These Frail Hands

This has been the strangest year of my life. I have had some pretty strange years in my life too–my family fostered children and I saw 7 foster children come into my home, which was always strange in one way or another. In one year in college I slept for 2-3 hours a night so that I could keep up with school, work, maintaining a relationship with the woman I was engaged to, and rehearse/perform a play that did well in the college theatre festival system and which garnered me an acting award nomination.

But nothing compares to a year of fatherhood. In the past 15 months I started a new career and began my own business at the same time; I determined that the self-same career is probably not the right path for me ultimately; I helped to create a new non-profit in our community, including serving on its board; I bought a house; and most importantly, I became a father.

I never anticipated much fatherhood is informed by cultural conceptions of masculinity, and in turn, how much my own understanding of masculinity is impacted by my fatherhood.

America needs fathers. And yet, America has no clue what a father is, because America has trouble figuring out what a man is. Is a man the typical action movie star? Is a man a high-powered corporate executive, defined largely by career success? Is a man a clueless slob? Is a man heavily devoted to his hobby and using every available weekend to pursue it, whether its sports, hunting, fishing, cars, or something else entirely? What is a man? And what are male humans that don’t fit into those nice, neat little holes that America uses to define men?

Furthermore, what is a father? As we hear every Mother’s Day, mothers are kind, loving, nurturing, life-giving, caring, sacrificial, supportive, and more. What unique parenting space does that leave for men? Personally, I don’t think men need a unique parenting space, but American culture doesn’t know how to accept a man who might have some or all of those “mothering” traits, let alone the “mothering” role. You don’t need to look any further than the “Mr. Mom” title that I still receive from time to time or the sexist posturing embraced by the leadership of some Christian denominations or the widespread use of popular yet divisive fatherhood training programs by even more American Christians to see that.

I don’t have any answers for America or American Christianity, even though I am glad to be both American and Christian. I think they both have their own path to walk to find true answers about fatherhood and masculinity. Hopefully we can all arrive in a positive and appreciative understanding about fatherhood and masculinity soon.

As I reflect on a year of fatherhood, I think about how insecure I was a year ago as a father. Nobody can fully understand how large a change parenthood is until they go through it themselves. I had some really bad days. I still fail at parenting quite a bit, although not as often as I did in the first few months.

I was very insecure about being a stay-at-home-dad. I looked for support online and found some good role models and fathering communities, which was very helpful. I worked far more and far harder than necessary–and for too little money–because I wanted to contribute financially in some way, and because I was worried about the “hole in my resume” from when I could not work outside the home as a stay-at-home-dad.

I agonized over my own masculinity due to thoughtless comments from friends and family and deliberately inflammatory statements by wolves in sheep’s clothing. For what it’s worth, all is forgiven, and I know, I think too much.

One of my dominant memories from early childhood is anticipated my father coming home from work and excitedly running to the door to greet him yelling “Daddy’s home! Daddy’s home!” all the way. On some level it disappoints me that I will never receive that same greeting, even though I’m sure Emily will receive her own gender appropriate equivalent, and I know it will make me happy to hear Sam greet her in that way.

And yet I’m happy. I’m thrilled to be a father. I’m very happy to be a stay-at-home-dad. I recognize that I can add a great deal to my family and community without working. I have time to pursue greater interests than a job allows, and I am able to spend more quality time with family when we’re not forced to do housework in the evenings or on the weekends.

And I love Samuel. The boy who walks, talks, has a great smile and an even better personality. Who is learning to love books and music, and learning how to love and show love to others. Who is a dynamic and ever changing person.

My hands may be frail or unwilling at points, but they are and shall be the hands that pick Sam up when he falls, tickle him until he’s delirious with laughter, and carry him to bed when he’s fast asleep.

I couldn’t be happier to be who I am today.

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5 Classic Board Games you should NEVER PLAY

We all know games like Candy Land, Chutes (or Snakes) & Ladders, Sorry, Uno, or Monopoly. We probably played some or all of them in our childhood. Please don’t submit your children to the same fate! These are all outdated games with deep flaws that unfortunately continue to be passed down through generations simply because they’re the only board games people know, so I’m going to do my best to share a few better games that will hopefully fill the same hole these games do, but in a better way.

1. Candy Land/Chutes (Snakes) & Ladders

Candy Land is effectively a variation of Snakes & Ladders, and in many respects, is not a game at all! Snakes & Ladders comes from ancient India where it was a teaching tool–an extremely crude simulation of moral life and the few virtues that give someone an advantage in becoming a good person (the ladders) and many moral failings (the snakes). To be sure, there is far more to Hinduism than this and I have nothing against India in any way, particularly not in the board gaming realm. Far too much of my youth was spent playing chess for that to be an issue!

My problem with this game system lies in the fact that in every version of this game, absolutely no skill or strategy is required–everything is determined by chance via dice, cards, or a spinner. Of course, to many this may seem to be a good feature, since it gives very young children an opportunity to learn about taking turns, sportsmanship, counting, and (in the case of Candy Land) matching colors without overwhelming a child.

Of course, nothing is wrong with any of those goals. They are all important things for everyone to learn as soon as possible. But can’t we do better for our children? Any game will teach turn taking and sportsmanship, and many can teach counting as well. There are countless better options for children, and I’ve talked about a few already on this blog.

Today I’m going to go in a slightly different direction though and recommend a game that just came out last year (2012)–Dino Hunt Dice. Dino Hunt Dice is a reworking of Steve Jackson’s hugely successful Zombie Dice, with rules and a theme that are a bit more family friendly, along with smaller dice that are perfect for little hands. In this light push-your-luck game, players attempt to capture dinos for their zoo by rolling dice and hoping not to have the dinosaur foot icon showing that they’ve been stomped!

Little girl playing Dino Hunt Dice–image courtesy of Boardgamegeek.com

It’s a lot of fun and any child that can understand the concept of rolling dice safely can play with some guidance from an adult. Older children will be able to pick it up and play completely on their own as well. If you’ve been stuck in the Molasses Swamp for the past 38 turns, you owe it to yourself, and especially your children, to try something new like Dino Hunt Dice.

Recommendation: Dino Hunt Dice, designed by Steve Jackson, published by Steve Jackson Games.

2. Sorry

Sorry may be the game I am most disappointed to see people play. Yet another extremely random game, depending on what ruleset is in use ranging from completely random (like Snakes & Ladders) to marginally strategic play, its main result seems to be anger due to the completely unpredictable and uncontrollable results of play. If otherwise reasonable, well-mannered adults can completely lose their cool because they just were hit by ANOTHER bad card, how do you think a child whose emotional life is still developing will handle it?

There is no reason to EVER play this game, because there is no reason to put that kind of ridiculous stress on the valuable family and friend relationships children are still developing. Why not play something everyone can enjoy?

In the past 5 years or so, cooperative board games have become hugely successful, in my opinion largely because they give families and friends the opportunity to work together to overcome a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. In these games players are all working together to beat the game itself. Generally, players can only win in one way whereas the game can win in 2, 3, 4, or even more ways, forcing the players to work hard together in order to keep several bad things at bay while progressing towards their own victory.

Forbidden Island is a fully cooperative game and great for families with even relatively young children. Players must work together to recover 4 valuable treasures from a mysterious island before it completely sinks into the sea. By coordinating their actions and helping each other out, everyone can win together in this exciting game.

5 year old playing Forbidden Island–image courtesy of Boardgamegeek.com

Best of all, this game is readily available at most Barnes & Nobles, Targets, and more at a very good price–probably less than a contentious set for Sorry would cost!

Recommendation: Forbidden Island, designed by Matt Leacock, published by Gamewright Games.

3. Uno

The newest game on this list of bad games, published in 1971, still manifests many of the horribly outdated design features other games on this list have–an infuriating lack of control of a player’s own fate and direct attacks by one player on another without any way to mitigate their effects–resulting in a poor experience for everyone.

It’s a simple card game that can be played virtually anywhere, yet it requires a specialized deck of cards and has very little opportunity for skillful play. I don’t understand how it ever became as popular as it did when so many better options are available to be played with a standard deck of cards!

I’m not sure what I can say about Uno that I haven’t already said about Snakes & Ladders or Sorry, other than that in our entire 6 years of marriage thus far, my wife and I decided to play Uno once and only once. Since we play so many new games, we thought it would be fun to revisit a game from childhood. Thirty minutes, an unfinished game, and several hurt feelings later, we sat on the couch and decided to never play that game again. Furthermore, this happened in the last year or two, when we had become very used to each other and how to play games with each other–this was no newlywed squabble!

There is something about Uno that just lends itself to mean play, and I can’t accept that. Bohnanza on the other hand certainly can be played aggressively, but doesn’t require it, and even with aggressive play can still be ameliorated.

Bohnanza has an unlikely theme: Bean Farming. However, thanks to the whimsical art on the cards, children will have a blast building sets of beans in order to cash in the most points while trading or giving cards to other players. That last part is in fact the key to the game–players must carefully keep all cards in their hands in the order in which they received cards. In order to maximise their sets, they must remove cards from their hands.

2 kids trading bean cards while playing Bohnanza–image courtesy of boardgamegeek.com

Although Bohnanza is more complex than Uno and requires more skill and understanding on the part of children, they can still understand and enjoy the game, and I highly recommend it. It’s been a staple in my family for about 10 years now, and absolutely deserves a place in your home as well.

Recommendation: Bohnanza, designed by Uwe Rosenberg, published by Rio Grande Games.

4. Monopoly

Monopoly. Almost certainly the most prevalent board game in America, if not the entire English speaking world. The game that defines what a board game is to most Americans. Monopoly, a game rarely played by the printed rules and frequently remembered as interminable anger-fests as players go round the board time after time until everyone finally loses to the player who was clearly going to be the winner an hour or two ago.

Surprisingly, I don’t hate Monopoly, as long as it is actually played by the rules. Even so, it still continues on for too long and I dislike player elimination in a game of this length. However, I can’t completely fault the rules because this is yet another classic game that in origin is a teaching tool.

An early board of The Landlord’s Game–Monopoly’s direct predecessor.

The first incarnation of Monopoly was called “The Landlord’s Game” and was invented by a socialist to demonstrate the evils of capitalism. I suppose it is possible for a game to be a good tool for teaching philosophy or political ideology while also succeeding as a game, but Monopoly does not. Furthermore, it’s frequently boring and unmistakably representative of its age. Gaming has progressed a great deal in the past 80-100 years, and with so many better games in the world, why bother with this clunker?

The difficult part of replacing Monopoly is in finding exactly what it is that draws people to it, other than that it’s just the only game people know. Is it the set-building aspect? Zooloretto is a great alternative. Is it building an economic empire? In my opinion, Acquire is the greatest economic game ever made. Is it the auctions? Play For Sale, High Society, or Ra. Is it traveling around that familiar board and visiting your favorite places? Ticket to Ride does that by putting the board onto a map of America. Maybe you just like racing around the track to get that free $200–Formula D is a fantastic dice rolling racing game.

Acquire in play–image courtesy of boardgamegeek.com

All of the games I listed are excellent games, and could easily replace whatever it is that draws people to Monopoly, and I highly recommend them.

Recommendation: Zooloretto, designed by Michael Schacht, published by Rio Grande Games; Acquire, designed by Sid Sackson, published by Avalon Hill; For Sale, designed by Stefan Dorra, published by Gryphon Games; Ticket to Ride, designed by Alan Moon, published by Days of Wonder; Formula D, designed by Laurent Lavaur & Eric Randall, published by Asmodee.

I’m not saying that the games on this list should not exist. They all have historical value in the history of gaming, and even more so in the history of American pop culture. But please, do yourself (and your children) a favor, and don’t ever play these games again. Visit a local game store and check out some new games–I’m sure you’ll discover some new favorites!

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The End Is Near

I know, I’ve been on unintended hiatus for WAY too long now–sorry about that. Life has gotten in the way. In fact, my life is such that I have little time to write for this blog any more, and since my life has changed so dramatically in the past 9 months, I also have little interest in continuing to write here.

I hope you all have enjoyed reading this blog, and I intend to leave it up for a while yet. Hopefully others will appreciate it in the future, and it’s always possible that I might write something new every now and then. But for now, my plan is simply to write a few more entries over the next couple of weeks and leave it at that. I will be shutting down the twitter and facebook pages as well sometime in July.

Thank you all, and I wish you all the best.

Your Parenting Goal

In college I was forced to take a class on leadership–I didn’t want to take it, I hated it while I was in it, and it has turned out to be the most useful class I took out of all 40-50 formal classes I was in during those four years. One thing I took away from that class is the importance of setting and meeting goals in all areas of life. Parenting is no exception!

Small child or international basketball superstar in training?

People have all sorts of goals for their children. For their child to have a certain career. For their child to reach certain achievements. For their child to have a safe and loving environment. For their child to have all the things they never had as a childhood. Some parents simply want to ensure their children have a childhood, instead of being forced into too many responsibilities too quickly.

My goal is a little different though. To be honest, I really had not thought about my goal as a parent until talking with some friends whose oldest child is going to college this fall. They said–and I’m paraphrasing here–their goal was to develop their children into self-sufficient, independent adults.

It’s such a simple thing really. Parenting philosophies abound today ranging from extremely regimented to extremely lax–or even creating a regimented system of lax ideas! But it seems obvious to me that childhood is by its very nature preparation for the rest of life, and I can’t believe I had never thought of it in such simple terms until that conversation.

In fact, I have adopted that as my own goal as well–I want Sam to be able to cook, wash his own laundry, clean up after himself, teach himself new things, think critically and make up his own mind on issues, work hard, and create a meaningful and happy life for himself. To be sure I want all those other things too–like a happy childhood–but I have an achievable end-goal in mind.

Don’t worry, Sam isn’t forced into cooking 5-course dinners for us!

I don’t know if it would be beneficial for everyone to think through their goal as a parent, but I think it has for me. It’s certainly shaping the way I think about Sam and what I should and should not be doing for him and with him. Have you thought about your parenting goals? If so, what are they, and have they been successful and/or helpful to you as a parent?

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Making the Most of the Library

It’s National Library Week! All sorts of celebrations are happening in libraries across the country, including book giveaways, special guest events, and more. Now, it’s no secret that I love libraries. My dad was a librarian for most of his life, my uncle is a librarian, my wife is a librarian, I have lots of librarian friends, and I even worked in a library for over a year and a half.

In fact, it boggles my mind that so many people don’t use their library. There are so many valuable resources at a library useful for children and adults–books; magazines; computers; genealogical material; dvds; audiobooks; music; both fun and educational events and materials; and best of all, the masters of finding whatever information you need, librarians.

Behind that smile lies a mind ready and able to find whatever information you need–even if what you need is the connection between medieval siege warfare and Paris Hilton. Not that I have ever needed that information. No sir.

The public library is a valuable resource for anyone, but particularly parents. Here are a few ways you can use that resource well.

1. Make use of story time. As a parent of a young child, you probably already know about story time, but it still bears repeating. Go to story time. It’s one of the highlights of Sam’s week! He loves going to the library and seeing the librarians and all the other kids that attend. There are songs, games, dances, puppet plays, and of course picture books read by expert readers. It’s great for your children to see and play with other kids, plus they will definitely have fun with the activity itself.

You can enjoy summer reading programs anywhere.

2. Join summer reading. Every public library in America is going to have a summer reading program. These can be great fun for your kids, even if they’re not old enough to read themselves yet. Parents can read to children and participate that way, winning prizes and having fun while enriching their minds. Furthermore, many summer reading programs also include special guests and events for children. There might be a special touring puppet show one week, a concert by a kids musician the next, a magic show the week after that, or even more. One year while I was working at a library, a truck-based aquarium came and parked in our parking lot for the kids to enjoy!

Although they’re not as well known, most public libraries will also hold an adult summer reading program as well. You should definitely participate! There are still prize giveaways, special events, and more for you to enjoy as well, so plan to join in this summer.

3. Ask about other children’s programs. As I just mentioned, libraries have lots of great programs they put on themselves, like story times or summer reading. However, there are even more great opportunities for your child that you might never know about without asking. These could include Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, after school programs, arts enrichment classes, and so much more. It’s a librarian’s job to know about these sorts of things, so ask away!

I don’t think these kids think a library is boring, do you?

4. Socialize. If your idea of a library is a musty place where people will shush you for speaking above a whisper, it’s time to reevaluate your conceptions. Libraries are a great place to meet and talk with new people or just spend a nice afternoon playing a game. Although board games would be a great idea–I’ve got a few suggestions for you too–many libraries now even have video games for kids and adults to play.

5. Check out materials. This may seem obvious, but it bears repeating. Libraries are a great way to find great reading, listening, or viewing material. You can try things you might never have tried before–new genres, styles, authors, musicians, and more. Check out both fiction and non-fiction, books and dvds, audiobooks and music–you never know what you’ll discover, but your life will definitely be better for it.

If you’ve never been to a library, give it a try. Spend some time at your local library this week. Wander through it. Ask a few questions. Check out something new. And above all, remember to thank your librarian. They work hard for you, whether you know it or take advantage of it or not. Enjoy your time there! I know you will.

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Every New Day

I am filled with wonder at Sam. Of course there are the new skills he has developed over the past 9 months that amaze me as he crawls, holds his own bottle, feeds himself, pulls up (although for some reason his mouth is an important aspect of his pulling up ability), and walks along the edge of the couch or from chair to chair around the table. Those things still wow me when I think about the tiny thing he was not so long ago.

But it’s the little things he finds amazing that fill me with wonder. He loves to look out the window at our back yard. There’s nothing particularly special about our back yard, yet there is very little he finds more enjoyable than just looking at it for hours every day. I inevitably lose interest after a few minutes and do other things while he continues to look outside.

This seems to capture Sam’s thought process pretty well.

Every time my face suddenly appears through a doorway or around an obstacle, he still smiles and laughs. We’ve been playing peekaboo for his whole life, but he still finds this game incredibly fulfilling. Even just turning his head and seeing me across the room will plaster a huge smile on his face.

There’s something beautifully pure about childhood. We lose so much as we gain greater understanding and responsibility. I quickly decide that checking facebook or twitter is more interesting than seeking out the unique details of our back yard with Sammy. What do I gain from social media? Nothing really. But what could I gain from spending slow, quiet time contemplating the beauty of the natural world with Sam? What else deserves the type of intense attention to detail that Sam likes to give things?

Probably one thing that deserves that attention to detail is my cleaning ability, which I type as Sam finds yet another cheerio I somehow failed to sweep up off the floor and he immediately pops it into his mouth. In all seriousness though, I think we gain as much from our children as they gain from us. Here I have been given a perfect example of how to live in deeper connection to my surroundings. It’s a beautiful thing, and I’ll try to make the most of it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a window to look through with my son.

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A Gateway to Board Games

I’ve got a writing deadline this week which means I don’t have a whole lot of spare time. I wrote this post for a board game blog I had conceived a couple of years ago but never actually created. Enjoy!

When you’re new to the board gaming hobby you might spend a lot of time playing or hearing about “gateway” games, or “casual” games, or even “family” games. Although I would argue that each of those have slightly different connotations, the main idea is to identify games that someone who is new to the hobby can jump into and enjoy quickly and easily, but which is still rewarding to play many times over.

My personal feeling is that a gateway game can be anything. If you peruse the forum threads and geeklists on Boardgamegeek.com pertaining to gateway games, you’ll see answers ranging from Risk, to Axis & Allies, to The Settlers of Catan, or even Apples to Apples. Simply put, a gateway game is a game that causes you to become more interested in the board gaming hobby.

A game of Settlers of Catan in action

However, much of the discussion about gateway games today involves the theory that certain games work better than others as that first step into the hobby. A list of games commonly suggested as good gateway games can frequently double as a list of Spiel des Jahres winers. The Settlers of Catan (SdJ 1995), Carcassonne (SdJ 2002), Ticket to Ride (SdJ 2005), and Dominion (SdJ 2009) all regularly appear on gateway game lists.

I agree that these are all good games and they make a good introduction to the hobby, but what is it about these particular games that make them a good beginning place for a new boardgamer?

Although it may seem superficial, I think one of the first factors is simply the way the game looks. Many of these games have beautiful artwork and well designed components–ie, the cards, boards, box, and playing pieces. Although you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover and a game may be excellent even though it is not beautiful, it is undeniable that part of the appeal for some games is that they’re nice to look at–which simultaneously dispels any preconceived notions about board games being dark and obscure things that belong in somebody’s basement!

I love the graphic design of Ticket to Ride!

Another key factor is that the rules are short and easy to understand. Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride both have 4 page rulebooks, and Settlers of Catan and Dominion’s rules aren’t much longer. This allows the game to be accessible for someone who is not used to reading and comprehending a 30-page rulebook for a complex, 4 hour game. Of course, the fact that the rules are short also indicates that the game itself is short, and these four games all generally run from about 30-90 minutes.

However, in my opinion, the most important factor in these games is that not only are you having fun, but you are having fun building something.

There is an undeniable appeal to creating something from scratch that you can be proud of later. All four of these games involve the action of building. Whether it is a colony, a kingdom, a railroad network, or even the landscape of the French countryside–and the board itself!

In Carcassonne, players build the game board–depicting the titular French countryside–in the course of the game

This is what I think draws people to these games more than anything else, and is the biggest connection between the games. Although they vary by designer, publisher, mechanics, and theme, all good gateway games tend to give people the sense of accomplishment that only comes through building something from your own plans and with your own actions.

Of course, as I said at the beginning, a gateway game can be anything, and what drew you into gaming could be completely different. If it was not this desire to build or one of these four games, what brought you into the hobby? Comment below with your thoughts!

Recommended Game:  Ticket to Ride, designed by Alan Moon, published by Days of Wonder.

The Ticket to Ride game box.

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The Tragedy of the Milestones

Early on in Samuel’s life, I couldn’t wait for him to reach a new milestone–holding his head up on his own, rolling over, sleeping through the night (oh, that was a blessed night indeed!), and many more. Those milestones even caused me some minor angst, when I felt like his mom and I were not giving him a stimulating enough environment, since many of those milestones were reached away from home.

Since then something has happened: mobility. Yes, Sam has been crawling for close to two months now, and I think crawling is in fact the biggest milestone of all. It’s the game changer. Lots of little milestones came together to help Sam transition from being an infant/newborn to a baby not only able to interact with other people, but a person who enjoys it; however, mobility itself is in many ways the first form of independence. It’s a great thing!

The thing that concerns me at this point though is that I find myself simultaneously looking forward to new milestones and dreading them at the same time. Crawling is fun, but won’t walking be better, since he will be further away from all the dirt and dust on the floor? On the other hand, he will just be that much faster. I already can’t keep up with him and do everything else I need and want to do! Won’t language skills be great? He’ll be able to tell me exactly what he needs/wants, instead of me having to guess! And he’ll be able to talk back, say “no”, and trick me into arguments where his logic will never lose.

Do I want him to continue growing and developing? Absolutely. Is it that I am trying to hold onto some perfect period in his life, where he is the most enjoyable? I don’t think so. I certainly don’t feel like this is a unique feeling either–I know billions of parents across time and space have had this mixed anticipation and trepidation.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that although I have been aware of the tension of parenthood’s balancing act between what a child wants and needs and what the parents do, I had not yet experienced this other tension. This slow-moving tragedy. The tension between a parent trying to hold onto his old life and the child reveling in discovery, excitement, exploration, and the inevitable changes he creates in the world around himself. The change in family and interpersonal dynamics forged by sheer force of child willpower.

Pondering my continued loss of control saddens me, but I think I may be missing the point. It’s not a tragedy at all. From the perspective of two and a half feet off the ground, it’s an adventure.

Who could dread that?

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REVIEW: Chu’s Day

To finish my month-long series on childhood literacy, I thought there would be nothing better than to look at a great picture book that was just released: Neil Gaiman’s Chu’s Day.

Chu’s Day is the story of a small panda with a big problem. Whenever Chu sneezes, bad things happen. Over the course of the book, Chu appears to be in danger of sneezing a handful of times, first at the library (dusty books), then at the diner where he has lunch (lots of pepper in the air), but it is actually at the circus when nobody is paying attention to Chu that he needs to warn everyone else about his impending calamitous sneeze.

Knowing Gaiman, it would not be outside the realm of possibility for monsters to appear–or more likely, that we realize the worst monsters of all are ourselves–but that doesn’t happen here, and this book stays within a light, cheerful sensibility that any parent can appreciate. The book is designed for very young children, with appropriately simple short sentences and a preeminence given to the artwork.

Speaking of Adam Rex’s artwork, it is beautiful.

One of my favorite images, featuring Chu and his father at a diner

Every page of the book is filled with the gorgeous, deeply colored, and highly characterized art represented on this page. In all seriousness, this is one of the most beautiful picture books I have read. And it only gets more fascinating when Chu finally does sneeze and everything gets blown around!

Of course, it doesn’t really matter how much I like the book. What matters is how much children like the book, and in my particular case, what matters is how much Sam likes the book. Let me tell you, he loves it! We borrowed this from the library and read it regularly while we had it. He is usually pretty good about sitting still and listening to stories, but even so, he did as well with this book as any other book I have ever read to him. What’s more, he seemed to enjoy it every time we read it!

I don’t think I can praise this book highly enough. Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors already, but I know this book will be one my whole family will enjoy for years to come, and I have no doubt that it will soon become a classic book read to children for many years to come.

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How to read with your child

Continuing last post, it’s important to recognize not just the importance of reading to your child, but also how to do it effectively. Reading is a skill that has to be learned, and reading aloud to a child is no exception. It’s easy to assume that reading to a child is just like reading to yourself, but there is a lot more to it than that! Reading to a child requires you to be an actor, a teacher, and a friend all at the same time. Let’s take a look at what that means.

Reading as an actor doesn’t mean you need to be like this guy:

Instead, it just means that you have to put some feeling into your reading. It’s very easy to become monotone while you read to a child (particularly when you’re reading a child’s favorite book. Again. For the fifteenth time. This morning.), but they will enjoy the story far more if you try to stay engaged. When something surprising or sad happens, put that into your voice so it matches what is happening on the page. If you feel inspired, try making some special voices for different characters. You might not think you are doing a great job, but I promise your kids will love even the worst attempt at you making a special voice like a turtle!

Similarly, reading as a teacher doesn’t mean you have to teach the moral lesson from the story (if there is one) or diagram the sentences–unless that’s your sort of thing of course. As a former English major, I always approve of diagramming sentences! Instead, I just mean that you should think about what you’re reading and engage with the child. For example, ask the child questions, or answer their questions. For example, you might ask, “What color is that dog?” or “How do you think they feel right now?” or maybe “How many clouds are in this picture?”

Finally, don’t forget to be a friend to your child while you read. There are many times throughout the day where we have to be the adults. We have to make sure children eat well; stay clean, healthy, and safe; and do things children need to do. But while you’re reading, just make the time to enjoy the book and the story together. Laugh together, talk about the story together, go back or jump ahead to a favorite part of the book, even stop reading for the moment if it’s not something that your child is enjoying. This is one time of day where you get to be on the same level as your child. Enjoy it!

These aren’t the only ways of reading with a child, and different books and different children call for different styles. I know that I forget to do these things from time to time as well, and it’s ok if you do too. But I hope these tips will help you think about how you can read to your child more effectively, and ultimately that you will both enjoy reading even more than you already do with these ideas in mind.

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