A Timely Ode to Dracula

(Don’t worry, this one is not for the kids! This is the beginning of a new type of post titled “Child Free Reading” because I want to talk about the books I am reading too. It is great to virtually bond over what our children and students are reading, but how much better to extend that to our favorites. Plus, this book was just too good, I had to talk about it.)

“Welcome to my house. Come freely. Go safely; and leave something of the happiness you bring!”  – Count Dracula

The book club I am a part of decided to read Dracula by Bram Stoker for our October read, mostly because they are awesome like that. My expectations were quite low due to the fact that I, quite honestly, thought I knew all there was to know about Dracula and the centuries of vampire lore that have followed in his wake. Sparkly vampires aside, I am a very big fan of the genre.

I was beyond excited with what I discovered within the pages of this fantastic book. My curmudgeonly approach and skeptical attitude could not have been more misplaced. From the first page to the last I was wildly surprised by the telling of the story. Bram Stoker masterfully delivered beyond expectation, a difficult accomplishment in an era of over-exposure.

Since reading it through, Dracula has become an instant favorite of mine. There are a great many things that I thoroughly enjoy about the book. I will save the long list for an actual conversation, here are the highlights.

  • The letter/diary format of the writing created a suspenseful quality that I did not think possible, particularly for those of us reading it after so many re-tellings and variations. It was fascinating eavesdropping on each person as they come to an understanding of their circumstances at different paces and through different means. The letters and diary entries evoked a deeply personal experience while reading.
  • I reveled in every moment reading about and getting to know the original vampire and his hunter. As I mentioned, I did not think I could be surprised by the details of this book, particularly with the descriptions of  Dracula and Dr. Van Helsing (!) but I could not have been more wrong. Both of these characters were written superbly. I had many “fan girl” squeals over moments of discovery as I read the original telling of Van Helsing. Arguably, none of the spinoffs from this original do these two characters justice.
  • While there are the anticipated doses of machoism for a book of its time, I was shocked by the strong, smart, kind, thoroughly capable character of Mina. The story turns not on the male characters as expected, but on the female character embodied by Mina Harker. She has easily become one of my favorite literary female protagonists.
  • Despite thinking that I knew the story already, I did not. The end is excellent, suspenseful, and satisfying; actually this could be said of the book as a whole. Chapter after chapter I was surprised by my involvement in the story. I got goosebumps, audibly gasped, looked over my shoulder, reread brilliant sentences, and generally poured over the story details.

To say that I liked the book is a significant understatement, this was one of the most enjoyable, engaging fiction books I have read in awhile. Oddly enough, one of my favorite features of my copy was found outside the actual story. At the back of the Barnes & Noble Classics version is a “Comments & Questions” section that gives a quote from Bram Stoker’s wife, Charlotte, taken from a letter she wrote to him about Dracula:

My dear, it is splendid, a thousand miles beyond anything you have written before, and I feel certain will place you very high in the writers of the day…No book since Mrs. Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ or indeed any other at all has come near yours in originality, or terror – Poe is nowhere.

Brilliant!

 

 

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Books for Your Advanced Reader

You know that moment when you ask your third grader what they have been reading at school and they show you The Book Thief (a phenomenal book in its own right, but maybe not the best option for an eight-year-old). Or you are the fourth grade teacher discovering that your best reader has been slowly making her way through Jane Eyre (true story).

The struggle is real.

If your child is an above-grade-level reader, then you understand. You live in the constant tension of wanting them to read at their level but knowing they are too young for some of the content in those books. It is unthinkable to make them read books too easy for them, at least on a consistent basis. And yet you know how informative and formational books can be, making you rightly wary of which books you expose them to so soon.

Here are some suggestions and resources that I have found helpful in the search. It is impossible to keep ahead of your voracious reader so we will take the “it takes a village” approach to helping each other out! As always, please add any books or authors you have found.

Common Sense Media is an excellent resource for movies, TV shows, and video games but I recently discovered that they give book suggestions as well. I strongly advise using this tool. On the right side of their home page you will see a place to select “Books” and just above that is a place where you can enter the age range of the child you are looking up books for.

Because my children have not entered the teen years yet and I did not teach high school, my knowledge of books for teenagers is lacking. I found a blog that created a list of “Clean Books for Teen Girls” that seemed very thorough and helpful. While trying to find resources for teen boys, I came across the blog Reading Rants. There are over ten years of book recommendations available just for teens, with many of the recommendations given by teenagers themselves.

With all this said, my emphasis here will be helping parents and teachers find book ideas for elementary school students. As a guide for your young reader, have them keep post it notes with them while they read so they can write down each word they do not know. If there are more than ten words per page, the book is too difficult for them. This will give them a tangible tool for finding books at their level, language wise. However, finding books at their level linguistically is not a predictor of content level. To that end:

2nd Grade:

3rd Grade:

4th Grade:

5th Grade:
 

A mere eight books per grade will not suffice for long but these are good books to start with and authors that can be trusted with their other books.

Manual for the Return of Library Books

Safety Instructions:

Image result for caution clip art FAILURE TO FOLLOW THESE WARNINGS MAY RESULT IN SERIOUS LOSS OF MENTAL CAPACITY AND/OR FINANCIAL STABILITYImage result for caution clip art

To maintain your sanity and secure your financial assets do not attempt the process of collecting library books without thoroughly reading the following instructions. Before beginning, ensure that you have all the necessary tools needed to complete the task at hand. Proper completion of this procedure depends on your ability to read minds, guess wildly, and acquire impeccable luck. You will be unable to utilize these essential abilities should you fail to comply with the warnings and cautions given.

DO NOT attempt this process alone.

DO NOT begin this procedure in the dark.

DO NOT undertake this operation any time before an hour from departing for the library.

NEVER start to find these books while in a foul mood.

DO NOT take more than the recommended dose of medications throughout the process, no matter how desperate you may feel.

Batteries are required for the operation of the flashlight.

Attempted use of the magic wand to produce actual magic could result in extreme cases of frustration, anger, disillusionment, and loss of property due to throwing the object as far away from you as possible.

Tools Required for This Project:

manual-blog-post

  1. Printed List of Checked Out Books
  2. Sharpie
  3. Eye Glasses or preferred sight enhancement tool
  4. Flashlight
  5. Water
  6. Pain Relieving Medication
  7. Chocolate
  8. Magic Wand (refer to warnings when in use)
  9. Library Book Bag – not pictured

Procedure:

Step 1: You will need to acquire a printed list of checked out books. While this step may seem archaic, I assure you the actual paper print out is essential. You must be able to cross off each and every book you find as you find them. This will insure that you do not skip over any books while looking at the list on a screen.

Step 2: Please make certain that you have an actual Sharpie, any other type of marking device will not suffice. Once you have found the book you are looking for, you will want to insure that all printed evidence of the book is completely erased. It will create a surprising amount of satisfaction to cross off each book.

Step 3: With the depicted tools for the project easily at hand, I suggest you begin in the place where the library books are *supposed* to be kept. As you already know, few books will actually be there, but it will encourage you to start in the correct place. If you do not have a designated place in your home for library books please do not read any further and go at once to create such a space. When the correctly placed books are accounted for, place them in the library book bag.

Step 4: Take a moment to hydrate yourself, check the batteries in the flashlight, and have a piece of chocolate. For the following steps, you will want to remain calm, patient, and prepared for endurance.

Step 5: The order of operation for this step is vital. Most cases of loss of mental capacity and financial stability are caused by attempts to complete this step in improper order. Remember, as you find each and every book you must cross the book off the list.

  • Ask your children where the books are. They will give varying degrees of vague answers which may or may not result in the actual acquiring of books.
  • Check each bedroom dresser, desk, and bed for books.
  • Look through the bookshelf reserved for books your family owns for any books of mistaken ownership.
  • Use your flashlight and look under the couch, table, chairs, coffee tables, and other furniture.
  • Look in family vehicles.
  • Check children’s back packs.

Step 6: Sit down and relish in all the books you were able to find. Rehydrate. Check the list again. Impossible as it seems, you will notice that at least one, most likely two elusive books have escaped your careful search.

Step 7: Wave your magic wand. Hope. Wash down the pain relieving medication with your last chocolate.

Step 8: Check every household appliance: the washing machine, dryer, dishwasher, fridge. Look behind dressers, under bed sheets and pillows, in closets.

Step 9: Repeat step 5. I know. You were thorough. Trust me…repeat step 5.

Step 10: See, you found one more didn’t you. Now, it is time for the hardest part of the whole process. Stop. Give up. This last book will not be found today or at least not before your library visit today. Go online and renew that one book, again. With any luck, it will not be your last renew available.

KEEP THESE INSTRUCTIONS.

Please refer to your local library for warranty information.

The Day the Books Quit: A Nightmarish Tale*

One eerily dark October morning, a mother awoke with a hesitant stirring in her soul. Eyes unwillingly opened to familiarity, but she knew, as mothers do, that strange things were afoot. Having spent long, exhausted years learning to hark every ripple of intuition, she understood that this day would not go well. With the why or how of this understanding yet unknown, she braced herself with a resolve reserved specifically for parents and teachers. What follows is a tale of unequal woes. You have been warned!

A book has been quoted as saying that the “night is dark and full of terrors” (thank you for this revelation, Game of Thrones). Never was this more true than the rueful night before. The humans of the family had callously decided to liberate themselves from responsibility and tuck into bed, warm and cozy, without so much as a second thought to what they had left undone. In a gruesome scene that would cause the strongest constitution to recoil in horror, books lay carelessly strewn about the floor and furniture in all manner of contortions. Bindings bent and stretched, pages mangled and torn, whole books neglected and forgotten under the sofa; these and many more abominations await the most casual of observers. Recovering what dignity remained, the books of the home reached an ominous and far-reaching decision. Due to forthcoming facts, they would not avail themselves to the humans until such a time as lessons had been learned, demands had been met, and grievances atoned for. It was into this hostile environment that the well-intentioned mother woke.

Custom dictated that upon the mother’s full wakefulness, she would spend the next half an hour in the peaceful, quiet company of her favorite book. This fateful morning, however, in place of the book was a carefully worded note explaining its absence.

To the wise matron of the house (*blush*):

I cannot abide one more morning of being taken for granted. (*gasp*) You just assume that every morning at this ridiculous hour I will be here at your beck and call. Do you even know that I am a night book? Did you ever bother to find out how I feel about getting up before the light? I am exhausted, emotionally as much as physically. I have recently read my colleague, Boundaries, and now recognize this unhealthy relationship for what it is. I give and I give and I give and for what?! How about some reciprocity here? Until such a time as you are willing to see me as the strong, respected book that I am, I will be unavailable, physically as much as emotionally.

Disappointedly,

Your Favorite

Outside, a thick, heavy fog began to descend on the house. A general sense of foreboding could be sensed by all. So strong was this sense that the oldest child was wrestled awake by the disquieting disturbance. In her usual fashion, she bounded out of bed fully awake and at peak energy. Unbeknownst to the child, she was whirling in the direct path of an affronted, reprimanded mother deprived of her peace and quiet. (*gulp*) The excited girl ran to her favorite spot on the sofa and instinctively reached for her book. In place of the solid sturdiness of a hard covered book, her fingers almost missed the thin, crinkly paper. Confused, she turned the paper to the light.

To the inexhaustible oldest child of the house:

We demand that you slow down your speed reading eyes for long enough to read the words we are going to say to you. The chapter books have banded together with a collective message for you. We cannot keep up. You are pushing us beyond our optimal functioning speed. While we cannot deny that we thoroughly enjoy your rapt attention while you have us, we all agree that the time of this attention is decidedly TOO SHORT. We want to be relished, poured over,  and thoroughly considered. You tease us with your fierce focus, only to be done with us all to soon and toss us aside for the next new book you see. We demand more. Until such a time as you are able to slow down and savor our nuance, we will be in recovery.

Exhaustedly,

The Chapter Books

What occurred in the long, brooding minutes following the deliverance of this second declaration from The Books is too troubling to document. You can only imagine the dismal possibilities, as mother and daughter grapple with their respective admonitions, their very real book withdrawal, and each other. Suffice it to say, some things should not be written down, even in a spooky story (looking at you, Cape Fear).

It was into this scene that, an hour later, the youngest boy groggily flopped out of bed, blanket dragging behind in true Linus fashion. Oblivious to the impending doom surrounding him, the boy simultaneously reached for his mother and the bookshelf. As was his tradition, he began grabbing books off the shelf and throwing them into his mother’s lap, all the while violently repeating, with shocking adorableness, “read to me,” “read to me,” “read to me.” It was not until he plopped back into his mother’s lap and papers exploded into the air that he realized he had not been grabbing books off the shelf, but rather scraps of paper, all repeating the same message. As the papers fluttered down, the boy picked one out of the air and typically demanded, “read to me.”

To the destructive young man of the house:

We know that you are very young, but ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. We cannot take anymore. You are destroying us, body and soul (see, I read Pride and Prejudice). Your reign of terror is at an end. You will learn to treat us with dignity and respect or else! We will no longer sit idly by while you rip, tear, crumple, throw, jump on, bend, and break us one by one. How you have managed to hang, draw, and quarter even the board books among us is beyond explanation or imagination. You must be called to accounts. Until such a time as you are able to handle us with the care we deserve and demand, you will be out of our reach indefinitely.

Racing to the top shelf,

All The Books

A shocked hush settled over the house. As the light of dawn struggled to push through the fog, the humans struggled to find bearings in their suddenly bookless day. Listless and confused, they turned on each other with an unanticipated viciousness. Breakfast was a dull and unappetizing chore, getting ready for school was a battle worthy of The Return of The King, and most troubling still, only half of the family was yet awake.

As if on cue and with a tenacity few can muster, the two middle daughters of the family rose immediately ready to enter the fray. “Fight they can and fight they will” is the daily battle cry of these two surprisingly fancy girls. Without knowing the cause, they could sense conflict as a shark senses blood. They raced to *the* spot, the spot each claimed exclusively their own and as one, grabbed *the* book, the book each claimed exclusively their own. The “book” promptly ripped in half causing the girls to fall ceremoniously to the ground. And here The Books proved their keen insight, for as each girl looked at their half of the “book”, they realized it was not a book they held, but a note and that the each held a copy of the same message.

To the warring middle daughters of the house:

Before speaking further, I demand you sign a truce, whereupon I will be honest and you will listen without interruption, violence, or eye rolling. I will wait. Thank you.

Respectfully I must say, this incessant war over me must end. I am embarrassingly flattered by the attention. Occasionally it is nice to know that I am appreciated. But this has gotten out of hand. My binding and pages can withstand no more. I have never told any of my other readers this before, but you should know…there are copies of me. I know it does not feel the same but I assure you, the content and structure are identical. Please, for all of our sakes, look into this.

In addition, I feel the need to add that I am more than pretty pictures. Again, I am flattered and grateful that you appreciate my beautiful pictures. But I have words too, you know. I would feel much better about our relationship if you would make any sort of attempt at all to read those words. I do not feel like I am asking too much here. And until such time as you are able to share me, find copies of me, and actually read me, I will be loaned out to someone else.

Duplicately,

*Your* Book

With this most recent rebuke in hands, the mother’s thoughts were discombobulated. In this unfocused state, she realized that the children were woefully late for school. As they raced that impending bell, she was full of questions: how would she explain their lack of books to their teachers, how would she pass the hours with only one child at home without books, and most importantly, what would she do without her books. These questions haunted and plagued her thoughts.

Distractedly, she returned home to find her husband (sleeping late in an attempt to compensate for a nocturnal existence of grading and writing) standing fixedly holding a sinister and now all too familiar bit of paper.

To the hardworking, attentive man of the house (*nodding agreement*):

There is no easy way to say this, so we will be blunt.

We have kidnapped your books. (*!?*)

We will no longer be shamed by your stacks of academic mumbo jumbo writing. For too long, we have cowered in the corner while those pedantic pages of incomprehensible words have hoarded the limelight. Well, no more. We have them and they will not be returned until such a time as you are able to give us our due.

Unapologetically,

The Children’s Literature

From all corners of the house, nay town, could be heard the shrill, heartbreaking cry,”My Books”ring out from six shattered souls as they braced for the lessons to be learned, the demands to be met, and grievances to be atoned for.

The End.

*Adapted from the brilliant The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt

Trusted Favorites: Patricia Polacco

When you come across a children’s literature author with over 50 books to her credit, you expect that the author writes serialized books, the likes of Curious George, Franklin, and Berenstain Bears. You expect a few of the books to lack the luster of the others. You expect to tire of the author’s voice. In all these ways and more, Patricia Polacco exceeds expectation. She has written well over 50 individualized books, each one desirable, thoughtful, and her style and writing are a joy to read again and again.

I was recently reminded of the gift Polacco’s writing is to children’s literature when I found a book in the library by her that I had not read before. We checked it out and as soon as we got home, all sat down and read Mr. Lincoln’s Way. Although written sixteen years ago, Mr. Lincoln’s Way is an extremely timely and significant book. For any parent or teacher looking for tangible, sincere ways to discuss the racial tensions present in our world, this is an excellent book to start with. By the end, many of us were in tears (myself included) and we were all silent for several minutes after the book was finished. A reaction I have come to expect from a Patricia Polacco book.

Her stories are steeped in the muck and mire of harsh realities, realities she does not back away from. Instead, she writes a path of hope, unity, and acceptance right through the muck. At the end of her books, you will find yourself deep in thought: thinking about the nuanced difficulties of our world, thinking about your part in creating or abating those difficulties, and thinking about how grateful you are that someone gives voice to these issues in a way that communicates to children and adults alike.

My personal favorites from the Patricia Polacco collection are John Philip Duck, The Bee Tree, The Lemonade Club, Thank you, Mr. Falker, and now Mr. Lincoln’s Way. As soon as I am back at the library, I will be checking out Pink and Say to read next. With so many excellent books to her name, every reader’s favorites list will differ and I would love to hear what yours would include.

 

 

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