why I won’t abandon the picture book even though my kids think we should

Our ten-year-old has become known for devouring thick books, but he has very definite ideas about what he likes to read. He’s recently made it though the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series and has moved on to Heroes of Olympus. A few weeks ago he was a bit agitated when he was out of said reading material and still had one more day to go before his next library visit at school. His affection for 500-plus page tomes sometimes leaks out as scorn for picture books, a sentiment that his younger brother has picked up on. Not to be left behind, our seven-year-old has also expressed a preference for chapter books. Trouble is, he can’t read too many of those himself.

So, I’ve been adding more chapters to our read-aloud times. I insist the older boy put down his other book when I’m reading a chapter book aloud. He’s been known to express his displeasure about this, but he is often drawn into the story more than he’d like to admit. We recently finished reading Caddie Woodlawn together and both of the boys have brought up topics from it for discussion later. My younger son even retold the Pee Wee story from the book at a recent family story time. (His dad and and an aunt who was here hadn’t heard it before.)

But I’m not ready to give up picture books, so I still scan the shelves at the Rice Street Library during most of our visits. Sometimes I even find a book that pulls both boys in. Last week, I was reading The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors by Drew Daywalt aloud to my seven-year-old, and about half way through, the ten-year-old joined us. He’d been listening, I could tell, because there was no request to turn back or start over. Both boys had had their imagination captured as we read this story set in an “ancient and distant kingdom” in which three great warriors each sought “a worthy challenge” and hoped to prove themselves in “the glory of battle.”

I considered it a victory for the picture book, a subtle reminder of the power of a good story to engage, amuse and provide fodder for conversation.



popcorn and poetry

“I don’t like poetry; I like non-fiction,” our first-grader said as I scanned titles in the poetry section of the library. “I like animals.” I took it as a challenge. It’s national poetry month after all. The first book I grabbed was a book of animal poetry that looked like it held promise: animal poetry Some of the poems in this book qualify as nonfiction, though not all of them. But the pictures alone earned the book high marks with my two young book critics. Then I found a book of nature poems by an author we know and like, Jane Yolen: count rhyme The poems are fun, and it too has outstanding pictures. It was a quick read with some memorable poems, as was a similar title by the same author:   color rhymeWe’re likely to check both of them out again. Another winner was an anthology edited by Mary Ann Hoberman: forget me notsThis book has a lot of classics in it as well as contemporary poems, organized by topic. Some made us laugh out loud. I also appreciate the tips on memorizing poems, a skill too few people value these days. The book would make a great gift for the child in your life.

So last week when I suggested we read poetry, we had options. “Popcorn and poetry!” Our younger boy welcomed the idea but insisted that popcorn was a part of the package. We had my sister to thank for this, but I don’t mind a bit. There aren’t many things I enjoy more than sharing a book with my boys before bedtime.

We persuaded their daddy to join us. “Which do you like better – popcorn or poetry?” he asked.

“Both!” my four-year-old said.

some of the finest art materials around

This year, our leaf collecting was spurred on by story time. The librarian was reading books about fall. (No surprise there – everyone seems to be on the topic these days so we’ve been reading books about the season at ExploraTots and Kids at the Castle too.) Anyway, what caught my eye that particular day was one of the books the librarian didn’t read but had set aside. I picked it up and added it to our check-out pile.

leaf man 2

Since then my boys and I have been collecting leaves.

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We pick them up off streets and sidewalks whenever we go walking, press them, and turn them into art.

Ehlert’s book gives lots of ideas of what to do with the leaves. For example you can make a butterfly, fish or turtle.

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Buildings and jet planes are fair game too. (Use your imagination- that top of the building below looks like an onion dome, doesn’t it?) Also notice the bird in the lower right corner. My older son was most pleased with his bird.

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One evening I took the book and some leaves to share with friends from Burma. The eight-year-old girl in the family studied the examples from the picture book and made some lovely art. So did her brother and neighbors. They filled both sides of their papers.

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The next day she began collecting leaves herself. I think she agrees with Ehlert and me that autumn leaves are some of the finest art materials around.

entertainment from a bar of soap

2014-05-21 15.35.26Last week we put a bar of Ivory soap in the microwave and watched it puff up like a cloud. We set it for two minutes, but it didn’t take that long. After allowing the soap to cool, you can crumble it and turn it into ghost mud, which is on our agenda for this week.


how to make mini greenhouses for seedlings

It’s April and in good Minnesota fashion, three out of five days this week are expected to involve snow. But, according to the good people at Gardening Matters, this does not have to interfere with spring planting. With six weeks till frost free weather (God willing), it’s time to get seedlings started. We’re trying a method from wintersown.org.

We made our own mini greenhouses using empty milk jugs. It’s a simple and fun process. My kids and I think you should try it.

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Using a utility knife, cut a horizontal line about four inches from the bottom of each jug. Just cut around three sides of the jug. Leave the fourth side uncut so it can function like a hinge.

By the third one, ours were looking pretty neat:

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Then cut at least four slits in the bottom to allow water to drain out. Add soil to the container, leaving about an inch of room at the top.

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Sprinkle the soil generously with water. Sow seeds, spacing them as recommended on the package. Cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil. Flip the top of the jug back into place. Tape the container closed with clear tape. Label each so you remember what is growing where. Leave the lids off. Place the jugs on the east, west or south side of your house.

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And here’s the reassuring part for those of us in northern climates: allow snow to pile on top. As it melts, it will add moisture to the soil. If the containers do not have snow on top and there’s no condensation, then water the seedlings to keep them growing.

So far we’ve planted broccoli, celery and cumin. Once we get another empty milk jug, we’re going to plant some spinach too.


the long cold winter

“A polar vortex!” my son said as I opened the curtain on Thursday morning to reveal snowflakes swirling frantically in the wind. Even my kindergartener is using the buzz word of the winter.

Though the snow had already piled up on the roads and snow was still falling, no one was talking about cancelling school this morning. That was fine with me since we’d already had five days off in the month due to the great North American cold wave.

This time of the year we’re usually tired of winter, but it seems especially so this year because it’s been so cold we don’t even go out to play much. But if the weather ever remains in the above-zero temperature range long enough, we just might go exploring outside. Perhaps we’ll look for tracks in the snow. (Click the link to see my latest published piece.)2014-02-01 17.43.34

what to do when you don’t have play dough

Our kindergartener came home with a teeny tiny container of Play Dough last Thursday. One of those containers that does not hold enough for two kids to share. Our three-year-old whined and pleaded for Play Dough. He didn’t take “We don’t have any” for an answer. But we didn’t have any.

Not a convenient thing to discover at meltdown-o-clock (a term borrowed from Deb at Smitten Kitchen). So I got the wild rice simmering and pulled out a recipe for play clay that I’d tucked away years earlier – when I thought it might be a good thing to keep in a teacher’s or aunt’s bag of tricks. I scanned the list of ingredients and found that we had everything on hand in sufficient quantities to solve the Play Dough crisis. It helped that we only needed three things, one of them being water.

So I whipped some up play clay between chopping vegetables. Moms are multi-taskers. Moms are problem solvers. This is what we do. The play clay was done in under 15 minutes, but then we had to let it cool. Still, it was ready to use before dinner. And it bought 15 minutes of peace right then, plus more in the following days. A good investment.

Here’s what I did:

In a saucepan, mix together a one-pound box of baking soda and one cup of corn starch. Add 1 1/4 cups of water, along with a few drops of food coloring if you like. Bring to a boil and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until it’s the consistency of firm mashed potatoes. It may seem rather soft, but it thickens up more as it cools. Form the dough into a ball, place it on a plate and cover it with a damp cloth as it cools.

Once it was cool enough for kids to handle, I pulled out cutting boards, the rolling pin, cookie cutters and a small spatula. The real Play Dough was traded in for a larger quantity of the homemade substitute. My two boys got busy creating. It was quiet.

We’ve used the dough every day since I’ve made it. It keeps well in an airtight container in the fridge. If your kids use it for an hour, their hands and their ‘tools’ will be coated with a thin layer of the stuff, but it washes off easily.

take in a museum

Check out Smithsonian Magazine’s museum day live. Plan now to make Saturday, September 29 a museum day. Go to the website and choose from participating museums (there are 18 in our state, for example), print out the ticket for two free admissions, and spend part of the day learning with your family.

a little practice with a hammer

“Mommy, do you think we can go to Home Depot and do a project?” my son asked this afternoon.

This coming Saturday is a Kids Workshop day, I told him, and yes, it is possible that we could go. When you’re four and it’s only Wednesday, waiting for Saturday seems a lot like waiting for forever.

If you haven’t been to a Kids Workshop, you and your kids are in for a treat. Just show up at Home Depot on the first Saturday of the month, between 9 a.m. and noon. Each child you bring along will receive a kit and an apron, and a commemorative pin upon completing the project. Hammers, safety glasses and other tools are available for use. All this at no cost, except for the price of whatever home improvement item(s) you suddenly remember you need to buy and end up taking to the checkout lane.

Below are photos from our last trip, which was in July. We put together toy trucks and then painted them. Somehow I never got photos of the completed projects. Guess I could go dig them out of the toy box, but I’m on a roll here.

“We’ve got our aprons on. Let’s go!”

This place has a lot of blocks, our little one was thinking. “Blocks!” he said.

Putting the truck together isn’t hard if you follow the step-by-step instructions – and get a bit of help from your dad.

The true test of a good vehicle is whether the wheels spin. This one passed the test.