feel the need to write hundreds of words about an age-old tale like The Three Little Pigs but it has been handpicked so much recently by my son that I can not shake the strange deviations from the story I remember.
So, I did what I tend to do when something gets stuck in my brain and I just can’t get over the need for answers – I hit the internet.
While the Three Little Pigs was first seen in print in the 1840s, it apparently, is believed to go back even farther than that, but that original version is very much how the printed book we have at home plays out, which I never knew.
I had no idea and yet each time we would read the book, I kept muttering inside my mind “well, that’s not how it really happens. This is weird.”
Nope. I was just wrong.
It just goes to show you how much media can influence your own perspective and recollections, because I am confident I read the book as a kid, but have retained no memory whatsoever of these ‘foreign’ components I mentioned.
All I seemed to remember as ‘the real story’ is this:
So there you have it. Walt Disney has actually altered my memory perception. The Silly Symphonies version of this tale has superseded all recollection of any actual stories I read of this tale.
Regardless, of the three choices, I’ll still build my house of brick, thank you very much. 🙂
My wife has decided to jump back into theatre. She’s missed it for quite some time, as it was a very large part of her life for so long (and how we met), but we both felt when she was pregnant that it was best to step away from the stage and take some time to just be a family.
Sooner or later, that itch is hard to resist and now that the little guy is in that stage between 1 1/2 and 2 years old, I think she was really starting to feel the pull of the performing arts once again.
A side note: I think it was also spurred on by an incident in the Fall when we got a call from a theatre director who lost a cast member two weeks before open and asked me if I would jump in to help out. I did, but it wasn’t out of a great love to go back; it was merely to help someone out who helped me in the past. That was only a few weeks, and usually when I’d get home, he would be fast asleep and Meg would be enjoying a nice cup of tea.
We sort of thought that’s how it would go this time around for her.
In many ways, it’s been a wonderful experience, and an educational one at that. She’s been off to rehearsals by the time he and I get home, so on an average night, I’m feeding him his dinner (which she’s been nice enough and helpful enough to leave behind, making life easier), we have some playtime, he gets a bath, we do some story time, etc., but solo.
It has allowed for some incredible bonding between me and our little monkey, I will say. Just thinking of how anxious I would be of giving baths prior to the past few months, I realize how much this time has helped. Previously, Meg tended to give him baths. I would occasionally, but she did it on a regular basis. So, now that it’s been in my hands, it has somehow gone from the ‘ugh, how are we gonna do this?’ or ‘what am i doing?’ to ‘you do this, buddy, while I get the bath ready’ and it has turned into a very seamless (and fun) process.
We have fun, we splash, we talk and sing, and the whole thing just goes like any other motion I go through like putting him in the car or reading him a story. It’s helped me evolve as a dad, honestly. And I like it.
The only hitch we have run into with this ‘guys night’ scenario is that the little guy can spend an entire day or evening with me and we’re just fine, up until storytime is over and it’s time for bed. He refuses to go to bed without mommy home. We read book after book after book, and I think ‘is this the one that’ll get him tired?’ and he does get pretty tired, but he fights it. He fights it with a longing and hope that mommy is going to walk through that door and put him to bed, proper, because daddy is just not what he wants at that moment.
I’ve tried a lot of different things – rocking him, singing to him, giving him a few minutes to calm down once he’s in the crib and yelling for mommy, but unlike when Meg does it, he doesn’t calm down. He only makes himself worse. Sometimes I’ll get lucky and if I lay him on our bed after that, he’ll be tired enough to fall asleep next to me or on my arm or something like that, where we tend to remain until Meg comes home and somehow, through mystical or magic powers, because there’s no other way I can comprehend, picks him up and places him in the crib without him blinking. It’s amazing.
I know it won’t be like this forever, and while I would LOVE for him to be able to fall asleep comfortably with me like he does with her, I wouldn’t change this past month or so. After almost three years (counting pregnancy), she finally has the chance to get out and have a life outside of being ‘mommy’ for a change. It’s something she not only deserves, but needs to have in her life, especially when it’s something she’s so passionate about, like theatre. I admit, I haven’t been the most communicative about her show by the time she gets home, not out of disinterest, but mostly just due to the combination of fatigue and irritability after a long fight to get him down. But I’m happy she’s getting back to something she loves and something she identifies with.
I also wouldn’t change a thing because, despite all that difficulty, all the fighting he may give me when it’s time to go to bed, those hours of the night beforehand, when it’s just the two of us, laughing, playing, putting blankets on our backs like capes, giving him a bath and singing songs along with the radio, or just reading story upon story with him curled up in my arms, makes any difficult part so trivial. This is my son, this is my little guy, and these are times that will only last for so long.
I want to enjoy them and learn from them as much as I can.
How can I tell, you ask?
Because although we have had it for roughly six months or so and read it on occasion, the little guy now can not walk away from his book shelf or room without grabbing Mo Willems’ “That is Not a Good Idea” off the shelf and with boundless energy, thrusting it into my hands, pointing at it furiously and making noises that tell me without a doubt, “read this to me now, dad!”
The long and short of it is that what seems like a pretty naive Goose accepts a walk and dinner invitation by a chimney-hatted fox and, as you can guess, what happens along the way is not a good idea. It’s told in a style reminiscent of old silent films, which hits all the right chords with this old film buff. We picked up the book the night I did a Mo Willems storytime at our Barnes and Noble last Spring and it had only come out occasionally, amid some other Willems books like Pigeon or Elephant and Piggie, and a host of other books on the shelf.
As of late, though we’ve read “That is Not a Good Idea” roughly 3-4 times on any given day. Whether it’s bedtime (which he sometimes wants a repeat reading), midday, pre-naptime or when he wakes up, we have gotten to know The Fox, The Goose, and that silent-film style world very well as of late.
Not that I mind. I love the book too. And at this point, I think I’ve got all our voices down, and have started doing a little bit at the beginning for the title page, where I tell him to ‘start the movie projector’ and we both crank our hands as if starting an old film, accompanied by some noises for the old piano-style intro music.
It’s fun, it’s a breeze to read, it’s incredibly entertaining both in writing and illustrations, so it’s a blast for both of us to read. It’s just fun to see where his tastes go and when, as this adventure continues.
No, no, no. I don’t mean that. (Get your mind out of the gutter.) I mean many moons before that, when some of you picked up your first comic book to give it a read. Chances are that if you’re like me, it stuck and you’ve been reading them ever since.
Everyone has a different story to tell of a different tale read.
I remember mine quite well. I was probably around 5 or 6 years old and was out of school, sick. Both my parents working, I spent most of the day under a blanket at my grandmother’s house. I remember it being very gray outside, the blanket of the clouds and lack of lights on in the house making it seem as gloomy inside as it was outside.
The day would have been pretty boring and forgettable if it weren’t for one moment – when my grandmother reached into the closet and pulled out a stack of comic books and plopped them in my lap to read. There was a wide array in that pile that I would eventually make my way through – a Richie Rich whose cover had him riding in a giant roller skate, a The Brave and the Bold featuring The Flash and Batman at the Disco of Death, but it was that one on top of the pile that would open the door for me.
It was a copy of Uncle Scrooge #124 from December 1975. Titled “North of the Yukon,” and was a reprint of a Carl Barks classic long before I would know who Carl Barks was. (For those of you wondering, he was a cartoonist who actually created Uncle Scrooge and you can read more about him here.)
Little did I know it at the time, but the story was the last that Barks would write of Scrooge’s adventures in the Yukon. It involved sled dogs and was inspired by a real life article Barks had read about a dog named Balto, who participated in the 1925 Great Race of Mercy in order to deliver an anti-toxin that could halt an epidemic of diphtheria.
From that one Uncle Scrooge book, I would dive into the vast world of Disney’s Ducks, making my way over the years from Ducks to do-gooders, as Batman tangled with the Joker, Superman’s Lex Luthor went from Mad Scientist to Bald Billionaire, and me loving every minute of it.
It was my gateway drug into a lifelong love for comic books, and before long, I was forcing my family to stop by magazine kiosks in the mall or any bookstore where I caught a glimpse of a spinning comic rack in the window. This was all before I discovered my first comic book store, of course (an entire store devoted to comics?! A story of discovery for another time).
My reading list is pretty small these days when it comes to comics. Maybe it’s the simple joys that made for more discerning tastes as I got older. I expect to have a story that instills me with that same awe and wonder I did I had on that first read so many years ago.
It isn’t often (J. Torres’ The Copybook Tales did it, Darwyn Cooke’s New Frontier did, much of Sholly Fisch’s work on Batman: Brave and the Bold sure did, as is Batman 66′), but every now and then I’ll come across a book in my adulthood that brings about that pure sense of enjoyment I remember feeling as a kid when I sifted through the pages of a fresh new comic off the rack and in my hands. In other words, it makes you feel like a kid again.
On a recent trip to the store, I came across a copy of a Sesame Street comic book by Ape Entertainment and brought it home for my son. It was partly a joke – ‘hey, honey, look, a comic for him!’ – but it turns out that every now and then he’ll pull it off of his bookshelf and flip through the pages, pointing and laughing at his favorite familiar and fuzzy Muppet characters. Sometimes he’ll hand it to me, indicating he wants it read to him, and I’ll break out the Sesame Street voices I can manage (Grover, the Count, Cookie…I can’t get a handle on Elmo…) and we laugh and have a good time.
Maybe the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I don’t want to force anything on him, and I try to always restrain myself from going too far when presenting him with something because I liked it. But, who knows. Maybe one day he and I will be making a trip to the comic store together and looking through the racks for age-appropriate books he may find fun. Because that’s what comics SHOULD be about – fun.
Decades later, it’s pretty amazing to think that such a big part of one’s life all started with a single sick day on the couch and the richest duck in the world. Sifting through a box in my basement recently, I lit up when I discovered I still have that old book. It’s a little more yellow and a little worse for wear, but it’s still around. It’s probably been more than 25 years since I peered through those pages.
Maybe it’s time to give it another read.
Whether you started age 5, 15, 25, or 45, everybody’s got a first book that started them on their comic path. If you’ve got one, please don’t be afraid to share it with me in the comments. I’d love to hear about it.
We all want to know what’s going on inside the minds of our little ones, I’m sure.
Lately, though, I have been especially curious when it comes to the look on our little guy’s face as he flips through books. I know I write a lot about (perhaps ad nauseam) how important our nightly routine of story time is, but I think it must have had some kind of effect, because now the little one year old monkey will spend time during the day, just pulling books off the shelf in his room, or out of his play basket in the living room.
Sometimes he sits and flips through the pages himself (much better than the ripping of pages we found early on), or other times he will launch his arm out, as straight as can be, literature in hand, insisting that I or Meg read it to him (character voices and all).
When he is sitting there on his own, though, I can’t help but be fascinated by what is going on throughout his face. As he turns each page, his eyes moving about the imagery, from left to write, sometimes with a high-pitched ‘ooo!‘ it just makes me so full of joy to see him engaged and entertained. I cold stare at him all day doing that – if he were willing to sit there and do that all day, which just is not in his energetic nature at this stage.
What an experience, though, to see the thought process unfold in his eyes, as you see his mind working upon every page, every picture. It’s a sight to behold and is one of those things that many of us do every day and have long since taken for granted. In this little developing mind, though, each page, each book is just another new intake, a new adventure in his early journey of life.
Man, what a ball I’m having being along for the ride.
Aside from dinnertime and bath time, it’s the other consistent that’s needed for a complete wrap-up of our day. We started very early reading to the little guy (in utero) and have carried it over practically every night since. In fact, we’re now at a point where, even though he’s not walking just yet, he’s crawling over to his bookshelf in his room and pulling off a book or two when we bring him in for bed. He knows what time it is and what comes with it.
And one of the most frequent authors gracing our bookshelf and storytimes is Mo Willems.
I came across his work by pure accident early on in this adventure of parenthood, when I picked up “We Are in a Book” with Elephant and Piggie. Little did I know what an amazing world of doodles that was going to send us rocketing into for both baby and parents alike.
Sometimes I worry I’m always using the Mo Willems books as a go-to at night, but it’s because I just love reading them so much. And now that the little monkey is one year old, I can say that over that year, no other books have made him giggle and react aloud the way a Mo Willems book does.
That one Elephant and Piggie book has quickly grown this past year into a good portion of our bookshelf, along with several Pigeon books (my personal favorite), along with their stuffed doppelgangers.
I can’t quite put my finger on what makes his work just so darn appealing to all of us. There’s the obvious humor, as the books are all hilarious and relatable in their situations and emotions, whether you be one or one hundred. Is it any wonder he won Emmy Awards for his work on Sesame Street? Then there’s the art – simple in its doodle-like manner that you’re automatically put at ease and drawn in. With his word-bubble dialogue for some of his books, it becomes more like acting out a play than anything else.
We’re such fans of Mo Willems’ work that several months ago, I jumped at the chance when my job as a TV journalist gave me the opportunity to do storytimes at our local Barnes and Noble. It was usually a once a year event at Christmas reading The Polar Express alongside my good friend and Meteorologist, Bill. When they gave me the chance to do another stortyime, this time a night of Mo Willems, I thought I was going to practically beat down the doors of the store. I couldn’t wait! And when the time came, what a night we had!
I got to break out all of the character voices I’ve accumulated while reading to our little guy over the past year, and the kids who showed up at Barnes and Noble seemed to enjoy it, although I don’t think anyone enjoyed it as much as I did. I had to explain to the kids that we all have our own voices for characters when we read, so mine may not be what they’re used to for Pigeon, or Piggie, etc, but they got it and seemed to laugh along anyway. (For the record, MY Pigeon voice is based on the voice Meg and I give to our cat, Winston. Just the right blend of demanding child and mr. sassypants.) We were having so much fun, I think we ended up reading four books in total instead of the one or two advertised. I even read a new one called “This is Not a Good Idea!” which is set up like an old silent film. I couldn’t resist and we ended up buying it that night.
Our own little guy even got involved. When I introduced him to the crowd as my son and the one I usually read to at night, he stood up and held out his arms as if to shout ‘my people! my people!’ (yup, that’s him to the left with my wife stifling her laughter at his ridiculousness) What a little ham. 🙂
But I digress. If you haven’t yet picked up a Mo Willems book, give it a try. Your little kids will thank you and you’re likely to love storytime even more. And if you ever make it to the northeast, maybe you can add to your parenthood bucket list a trip to see his work at the Eric Carle Museum in Amherst, MA. We haven’t been able to make it yet, but I’ll tell you, we’ve had numerous conversations to figure out just when we can make it happen. It’s like a mecca of Mo. 🙂 We’ll get there…even if I have to find a Pigeon to drive us there in a bus.