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Reminder: Our Blog Has Moved!

December 13, 2012

Hello everyone,

I just wanted to remind anyone who is still visiting this blog that we’ve begun publishing all new content at our new website: clifonline.org. You can find the blog here.

Please join us and join in the conversation about reading aloud with children, book recommendations, funny stories about parenting, and the important work CLiF does in New Hampshire and Vermont.

Warm wishes to you all,

Matt Bushlow
Communications Director
CLiF

Please Visit Our Blog at Our New Home!

November 14, 2012

Hello everyone! All of us here at CLiF appreciate you following us and encouraging us over the past several months as we’ve tried our hand at writing about the world of the Children’s Literacy Foundation and the children in our lives.

After several months of work, CLiF has a new home online at clifonline.org. That’s where you’ll find our blog, including a few new posts!

Please join us! We would love to see you there.

And let me know if you have any questions. I’m here to help.

Sincerely,

Matt

Halloween Aftermath

November 1, 2012

By Karen Ruben

Halloween Eve 9:00 p.m.

I can’t imagine how this is possible. My sugar-hyped children have fallen asleep. Thank God.

I look around the house. Some dishes from dinner are still on the counter; we barely gobbled it down before heading out to Trick or Treat.

The table is covered in neatly sorted piles of peanut butter cups, Smarties, and Mike and Ike’s, all set out and ready for the breakfast rush.

The couch and living room are strewn with costume parts and candy wrappers.

I am wearing a red union suit, the base layer of one ridiculous clown costume. Plus, I can’t quite get the red lipstick hearts off of my cheeks. Will anyone miss this package of Twizzlers?

And I have a blog article to write. Something to do with literacy.

I push the costume parts aside and pull my computer onto my lap.

Usually, by the time I sit down to write, I have a whole post all worked out in my head. But this week, it was all I could do to get through today.

Halloween Eve 10:00 p.m.

The sugar pulsing through my brain has rendered me numb. All I can think about is how grateful I am for the public education system, which will take my exhausted but candy-fueled children off of my hands tomorrow.

I love school.

Halloween Eve 10:45 p.m.

I have sucessfully removed all of the dark chocolate from the kids’ stash and squirreled it away where only I can find it.

Halloween Eve 11:00 p.m.

Post-sugar low. A few blog post ideas considered and rejected. Halloween makes me dumb. Must…go…to…sleep.

The Day After Halloween 8:30 a.m.

They’re gone. I can’t believe it. They are finally gone.

The first word out of my six-year-old’s mouth this morning (repeated 27 times) was, “CANDY!!”

I love school.

Plus, I spilled my coffee tripping over my very own clown shoes that I left in the middle of the living room last night.

If the kids are affected the same way I am, then good luck teachers.

It looks like our nation’s children will be taking a day off from learning. I hope it doesn’t set them back as much as summer.

The Day After Halloween 8:45 a.m. 

A little more coffee and a Reese’s and I think I’m ready to wrap this up…

Conclusion: Halloween and education are not friends.

Frankly, I don’t know why we allow it.

Oh yeah. I remember.

After the daily grind of whole foods, homework, and responsibility a once-annual candy carnage is really fun!

Even if it does make us dumb. Temporarily.

All Hallows READ

October 31, 2012
tags:

By Julia Rogers

If you’re anything like me, you’ll be spending this Halloween curled up with a scary book as you wait to chase hooligans off the supposedly-haunted bridge across from your property.  But even if you’re not like me, you should still consider spending this cloudy, drizzly, decidedly creepy time of year reading an appropriately eerie book with your little monsters.

Consider this new campaign from author Neil Gaiman – All Hallows Read.  Neil advises in addition to giving candy this time of year, you should also give books.  Scary ones.  He makes it easy for us all by provide a trove of booklists on his website.  You can also watch the video below, in which he make a compelling argument for sharing books this time of year (while presumably ignoring the grisly crime going on behind him…).

Courtesy of Harper Collins and All Hallows Read, here is an excellent booklist of spine-chilling reads for ghouls of all ages:

For pre-schoolers:

  • Ten Little Pumpkins, by Dan Yaccarino
  • 13 Nights of Halloween by Guy Vasilovich
  • The Dangerous Alphabet by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Gris Grimly
  • Vampire Boy’s Good Night, words and pictures by Lisa Brown

For K-3 / 5-8 year olds:

  • Dear Vampa by Ross Collins
  • Trick or Treat, Smell My Feet by Diane DeGroat
  • Halloween Night by Marjorie Dennis Murray & Brandon Dorman
  • The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything, by Linda Williams
  • The Dangerous Alphabet by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Gris Grimly
  • The Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman

For Grades 3-6 / 8-12 year olds:

  • The Spindlers by Lauren Oliver
  • Always October by Bruce Coville
  • Gravediggers: Mountain of Bones by Christopher Krovatin
  • The Headless Horseman Rides Tonight by Jack Prelutsky & Arnold Lobel
  • Half-Minute Horrors, edited by Susan Rich
  • Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, collected by Alvin Schwartz, with new illustrations by Brett Helquist
  • Zombie Chasers, by John Kloepfer, with illustrations by Steve Wolfhard
  • Scary School, by R.L. Stine
  • Coraline by Neil Gaiman
  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

For teens:

  • Carnival of Souls by Melissa Marr
  • Don’t Turn Around by Michelle Gagnon
  • The Turning by Francine Prose
  • The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann
  • Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin
  • Possess by Gretchen McNeil
  • Coraline by Neil Gaiman
  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
  • The Last Apprentice series by Joseph Delaney
  • Dark Eden, Patrick Carman
  • Shadowcry by Jenna Burtenshaw
  • Fat Vampire by Adam Rex
  • Wicked Girls by Stephanie Hemphill
  • Teeth, edited by Ellen Datlow & Terry Windling, with contributions from Cassandra Clare & Holly Black, Neil Gaiman, and Melissa Marr

Happy Halloween!  May it be spectacularly spooky!

A Classic Book to Calm the Chicken Herder (a.k.a. Mom)

October 26, 2012

My kids and their friends (the chickens) in my backyard today

By Karen Ruben

Do you see these beautiful children?  Oh, they are a handful!

I love them so much, but at the end of a long day of chicken herding, I am worn out!  Like chickens, they all seem to be going in different directions at the same time. And just when you think you have got everybody rounded up one of them is falling down the climbing wall in a laundry basket. (What? Oh, don’t ask.)

In between breaking up fights, encouraging kindness, bandaging rope burn (from the laundry basket incident), and laughing at knock-knock jokes, I feel I should also try to keep the house from becoming rancid, provide fresh healthy meals, check the batteries in the fire alarm, volunteer at school, de-clutter my home, walk off five pounds, and make Halloween-themed cake pops (those last three invaded my head while I waited patiently in the check out line at the grocery store).

Oh. And then beat myself up a little bit for being slightly overwhelmed.

Sometimes I get the feeling that this is something that our generation is doing to ourselves.  This feeling is exacerbated by some women of my mom’s generation (not naming any names, Mom) who tend to imply that when they were at this stage in their lives they had everything well in hand. They were as cool as cucumbers.

When I hear this, I think, “Really?” Oh, what am I doing wrong?

But not anymore! I just rediscovered the BEST writing on family and parenting ever!! And, even better, the author is a contemporary of my mother’s. It goes to show that parents in the seventies were not as cool as cucumbers: they only remember it that way now that their kids are all out of the house and they are re-accustomed to the calm. So much so that they can’t remember the storm.

Thank you Erma Bombeck for showing up in my life today!

Thank you for reminding me that the highs and lows of parenting – the joy, laughter, frustration, mess and heartbreak – are all natural and normal, and timeless.

Thank you for reminding me that my generation is a part of a long line of parents doing their best and making some mistakes along the way.

And thank you for making me laugh at the whole thing. It’s like a balm on my busy soul.

And then, because you are a much better writer than me, I will let you take it from here.

From Family – The Ties That Bind…And Gag (1988)

The family. We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another’s desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together.” 

From Aunt Erma’s Cope Book (1979)

At Halloween I just put brown grocery bags over the kids’ heads, cut two eyes in them, and told them to tell everyone their mother was having surgery.

From “Birds, Bees, and Guppies” (1966)

If it hadn’t been for neighbors, I’d have flunked my ink blot tests years ago!

From “A Mother’s Eye” (1968)

THE LOOK OF DEATH: This is used on a child with a busy finger up his nose. (It is similar to the Frozen Stare usually employed to catch a waiter’s eye, but is somewhat different.) It’s a steady gaze, unflinching and unyielding. The brow is furrowed, the lips are firm with no trace of a smile. The face remains in a hypnotic state until the finger is removed from the nose.

From “Motherhood – Love and Laughter” (1974)

I began to think about motherhood. There seemed to be several avenues open to me: a) take myself seriously and end up drinking gin right after the school bus left; b) take the children seriously and end up drinking gin BEFORE the school bus left; c) admit to the fear and frustration and have a good time with it.

From “Favorite Child” (1981)

All mothers have their favorite child. It is always the same one, the one who needs you at the moment for whatever reason – to cling to, to shout at, to hurt, to hug, to flatter, to reverse charges to, to unload on, to use – but mostly, to be there.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Erma, she was a humorist and syndicated columnist who wrote from 1965 to her death in 1996. In between she generated some of the funniest and wisest articles about family to be found anywhere. She has many books, but I recommend Forever Erma which is a collection of her columns published after her death. Each column is short enough to read in between band aids and knock knocks and meaningful enough to be worth your while.

A Born Reader – With Mom’s Help

October 24, 2012

Suzanne Loring’s mother and Suzanne’s son, Tucker.

By Suzanne Loring

I was quite a skilled eavesdropper by the time I was 13. You see, growing up in my house meant that each night before bed a story was told to each child in his or her own bedroom. It was a special time alone for each child with my mother at the helm of a book.

Unbeknownst to my younger brother I used to sit in my bedroom doorway, well before my bedtime, and listen to his stories being read to him by my mom. It was in this doorway that I took my first and only wild ride in a giant, magical peach, and then traveled through a magical wardrobe and was introduced to the White Witch.

Even though sitting in the doorway was magical, I couldn’t wait until it was my turn and my mother would read my story to me. With an open book and a voice as her only tools, my mother would transform my room into Orchard House in Concord, MA during the 1800s and the wonderful attic where my inspiration, Jo March, would write short stories.

Or sometimes we found ourselves deep in the Ozark Mountains where the fate of two Redbone Coonhounds, Old Dan and Little Ann, changed my perspective on reading forever. This was the first time I cried when reading a book.

Little Women and Where the Red Fern Grows are but a small sampling of the journeys my mother and I took together and talked about. She read to me from before I can remember until I was 12 or 13 years old. I know that sounds crazy because what 13-year-old wants anything to do with their parents much less having them sit in their room for an extended period of time reading stories out loud? But, I did.

I didn’t care how old I was when I was running around on the farm with Laura Ingalls, or having adventures with Ratty, Toad and Mole, or reading about Charlotte and her special pig. I looked forward to bedtime and reading with my mother.

These days I have my own family and each night after brushing teeth, each of my boys, Tucker and Max, ages three and one, pick a book off the bookshelf and prepare for a story, each in his own room, each given his own special story time. This is one of my favorite parts of the day.

My boys, snuggled in bed, or on my lap, listening and pointing and asking questions that I never thought they would even be thinking about. It does appear however, that my three-year-old has received my eavesdropping gene as he is often seen slinking around his brother’s bedroom door as I read Max’s tale.

Reading is a wonderful way for me to get to know my children: what they like and dislike, what scares them, and what they are interested in. “I want to do that when I grow up,” said while picture of a fireman. Or, “Mommy, I don’t like this book, let’s read something else,” said when the main character is a monster under the bed.

It’s important to me that we are carrying on a family tradition and having a lot of good conversations and fun together, with books, every night before bed. Even though I am well past the age of being read aloud to, my mother and I still have a wonderful relationship that revolves around the written word. We still share what we are currently reading and recommend or exchange at least one or two books each time we see other.

And I wonder, was I born a reader, or did my mother make me one?

Roald Dahl in the Fall

October 19, 2012

By Karen Ruben

Sure, there are those beautiful fall days with high, clear blue skies that set off the colors of the trees and just make your heart sing.

Roald Dahl would be wasted on those days.

And anyway, if we have any of those days left, PUT YOUR BOOKS DOWN AND GO OUTSIDE!

When I mention Roald Dahl in the fall, I am talking about the days when the dry leaves swirl up into the air and the wind whistles at the windows. When darkness comes much earlier than you hoped and a chill gets in your bones. If you feel the impending sense of doom that is the coming of winter, that is the time to pull out Roald Dahl.

Roald Dahl is the master of the dark and disturbing. His stories for children (and their parents) combine an amazing sense of humor – think Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – and an uncanny knack for facing childhood fears head on.

He is quirky, creepy, silly, scary, wry, righteous, and at all times, brilliant.

Just perfect for this time of year.

Today, dark clouds hung overhead all day. It was so gloomy. A perfect day for Matilda. Matilda battles gloom with a perky goodness that belies her situation as she contends with Ms. Trunchbull, the evil headmistress of Crunchem Hall School. There is nothing like a brave heroine in a truly terrible situation. The gloom outside helps heighten the mood, and then the book itself raises your spirits and leaves you cheering. I could have used a spot of that today!

If the weather turns truly horrible, I mean stormy, gusty, really dark, I intend to drop what I am doing and read Witches. Witches can be soooo scary… and fun.  Dahl lets you know right off, “This is not a fairy tale.”

This is the story of a boy, who fears witches above all else, and finds himself on vacation in the middle of a WITCH CONVENTION!!! And the witches, they are not clichés of witches, they are nasty, creepy, hateful beings disguised as average, ordinary women. “That is why they are so hard to catch!”

If I am lucky, thunder and lightning will boom overhead and I won’t be able to put it down.

A slightly less scary story is James and the Giant PeachThis story of the boy who escapes from his evil aunts, Spiker and Sponge, is filled with good friends and funny personalities. But there are some terrifying mishaps along the way, and, of course, the constant sense of foreboding surrounding the reappearance of the aunts. It’s still Roald Dahl, after all.

Dahl has a knack for creating child heroines that you love with tenderness; orphans, the lonely, the neglected, and the scared. He pairs them up with someone they (and you) can trust, and then challenges them to overcome their fears. Though the antagonists are certainly creepy, imposing and always absurd, you can rest assured that good will prevail, and a child will find his true strength in the process.

Of course, Dahl doesn’t need any help setting the mood. He is an expert at foreboding, after all. But if you read him on these darkening days of fall you meet him half way  and its all the more fun.

Happy reading!

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