You’ve Got Me Feelin’ Emotions

To my way of seeing it, it is an indisputable fact that reading makes you a better person. The benefits of reading are well documented. Almost every site devoted to literature has its own version of “How Reading Makes You Smarter/Happier/Kinder. They are all fun to read, mostly because I thoroughly agree. It is like receiving a virtual pat on the back. It is a momentary silencing of that quiet voice that occasionally whispers, “Your hobby is turning you into a lazy slob.” It is like hearing the perfect defense for all those times you hear, “Really, you are reading again.” You have likely read many of the same studies I have to this end.  The listed benefits of reading generally go something like this: reading gives you:

  1. Empathy
  2. Broader Understanding/Curiosity for the World
  3. Creativity/Imagination
  4. Building Vocabulary
  5. Mental Health

Pretty indisputable, right?!

I have a new one to add to the list: Self Discovery

We have all had those moments where you suddenly see yourself with acute clarity. They come on in an instant, without warning. One minute you are all dressed up, blissfully enjoying the wedding of an old friend, caught up in the moment and BOOM! the Mother/Son dance you are watching is suddenly you and your son. In between the tears, darn those caterers and their onions, you realize those ladies in the grocery store have been right all along, it will be over in a blink.

Recently, I had one of those moments. It started out a day like any other: get up, make breakfast, get children to school on time (or at least try to), talk to people about books, etc. Except on this particular day, everyone I talked to asked me some version of the same question, “What did you like about (fill in the blank) book?” The only difference was what book they were referring to. By about the fourth person, right in the middle of my Groundhog Day (the movie, not the actual fake weather day) moment, BOOM! it hit me. Self Discovery. I realized that all of my answers had a shockingly similar thread, despite the fact that I had been discussing several different books.

All of my answers about why I liked a book had been emotional. Each time I had described the way the book made me feel. I would talk about whether I cried or laughed, or felt angry. I have an immediate answer for which books evoked the strongest emotional reaction in me. For example:

  • Books that made me laugh the most –  Catch 22 by Joseph Heller and Hogfather by Terry Pratchett (anything by Pratchett actually).
  • Books that made me cry the most – Night by Ellie Wiesel Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.
  • Book that made me the most angry was Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult ( the “Turk” chapters).
  • Book that scared me the most was Intensity by Dean Koontz.

This realization, that my primary description of books is an emotional one, was very surprising.

I have always thought of myself as having the emotional range of double-sided tape, one side normal (read: sarcastic, cynical, slightly bitter), the other side angry. Both sides look pretty much the same and usually end up getting me in sticky (yep, I just did that!) situations. I thought I was calloused and cold-hearted. Turns out, that is only true when encountering actual humans (just kidding, mostly).

Apparently, books bring out the emotions in me. And while I love words, beautifully constructed sentences, and creative, visceral stories; it would appear that what I care most about is how the story made me feel.

I have to admit, I don’t know how I feel about that.

 

 

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My Reading Chair: In Memoriam

Ten years ago, I had a six-month-old baby girl. I was just emerging from that newborn fog of dark days and very long nights. I was just beginning to recognize the world outside my home again. I was on the verge of “normal life.”

And then I went to a birthday party.

Something I ingested at that party turned my stomach in an oddly familiar way. A few days later, I noticed that my neighbors dogs smelled awful and I could smell them all the way from my house. Several days after that, I started actively looking for raisins. To eat. This is something I had never done. Ever.

It turns out, old wives tales about not being able to get pregnant while breastfeeding are nothing but lies.

So it was that I acquired “The Chair.”

My husband, being the thoughtful, kind, generous man that he is, realized this was a time for a time for big gestures. He did something unprecedented in our lives up to that point. He bought me a brand new giant, billowing, reclining chair. It was perfect. It had the right proportion of soft to sturdy. It was just the right height when I was sitting in it. When it was reclined my feet came over the edge at the most comfortable place.

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My six-month-old baby girl could sit with me in the chair even though my lap disappeared more everyday. Later, I could read to her while she sat beside me and I nursed her baby sister. Then I could read to the two of them while I nursed the next baby sister, and then their baby brother. The chair seemed to magically expand to accommodate the children. I have spent countless hours reading, what I imagine to be, thousands of picture books to my four children in that chair over the last ten years. I treasure those times of close, cuddled up, wiggly storytimes.

The Chair has been my refuge. It has held me up when I was too morning sick to move. It has laid me back when I just could not keep my eyes open one more minute. It has steadied me when I pinched a nerve in my neck during pregnancy number four. It has rocked me through heartaches I thought would break me.

Most notably, it has been my constant companion through an incalculable number of hours reading and hundreds of books. My love of reading was solidified in that chair. I have stayed awake nights in that chair, unable to put a book down. I have fallen asleep reading the same sentence fifty-six times in that chair. I have found bookmarks, pens for taking notes, post-its, small notebooks, small books themselves in the cracks and crevices of that chair. I have spent ten years of my life reading, almost exclusively, in that chair.

And now my chair is gone.

It is broken, damaged, rejected, and literally kicked to the curb.

Now when I read to my kids they are all sprawled out across an entire couch. Yes, it is true, now they can all sit without touching each other. Yes, it is true, now they can all see the pictures and pages without having someone’s hair in their face. But it’s not the same.

Now I have to read in a new spot. Yes, it is true that it is also very soft yet sturdy. Yes, it is true that it also reclines. Yes, it is true that I have even more options of where to sit and read now. But it is not the same.

My husband laughs and tells me my loyalty to inanimate objects is “cute.”

Is it still “cute” to go read in My Chair, on the curb, one last time?

Books for Talking About Racism with Children: A Collection of Lists

Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced. – James Baldwin

This past week, the United States has had the metaphorical floodlights focused on one of our most enduring faults. Under the glare of these lights, we have been forced to look, full in the face, at the truth long spoken of by black and brown Americans, that racism is alive and well. Still. Today.

Now is our chance to face our collective historical and present truth, together, with humility, kindness, and respect. Now is our chance to teach the next generation, the generation under our care, a different way forward. Now is my chance to acknowledge that my words and actions may not change the world, but they can change me.

We have seen the brilliant quote by Nelson Mandela many times this week:

“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

But it leaves many of us asking, “How?” It sounds so simple. But what does it look like, to “be taught to love.”

We are the teachers and parents charged with teaching the next generation how to go forward differently. To do that, we must honestly face our history and teach it to them accurately. We cannot shy away from uncomfortable truths. As the James Baldwin quote above states, “Nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

But it is not enough to teach only the history. We must actively teach and reinforce accurate ideas about race. It is not helpful to teach children to be “colorblind” or to never speak about race. It is confusing and troubling to tell children to “not see color.” We all see color. These platitudes perpetuate the idea that our racial differences are a bad thing that should never be noticed. Let them ask questions. When we shun questions about race, we make it seem taboo. Our racial differences are not a taboo, divisive thing. It is our negative responses to racial differences that create a divide. We have to actively teach that God’s creation is beautiful, that skin comes in a variety of shades, all beautiful, all perfectly acceptable, and lovely. They need to see this modeled.

To help us navigate these discussions and prompt these conversations, there are many, many good books that you can read together. Over the past week, I have seen several excellent lists. I have compiled a list of my favorite lists. These books are fantastic resources for your home and/or classroom.

To these I would add my own Black History Month book list and three books that I have read in the last year: Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper, Steamboat School by Deborah Hopkinson, and Frederick’s Journey: The Life of Frederick Douglass by Doreen Rappaport.

Under the glare of these floodlights, may we have the courage, respect, and grace to face the truth and work towards change. Under the glare of these floodlights, may we begin new conversations. Under the glare of these floodlights may we mend.

 

 

 

10 Excellent Books for the New School Year

The year was 1985. My family had just moved to Nigeria, West Africa. While my parents were moving back to the country they grew up in, this was my first time there. I do not remember the move as traumatic, I remember it as exciting and right…except for school. I was terrified of starting school.

I was beginning second grade and this would be my third school in three years. My nerves were raw, my stomach roiled, and my emotions were a chaotic disaster. I could not identify it at the time but the shortness of breath, the accelerated heartbeat, and the feeling of overwhelming panic I experienced were the beginning of many years of mini-panic attacks. On paper, there was no reason for my visceral reaction to the start of school. My teacher was the kindest, most gentle teacher at the school. My classmates were accepting and fun. My environment was adventurous and freeing. But my emotions did not care. I was held hostage by fear, panic, and worry.

Over the years, I learned ways to subdue those waves of emotional struggle. But they never fully abated on each and every first day of school. Even through college I would walk through my schedule the week before school started just so I knew exactly where I was supposed to be at each point.

If at this point you are feeling the need to set up a GoFundMe page for my therapy, don’t worry. I am okay. See. I was a happy child. (Or maybe I am just working on perfecting my side eye. Just kidding, I was happy.) I went on to become a teacher. In a school. That shows progress, right?!

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The beginning of school invokes a visceral reaction in all of us. My own school age children are evidence of this, one is thrilled, counting down the hours, one is in denial, one is nervous and worried.

No matter which kind of school you attended, we all understand the nerves, the excitement, the apprehension, the “no, I don’t want to’s” that come with the beginning of each school year. As with all things in life, there are books to help with that. (Yes, you are right, I did already do a back to school list last year. These will be different books, I promise.)

What Do You Do With a Problem (Kobi Yamada) – This is one of my favorite new picture books. It gives an excellent analogy about resilience and problem solving even when you feel unable. This book would be perfect for the child feeling overwhelmed by the thought of starting school.

I’m Smart (Kate McMullan) – Following in the great tradition of the other “I’m…” books, I’m Smart introduces us to the school bus and the excitement involved in getting children to school.

K is for Kindergarten (Erin Dealy) – Not only is this a fantastic alphabet book about going to school, it also includes very cute ideas in the margins.

School’s First Day of School (Adam Rex) – We have all experienced the first day of school as children, but what does the first day of school feel like to the school building?

How To Get Your Teacher Ready (Jean Reagan) – This book is by the same author of the How to Babysit a Grandpa/Grandma books. It is a very funny story about the beginning of school.

Llama, Llama Misses Mama (Anna Dewdney) – Sometimes even when your fifth grader is happily sprinting off to her classroom, she needs to be reminded that it’s okay to miss her mama! (Not that I would know!)

Milk Goes to School (Terry Border) – Milk has a rude awakening when she gets to school and realizes that not everyone thinks she’s the creme de la creme her parents have told her she is. Everyone needs a little comic relief to calm those jittery nerves.

The Name Jar (Yangsook Choi) – This a is beautiful, important story of acceptance, learning about each other, and creating a welcoming classroom environment.

My Name is Maria Isabel (Alma Flor Ada) – Names matter. As teachers, we have to be careful to honor the importance of  a name.

The Hundred Dresses (Eleanor Estes) – This is an excellent book about bullying and the power of standing up for one another.

I will just be over here taking deep breaths and practicing every relaxation technique I know while I live, vicariously, through yet another first day of school. May all of their first days be filled with joy, acceptance, and a renewed love of learning.

 

 

In Defense of Buying Everything on that School Supply List, When You Can

My family is officially in the single digit countdown to the new school year. The emotions accompanying said countdown range from elated enthusiasm to deepening discouragement to nagging nervousness. (See what I did there? Don’t worry, it’s completely acceptable and not at all cheesy to alliterate as long as your writing about school. Yeah, let’s go with that!)

That’s how the kids feel. As for myself, I am, unsurprisingly, unprepared.

Woefully so:

  • There are backpacks to replace or clean.
  • Lunch boxes to assess and then replace or clean.
  • School clothes to appraise based on summer growth spurts or summer destruction.
  • Shoe sizes to reevaluate.
  • Manners to re-instill.
  • Brain drain to repair.

But all of that pales in comparison to the weight of responsibility that is school supply acquiring. I had to dig through mountains of “to be filed” papers from the end of last school year to find three separate school supplies lists.

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Let me tell you, school supply lists times three make for a very long and expensive shopping trip. In years past I have been known to have a spreadsheet with all the supplies needed along with the store offering the best deal on that item. It is a time-consuming but thoroughly enjoyable process. The subsequent store to store shopping, not so much.

Every year while I am out shopping for school supplies, there is a dull roar heard throughout the store of parental complaints. Parents are bonding on a level unseen since Kindergarten graduation over the atrocity that is the communal school supply list. You will hear no end of, “Why should I have to buy supplies for the whole class?” “I shouldn’t have to spend my hard-earned money on someone else’s child?” “The school should be providing all of this for the classroom.”

While it is nice to hold on to the ideals that the school districts can give schools budgets large enough that they are able to provide Kleenex and pencils for the classrooms or that every child can equally contribute to the classroom necessities, it is simply not the reality. We complain about school districts not filling the classroom with glue sticks and dry erase markers, but then complain about our taxes being raised to increase funding to schools. We complain about having to spend any out-of-pocket money at our own jobs, but have no problem leaving teachers to do the same. We complain about having to buy school supplies for the whole classroom rather than just our own child, but never get to know each other enough to find out what incredibly difficult life circumstance our neighbor is going through that may be preventing them from contributing “equally.”

The fact is, like we tell our children and students every day, life is not fair. And a little perspective goes a very long way. To that end, I suggest visiting an amazing website called DonorsChoose.org before embarking on your school supply finding endeavors.

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DonorsChoose.org is a site where teachers can post their classroom needs and anyone can donate funds to purchase those items. Take a minute to scroll through these teachers’ requests. It is a humbling and sobering experience. You can search by geographic location or greatest need or nearest deadline. Any way you choose to search the needs posted, you will be surprised by what teachers are up against when it comes to furnishing their classrooms.

So now, when I am standing in line thinking about how much it is costing me to help furnish my children’s classrooms, I think about those teachers’ requests. I think about the teachers who don’t have enough books for their students. I think about the teachers who don’t have enough notebooks and pencils. I think about the teachers who don’t have any playground equipment for their students at recess. Perspective is a powerful thing. It is something I sorely need when I feel like grumbling about my purchases of extra crayons and post its.

My challenge at the start of this school year is to not only graciously and generously (there’s that alliteration again!) give to your own child’s classroom needs, but consider taking it a step further and sponsoring a teacher’s dream on DonorsChoose.org. It will come as no surprise to you that many of the requests are for books.

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5 Best Apps for Tracking Reading

This week I have been challenged. It was not actually a new challenge, but one I was pushed to realize I had not followed through on at all. Not unlike determining our family would try one new recipe a week, or deciding that the chore charts would actually be put to use, or no longer drinking carbonated beverages. It is a recurring problem I have, the whole “follow through” thing.

Lately, I have a growing sense of foreboding in regards to the amount of time I waste on social media sites. I won’t even try to pretend that I don’t love social media, because I do. Social media sites are an introverts dream. I get to “interact” with the world from the comfort of my couch. I can keep in touch with people who are hundreds, even thousands of miles away. I can consume mass amounts of information, real and false, about the world, those dear to me, and the place I once called home. Except, I have felt my tenuous hold on the balance between real life and virtual life slipping ever so slightly.

Then came the challenge. In an article for the Washington Post titled “The Death of Reading is Threatening the Soul,” Philip Yancey discusses how the internet has trained his mind against disciplined reading. This excellent treatise on the distracted mind.

Charles Chu calculates that at an average reading speed of 400 words per minute, it would take 417 hours in a year to read 200 books—less than the 608 hours the average American spends on social media, or the 1,642 hours watching TV. “Here’s the simple truth behind reading a lot of books,” says Quartz: “It’s not that hard. We have all the time we need. The scary part—the part we all ignore—is that we are too addicted, too weak, and too distracted to do what we all know is important.” Willpower alone is not enough, he says. We need to construct what he calls “a fortress of habits.”

 

If I were to spend even half the time I spend on the internet reading or writing instead, I would recover many hours. These recovered hours would do wonders for my soul. But because of my aforementioned struggle with follow through, I realized that I would need assistance building my “fortress of habits.”

To find that assistance, I started looking for apps that would allow me to track reading times and scan books read. Chances are you are probably already well aquainted with “the big 4:” Kindle, Overdrive, Audible, and Goodreads. While I use each of these apps almost daily and appreciate the different features they offer, I wondered what else was “out there.” I thought I had found an excellent app, only to find out it no longer exists. So I kept looking.

Here are my thoughts on what I found.

Best:

  • Kobo – My favorite feature of this app is the “Reading Activity” section. It is just what I have been looking for. I have high hopes for this app.
  • Bookopolis – For kids, this is by far the best reading app I have come across. I haven’t been able to find an Android version of the app yet. But what I have seen of it for iPhone/Pad users looks excellent. It also has timing, record keeping features, as well as many, many book lists. Even if you don’t use the app, their website is a must use site.

Best with Monthly Fees:

  • Epic! – This app looks like the dream. There is a flat fee of $7.99 a month. With that you are able to set up four individual accounts, track each account’s reading progress, and access thousands of books. If I were going to pay a monthly fee for an app, this would be the one. Teachers, you are able to use this app without the monthly fee!
  • BookMate – I really liked the features this app has. If you are looking for an audiobook reader, this is a very good one. There is a monthly fee of $9.99 though and that seems a bit high for what they offer.

Best Basics:

  • Reading Log – There is nothing fancy about this app. In fact one of the biggest complaints about it is the interface and outdated appearance. But with that aside, if you are looking for an app to track your reading, Reading Log does that. It is easy to use and doesn’t waste time with the frills.

While falling down the rabbit hole that is any internet search, I discovered a great deal about book related apps. For example, did you know that if you are an Amazon Prime member you have access to free, yes free, streaming of books and podcasts on Audible? If you sign into Audible with your Amazon sign in and then go to Audible “Channels,” you have access to free streaming of any of the books and podcasts there!

Now to climb out of the rabbit hole and follow through!

 

 

 

26 Mysteries for the Budding Detective

Literary detectives. Literary detectives are the absolute coolest. They get the long trench coat, the hat, the flip style notepad, the pencil, and all the swagger. They research, inspect, follow leads, evade red herrings, think, rethink, ask questions, exhaust all theories, and ultimately find answers. They captivate the imagination and set loose the possibilities.

Since the day I held my first blue and yellow book and read about a girl named Nancy Drew, I have been drawn to stories of mystery and intrigue. Whether about her, or a couple of brothers with the last name Hardy, or a group of orphaned siblings who occasionally have a boxcar for a home, or the moustached Hercule Poirot, or the honorable Lord Peter Wimsey, or the bumbling Inspector Jacques Clouseau, or the fantastic Precious Ramotswe, or the quintessential Sherlock Holmes; there are few things more satisfying and thoroughly entertaining than solving a mystery alongside these excellent literary sleuths.

Stories of mysterious adventures are great fun, not only for the individual reader, but also for the whole family or classroom to enjoy together. Many a childhood road trip has been passed with my family listening to mysteries. On one memorable trip, we went through a Sherlock Holmes phase. To this day, my sisters and I will quote bits from The Hound of the Baskervilles, which was our favorite of the audiobooks.

If your child or student is looking for some light, fun summer reading, look no further. Below are some mysterious tales sure to get their inquisitive minds racing.

Picture Books

Early Chapter Books

Middle Grade Chapter Books

Now, if only someone could help me solve these mysteries:

  1. How did the couch get wet? (It could be water, right?!)
  2. Why does my Netflix account now load up the “Kids” account, when I *know* I was the last one to watch anything? (My 1234 password is AIR.TIGHT.)
  3. What happened to my copy of The Westing Game? (I distinctly remember having it in 2002.)
  4. How did glitter get on my toothbrush? (Please tell me it is just from someone’s sparkly lip gloss!)
  5. What will I find at the end of this trail of chocolate chips? (A pot of gold, surely!)

The iPod Tax

My grandmother had this cross-stitched picture in her house for, well I don’t know exactly, but for all the years I remember.

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It has long been one of my favorites. Now I have it in my house. It reminds me that it’s alright; things are not always going to go as planned. It reminds me to relax, laugh, and go with it. Tomorrow will be better…maybe. “(Grand)Mama said there’d be days like this.” (Thanks, Shirelles!)

Right now, I find myself in need of this reminder. Because, I have done something from which I am not certain there is any recovery. It has me second guessing everything. Before I tell you what I have done:

My first daughter loved reading from the moment she was born. I remember reading to her at two weeks old and I swear she was cooing and tracking the words with her eyes. She loved learning to read, she loved progressing as a reader, and she still loves to read to this day. My second daughter loved being cuddled and hearing stories. Being read to suited/suits her very well. She also enjoyed learning to read. She was exceptional at sounding out words right from the start, which made learning to read pretty easy for her. As I have admitted previously, it took her longer to find her footing as an independent reader. But since realizing her independence, she has become a voracious reader. She reads in the car. She reads in her room for hours. She uses a flashlight to read late into the night. All of it.

Now my third daughter, my third daughter has changed the game. She loves being read to as much as the next kid, but she has absolutely zero, and I mean that literally, zero interest in learning to read. At least from me. She knows all the rules. She knows the sight words. She knows what to do. But I sit down with a book to have her read to me and you would think all the fairies in the world have died. There is moaning, rolling on the ground, sobbing, all manner of shenanigans at the merest hint that I may ask her to read out loud to me.

So, half way through our summer break, I panicked. And panicking, I stepped in the proverbial “it” of my grandmother’s picture.

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I bribed my child to read. But not only that, it gets worse. I called that bribe a tax. Yes, I am literally and metaphorically “taxing” my child to read.

I know! Yes, you are right, it goes against everything you are supposed to do. Yes, you are right, I easily could have thought of a different way. Yes, you are right, there is no reason to panic, every child progresses at their own pace. You are right about all of it. But here’s the thing: it’s working.

My third daughter loves drama and music and dress up and drama (did I mention that?) more than most six year-olds. One of her favorite things to do is take the iPod into her room for resting time and dress up, sing, and make up plays. She can do this for actual hours, happily. A few days ago, after a particularly frustrating (for both of us) session of “read out loud to mom,” I told her that if she wanted the iPod in her room, she would have to pay me an iPod tax. That tax is reading out loud to me for 20 minutes. I know, I KNOW, you are right. But…it’s working.

She has willing read out loud to me two days in a row (and counting.) Have I potentially caused her to see reading as a tax, literally and figuratively? Probably. Have I extrinsically rather than intrinsically motivated her? Absolutely. Have I taught her that electronic devices are the reward and actual books-in-hand reading are simply the means? Likely.

But for two days (and counting), she has sat by my side without a moan, groan, or sob and read. Out loud. To me. I’m not going to lie, I am having a hard time seeing the downside, short-sighted as that may be.

As with everything involving the care and instruction of children, time will tell.

Allow Me to Introduce Myself

When Well Worn Pages began, the only people reading it were my family and a few friends. Over the last year, some new readers have been added along the way. This seems like a good time to officially introduce myself.

If you have read the “About” section of this blog, then you know the essentials. I am the wife of a fantastic college professor and the mother of four children (three girls and one boy, ranging in ages from ten to four) who has a librarian complex. If you have read a few of my posts over the year, then you may have picked up on the fact that I am a walking contradiction: equal parts sarcastic and sentimental, impulsive and cautious, rebellious and rule monger-y.  I truly love books, reading, and almost anything related to those two things. These are the well documented facts.

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Here is the back story. I grew up in the beautiful country of Nigeria in West Africa. My life there was, in many ways, ideal. I am grateful for everyday that I was there. While I can never claim it as home the way I wish I could, Nigeria shaped me in ways my “country of origin” (the United States) never could.

I spent the majority of my youth on a soccer field or basketball court. To say that I was a reluctant reader would be an extreme understatement. I can pinpoint the teacher and the moment that overwhelming reluctance took hold, as well as the teacher and the moment that reluctance began to abate. Those are stories for another day.

Had I known myself at all at 18, I would have immediately started a course of study that ended in my becoming a librarian. Instead, I did the second best thing for me and became a teacher. Before making the decision to stay at home with my own kids, I worked with elementary school age children for six years. Some of those years were teaching in a classroom, others were teaching P.E. or directing an after-school program. Now, I spend my days working with children in an entirely different capacity.

Aside from telling my story, likely the best way for me to introduce myself to you is through the books that have influenced me the most. To that end, I give you:

The books that I enjoyed most as a child:

  1. Amelia Bedelia (Peggy Parish) – The Amelia Bedelia books are the first books I remember scouring the library shelves for.
  2. The Yellow Boat (Margaret Hillert) – This is the first book I remember getting from Scholastic. I still have it.
  3. Frog and Toad (Arnold Lobel) – These treasured friends were my childhood favorites.
  4. A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L’Engle) –  This is the first book I remember my grandmother reading to me. It was the first spark that would ignite an interest in fantasy fiction.
  5. The Phantom Tollbooth (Norton Juster) – Here is my all time favorite children’s book. This is the first book I remember laughing out loud with.

The most significant books of my young adulthood:

  1. The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint Exupery) – The poetry and beauty of the writing in the this book blew me away.
  2. Cry, the Beloved Country (Alan Paton) – I have read this book more times than I can count and I learn more every time. This story affected me deeply and put words to an injustice in the world that I will spend my whole life trying to bring light to.
  3. Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe) – I think this may be the first book that ever changed me. It gave me a perspective no one else would tell me. I needed to hear it.
  4. Poems of West Africa (edited by Wole Soyinka) – Wole Soyinka deeply impacted my love of reading and writing. The poems in this book have been a constant source of solace in my life for a very long time.
  5. Hind’s Feet for High Places (Hannah Hurnard) – Of all the books I own, this is the book I have read most often. It is odd because allegory is not usually my “thing,” but I make an exception with this one. This would be the second book that changed me.

Favorite books from my actual adulthood:

  1. Americanah (Chimamanda Adichie) – I have a deep affection for African literature and am always looking for books by African, particularly Nigerian, authors. Chimamanda Adichie never disappoints. This book is my favorite of hers. Her vivid descriptions of adjusting to life in the United States are brilliant.
  2. The Eye of the World (Robert Jordan) – The Wheel of Time series took that spark that A Wrinkle in Time started and lit my love of fantasy fiction to full flame. I have read this series all the way through twice and will likely do so again.
  3. Catch-22 (Joseph Heller) – I love this book. It is the first book I read as an adult that I remember laughing out loud with.
  4. The Name of the Wind (Patrick Rothfuss) – This book is everything that fantasy fiction should be and one of my all time favorite reads.
  5. Just Mercy (Bryan Stevenson) – Just Mercy has become a yearly read of mine, which is highly unusual for me with non-fiction. The perspective and insight given is vital to understanding life in the United States and I recommend it to everyone.

Welcome to the broad strokes of my life,

Christy Peterson

 

 

 

To Fathers That Read

My father was many things. He was witty, hilarious, kind, sarcastic, affectionate, and sacrificial, just to name a few. He was also very selective and precise. He stood at a noticeable 6ft 6in and always moved with the careful precision of someone too big for the world around him. This hyper awareness seemed to trickle down into everything he did. He spoke with a slow, exacting pace, choosing each word carefully before speaking it out loud. He read directions thoroughly and completely before proceeding with any task. He took great joy in finding the shortest route on any given path, allowing him to make up the time his “relaxed” walking pace lost him. He was selective and precise in nearly every part of his life, except his reading.

Steve reading

My father reading.

I do not have very many memories of my dad reading out loud to me, but I have innumerable memories of seeing him read. When I picture him now, often he is lying on his stomach with a huge orange pillow under his chest and a book on the floor in front of him. My father read all the time. He would read anything, from Asterix comics to Robert Ludlum to Tom Clancy to Louis L’Amour to John Grisham. Then in his 40s, he decided that he was reading too much fiction. He made a precise decision (of course he did) to start using his reading time for non-fiction almost exclusively. His one exception to this self-imposed rule was listening to fiction audiobooks while driving. I cannot count the number of things I wish I could still talk to my dad about, but this decision is very high on that list.

He set an example of reading for joy, rest, and recovery. Not coincidentally, all the things I now associate with reading. But he was not the only one to instill a love of reading in me. Some of my favorite reading memories as a child are with his father, my grandfather. For two years of elementary school, my family lived in the same neighborhood as my grandparents. My sister and I would sometimes spend the night at their house on the weekend. We would play endless games of Monopoly and Careers with my grandfather while my grandmother made us orange sherbet. These nights always ended with him sitting down beside our sleeping bags and reading to us. I still hear Heidi with his voice. The joy of reading was embedded deep within me.

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My grandfather reading to me.

Now I get to watch my husband, and his father, read to my kids. My husband is excellent at reading aloud. He does all the voices, he dramatizes, he lets the kids climb all over him, and they love it. He will change the words while he’s reading to make up silly things, always relishing in the guaranteed collective groans of “Daaaaaaad.” He says lines from their favorite books at all the appropriate times. Anytime someone is embarrassed he will tell them they are “looking more red in the face than green” (Froggy). Whenever someone cheekily replies, “We’ll see about that,” he adds “said Portly” (Hipponotamus). The groans and laughs that follow diffuse the situation (partially). Watching them, I cannot help but feel an overwhelming happiness that they are getting to make those same precious memories with their own dad as I did with mine.

And so to you, fathers and grandfathers who read, I see you.

I see you, boa wrapped around your neck, pretending you are at yet another tea party while reading Fancy Nancy.

I see you answering unanswerable questions like, “How did the man with the yellow hat get his name?”

I see you creatively reading with dramatic inflection and doing sound effects over groans of “Oh Dad” which are secretly internal squeals of joy.

I see you, weary and burdened, gathering your kids close to read I’m Stinky for the one hundredth time.

Your children will remember these moments all their lives and will, one day, thank you. For now they will go on unrelentingly shouting “one more, just one more, pleeeeassse.” The joy of reading, and of your presence, will be deeply embedded in them.

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