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This is How Books Remind Me

IMG_20150731_141220558Let me tell you about this book.

A couple of years ago, the school district of my hometown decided to close the doors of my elementary school for good.  If you’ve ever experienced anything like this, you know how surprisingly hard it can hit you.  I was a pretty sad girl when I heard the news.

I grew up in a town an hour away from here, not the rural paradise I live in now.  So when a kindly woman came to my small-town library with boxes and boxes of books to donate from ‘an old elementary school,’ you could have knocked me over with a breath when I saw that the books were from my old alma mater (can you call your elementary school your alma mater?).

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Unfortunately for the masses, these books were too old for use in my library.  Fortunately for an avid book collector, they were old enough to be verrrrry interesting.  Myself being the book collector, of course.  So I went through them.  And I found a couple of keepers. The main one being this gorgeous book, The Little Wooden Doll by Margery Williams Bianco.  1) It’s a children’s book.  2) It is about a doll who has been in an attic for a while and is lonely.  Kind of like Pooh Bear or Raggedy Ann, this doll is alive. 3) You can see the threads from the cloth binding if you look back at the pic of the cover.  In. Love. With that.  4) The doll talks to mice and other toys and animals.  5) Happy ending.  6) It’s in Really Good condition.  7) If you look closely at the next pic, you’ll see the copyright is dated 1925.  It’s a little blurry.  But it’s there.

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So I did quite the happy dance over this little find.  I brought it home, placed it in my antique books cabinet and admired it there behind the glass for a few weeks.  Then one night all my boys were gone somewhere.  I don’t remember where, which is weird since that happens almost never, but all four of my princes were out of the house.  And since I was treating myself to all kinds of Lit Mama alone time, I took this treasure book out of the cabinet and snuggled in to read it.  I thoroughly enjoyed the sweet, fantastical story.  Then I came to the end.  And you will not believe what I found at the back of the book.

IMG_20150731_141440546Sure, You can’t read my maiden name on the top line of this lending card, but I can.  You can see the K, for sure.  And the F3 at the end?  My teacher’s initial and grade.  So right there, 30 or so years later, was proof that I had read this book in the 3rd grade.  This exact copy of this 1925 edition.  It was an antique when I read it the first time!  I swear, when I saw that card, I lost all my breath.  I couldn’t believe it.  I know my 3rd grade teacher had a name that started with F and I even recognized my own childish handwriting, but I still couldn’t believe it.  Talk about getting goosebumps.  I felt like I was talking to myself across the years.

Do you think some small part of me remembered having read this book when I chose it from the boxes that were donated to the library?  I can tell you this, at no time since have I remembered reading this book when I was young.  But I have the proof.  How bizarre is it that a book I checked out of the school library came back to me 3 decades later and ended up part of my personal library?  I mean, yeah, if I still lived in that town and purposely went to a book sale to find books I had checked out… Well, the circumstances would have had to have been very specific, wouldn’t they?  But by accident?  Really?

Things like that really happen in real life.  Because magic is Everywhere.  Especially when books are involved.

Amazingly enough, you can still buy this book new if you want to enjoy the truly wonderful story.

But it will still be light years away from being as cool as my copy.  🙂

Love wins,

KT

Why Your Littles Should Love Lit

Just in case you didn't believe I have over 100 books about King Arthur...

Just in case you didn’t believe I have over 100 books about King Arthur…

It is a breathtaking, sunny morning here.  The meadow is lit up golden, the birds are singing a symphony, the morning light is reflecting on the pond.  A sense of quiet calm drapes the countryside.  It’s got me doing a little reflecting myself.

I’m always telling you that you should engender a lifelong love of learning in your littles and giving you tips on how to go about doing that.  But maybe you should explain to your littles Why it is So Important for them to read.  And maybe you can’t articulate it so well.  It is a fact and you just know it, and putting the reasons into words eludes you. If so, let me try to do it for you. Maybe you don’t really understand why or maybe you’re one of those people who feels books aren’t really that important. If so, let me try to change your mind.

My crush on books started long before I could read.  My brother (who is almost 3 years my senior), my mother, and my father were all readers.  They set an example that I appreciate now more than I can put into words.  When I was 4, I couldn’t take it anymore, so I asked my brother to teach me to read.  The rest of this lifelong marriage is history.  I can still remember the first time I picked up a Raggedy Ann and Andy book in the library.  The second grade when I met Nancy Drew.  The very first book I read about the Arthurian legends in 6th grade. (In fact, I purchased that book–and the rest of the trilogy–when I reached adulthood and have read it many times since.  It is a magical tale called Guinevere by Sharan Newman.)  Ah… finding a dusty, cloth-bound copy of The Count of Monte Cristo in the middle school library.  My first Dickens (if you’ve been visiting this site long, you already know it was Great Expectations).

fairy and waterfall book

So I’ll give you your first reason for teaching a love of literature to your littles.  Clearly, judging by the paragraph above, books have lifelong impacts on us.  When I first started reading, it was the stories.  I was very young, with no experience in the world outside the walls of my own home.  Hearing and reading stories taught me what was going on Out There.  They taught me the possibilities of what Could Be going on Out There, and that I might see them if I squint my eyes and avert my gaze in just the right way.  I learned of fairies, elves, dolls that come to life, elephants, bears, squirrels, lions… You get it.  If you have any fond memories of a book you read as a child–or of hundreds like I do–then you know what that impact can do for a person.

Reading also provides us an escape from reality when things are tough.  And it doesn’t harm us by giving us that escape.  When things are going wrong and you know you can stop thinking about them for a while just by grabbing a good book and reading, you’re not destroying brain cells or inviting epilepsy.  It may sound odd, but reading can keep your littles from becoming screen addicts or worse.  In my humble opinion, who needs mind-altering drugs or alcohol when it’s so much more fun to read a book?  Maybe, just maybe, if you teach them to love reading, you are teaching them a truly healthy form of escapism.  And maybe they’ll never need anything to take its place.  So reading might just save their lives.  A stretch?  Hmm.  I don’t really think so.

Grimm fairy tales cutout book

Reading teaches us about places we might never get to see.  When the Littles and I read Oliver Twist last year, they learned so much about 19th century British politics, the geography of London, the history of Britain.  They may never get to see Britain, but reading books about it can help them not feel like they’re missing it.  If you encourage your littles to read books about other lands or written by authors from those lands, you are encouraging geography.  You’re making the world smaller for them in a way the interweb really can’t.  You’re putting it at their fingertips and in their minds.  Literature touches our brains differently than images do.  So send them to foreign countries.  Often.  Through the eyes of all different kinds of characters.  They will appreciate you for it all their lives.

My love of books has grown with me.  As I said, it began with the stories, then it became an escape, then I realized how much I was learning by reading… But I’ve discovered something new recently.  (Just like any good marriage, I’m constantly discovering new things to love.)  As we grow older, this love of books comes with us.  And you know, admit it, the more years there are behind us, the less we notice things.  We’ve seen them before.  A Lot.  Think of how often you pay attention to the landscape when you’re driving to work or to the same grocery store, department store, post office.  Life kind of gets like that too, doesn’t it?  It might be a beautiful morning, but you’ve seen them before and you’re pretty sure you’ll see one again, and you’re just too busy to really stop and appreciate it.  Right?  It happens.

ballet cutout bookBut books–they remind me to pay attention.  Ever notice how a really good description puts a picture in your mind?  You can see it, smell it, taste it, even if all the author has given you is a visual.  Well, when that happens, I want to experience that place again in real life, or something as close to it as I can get.  So I start to pay attention.  Simply put, if an author describes a country lane to me in full detail–the periwinkle of the roadside flowers, the heat of the asphalt, the shade of the overhanging trees–the next time I leave my driveway, I’m going to look at my country lane as I drive down it, not think about the dozens of things I have to accomplish that day.  Books bring me back to my senses, literally.

I am reminded to look at the fields, the flowers, the sunlight, the gloaming and its fireflies.  I’m reminded to breathe in the scent of fresh-mown hay, the honeysuckle, the sharp scent of snow, the dew-covered grass.  I remember to appreciate the feel of cool water against my skin, the precious brush of a loving hand, the grass under my feet, and even the stinging slap of an Arctic wind.  Books make me listen.   They remind me how much I love the sound of cicadas, birds singing, spring peepers, airplanes, and the voices of my loved ones.  Especially fantasy novels with a good quest remind me to appreciate the flavor a good stew, roasted meat, tender vegetables.  Just as importantly, books remind me to understand other people’s motivations, to find my empathy.  To remember that every story is told from multiple points of view and every character I meet in real life is seeing that story in a different way.  Think of the differences between The Wizard of Oz and Wicked.  Of course the wicked witch had her own side of the story.  Everyone does.  Books remind us of that.  And  that is a Very Important Thing.

Reading also helps combat the whole ‘instant gratification’ problem that technology is causing.  It helps kids learn to appreciate anticipation.  You can’t cheat your way through a book or you’ll miss something.  In fact, in this era, that may be the most important reason to read.  It teaches patience.  You can’t get from this page to that page without reading every paragraph.  Kinda rocks, doesn’t it?  They can get instant gratification later.  For now, let them slow down.

So if your little ever whines about reading time and asks, “Mom (or Dad), why is this so important?  It’s boring,” you now have some decent answers to give.  They may not be very scientific, but they are real.  Teach them to love it and that love will get them through the next 80 years or so.  You know it will, because

Love wins,

KT

 

Books about China

As we head toward the weekend, I am pretty satisfied with the work I’ve gotten done on our China unit Study.  But being Lit Mama, I couldn’t leave my readers with just a post about researching for a unit study.  I have to tell you about the books I’ve chosen to go along with our Asia study.

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I am fortunate enough to have a room walled in bookshelves (thanks to my beautiful husband) and I have filled them over the years with a plethora of both fiction and nonfiction.  So the first place I go when I’m looking for literature to add to our curriculum is my own bookshelf.  Good thing I’m always picking up new books to add.  There’s usually something I’m looking for right there, already in my house. (I should catalog these books, but who has time for that?!)

The Star FisherOne of the books I’m going to utilize from my own shelf is The Star Fisher by Laurence Yep.  This is a beautiful novel about a Chinese-American family who comes to West Virginia in 1927 and faces prejudice and persecution.  We’re going to read it so that the Littles can be reminded why prejudice is perhaps the Worst Human Flaw Ever, as well as to gain insight into Chinese culture.

The other book I’ll be using off my own shelf is The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff. Product DetailsSince we’ll be studying Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism as part of Asian history, and the Littles read the complete A.A. Milne line of Pooh books this year, I think it will be a fun and insightful addition to those lessons.  If you’re unfamiliar with this wondrous book, it uses quotes from Pooh and Pooh stories to teach the basic tenets of Taoism.  If you love Pooh at all, you will find yourself not only laughing out loud at his antics, but reflecting on how just how powerful a story Winnie-the-Pooh is.  Good stuff.

My wishlist on Amazon is overflowing with books I want to buy, but I assume we’ll only have time for maybe three before we move on to Africa, depending on their length.  My top pick for a second fiction book is The Road from Home by David Kherdian.  I haven’t read it yet, but it’s a YA book about the Armenian Holocaust at the hands of the Turks.  I think it will add a rich history lesson to our curriculum as well as preparing the Littles to learn about the World War II Holocaust in years to come (hopefully the 2016-2017 school year, but my plans Do tend to change over time).

The Caravan to Tibet by Deepak Agarwal is also on my wishlist, because it is set in India and Tibet (which is a province of China) and looks like a good action story.  The caravan journey is one which was actually undertaken by Indian peoples in times past, and I get the impression there will be lots of descriptions of India and Tibet and the mountains that separate them.  You can’t really ask for more from a book young boys will be reading.

A Royal Diaries book, Lady of Ch’iao Kuo, Warrior of the South, Southern China A.D. 531 by Laurence Yep, rounds out my list of hopefuls.  It tells the story of a young girl who proves herself to be a great leader and military strategist when her world is threatened by war.  I love that it is set in such a long-ago time and the protagonist is female.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions as to which book you would include in a China unit study.  If you have any other suggestions that are near and dear to your heart, please let me know about them, too.  I’m so excited about getting all of this together, and it feels like choosing the lit is one step closer to done!

Love wins,

KT