Monday, May 21, 2018

"The executive falls deep into Steve's reality distortion field..."

Steve Jobs: Insanely Great

I had heard good reviews of a Steve Jobs biography (probably this one), so when I saw this graphic novel at the library I snagged it. Hadn't heard anything about it. It is a biography of Steve Jobs, and runs the full length of his life.

I feel like this book has both strengths and weaknesses.

Strengths: This book is both matter-of-fact and to the point. I feel like I know a lot more about Steve Jobs now. I appreciated that the book didn't moralize or draw conclusions from Jobs's life and experiences. The pacing is very well done -- we didn't spend a lot of time mired in details. Things move along nicely. And it brought up questions for me that I didn't know I had; it made me want to learn more about Jobs and his life.

Weaknesses: While I feel like I know a lot more about Jobs (and Apple), I don't feel like I know Steve Jobs better. "Jobs liked this, Jobs liked that, Jobs did this next..." My English teacher would have exhorted the author to Show, Don't Tell. In the end I feel less like I read a biography of Steve Jobs and more like someone else read the biography and told me about it. But, hey, I wasn't invested in his life enough to want to read a thick book about it, just a thin one. So, there you go.

The art: The art was really interesting. It's a very casual style and the sort of sketchy that makes me think "If this is all it takes, I could draw a graphic novel!" But upon looking closer I saw more detail and planning than originally greets the eye. The book is in black and white, and all hand-lettered. The panels are hand-drawn. This all contributes to a messy look, of which I can't help but think Jobs would not approve. Do I approve of it? Yes. Although I couldn't tell if Jobs was supposed to look like a wild maniac in one or two of the panels (He definitely was supposed to look like that in some of them, but there were a couple I found ambiguous.)

Overall, I recommend this book. I'm still thinking about it a couple of days after finishing. Benjamin (age 9) picked it up and read it. While it is shelved in the YA section of my library, the book didn't contain content I thought would disturb him. Do I think he picked up on everything? No. But he did ask me about the current price of Apple stock after reading it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Some Writer

Some Writer!: The Story of E. B. White

I'm enchanted! I just finished reading this book and it was lovely! The art was fascinating; the life of E. B. White was fascinating. I want to send this book to my friend Tara because she would love it. The book really highlights the simple life and the pleasures of days gone by.

This is a biography of famous children's author E. B. White. And it answered my most burning question: what does the E. B. stand for again? It talked about his name and how what he went by changed a bit as he grew up. But this book did so much more that that.

The book dug into all of the parts of White's life that were most interesting to me. How he grew up, how he became a writer, what he wrote besides the three children's books he is best known for, and some of the backstory on those books. I loved that the book showed (truly, with writing samples) that White was a writer from a young age. I loved the quotes from White that were sprinkled throughout, especially the quote about not trying to convince anyone of your love for chickens. I had to call my mom and read her that one. And I think that is part of the reason that she bought Some Writer. Mostly, I just loved looking at this book! Every page had either a fascinating piece of information or a beautiful little piece of art by Melissa Sweet and most pages had both in abundance.

I found this book inspiring. Here's how it inspired me: I want to go canoeing! I want to write poetry! I want to start a children's literary magazine. I want to learn more about E. B. White and more about Melissa Sweet, who authored this gem of a book.

Conversation with a librarian

My librarian: Are you doing the graphic novels again this year?
Me: Yeah, that's my plan.
My librarian nods, continuing to check out books to me.
Me: But that's not until October.
My librarian: Oh I know. I just have to prepare myself.
Me: laughing We're in this together, right?
My librarian: serious I won't plan a vacation during that time.

Librarians are the best.
Cybils season is the best.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Beginning to read!

Today I was tidying up the house, getting it ready for Jacob's lab group to come over for an end-of-semester lunch. Jubilee was home sick, but not too sick (just the worst sort of sick child to have at home, you know? But also the worst sort of sick child to have at school, which is why I didn't send her.) While I was putting something away, I saw our bag of BOB books, and pulled it out for Jubilee.

"Here are some great books for someone your age!" I told her. She turned five a few days ago, and has been showing signs of reading readiness*. I set the books in front of her, and as I continued to clean I helped her begin the series. But then I had to stop cleaning and take a video, because watching a child learn to read is so magical.

If you're not familiar with the BOB books, they're a paperback set of books that build upon each other and introduce new letter sounds and sight words in each book. They're terribly boring to read if you already know how to read, but if you are learning to sound words out they are just what you want. The set I have is incomplete, since I found it some years ago at a yard sale, but it has enough of the books that Jubilee read 5 or 6 of them in a row today.

The illustrations in the BOB books are "meh" for me. They get the job done (the job being, to give context clues so that the words can be sounded out properly, and to add some continuity to a story that must have very limited words). I like that they're sketched, black and white, and pretty timeless. I don't like that sometimes I think "What is going on there? Oh that's a hat!" or "Oh that's curly hair!" I appreciate that they do some things right, but part of me always itches to draw my own illustrations whenever my kids read the books.

*The signs of reading readiness Jubilee showed were 1. Holding books properly and turning through them to look at the pictures and words 2. Recognizing most letters and knowing most letter sounds 3. Asking me how to spell words when she was writing notes 4. Figuring out what one or two words were without my help, when we were out and about.

It is so fun to be beginning this new leg of the reading journey with Jubilee!

I caught Jubilee "reading" this book to Samuel.

Also of note: Hot Cross Buns!

Bitten by the bike bug!
Gotta love this girl

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Skinny on Game Night

Jacob and I go to a game night about once a month. Do you do a recurring game night? This one is organized by a friend of ours named Chad and originally it was just the guys, I think, but some of us wives like games too. So, it has been a mixed group for a while now.

This last month six people were in attendance, and we played two games. (At least, two games were played while Jacob and I were there. . . .We are usually among the first to leave when we both attend, since we have a babysitter on the clock!) The games were Codenames and Libertalia.

I've played Codenames a couple of times before with this group and it's fun. It's a good one to play at the start of a game night because it's a fairly short game. So, while you've got part of the group and are waiting for the rest of the people to show up, you can play Codenames. In it, you have a grid of a bunch of word cards, and two teams (you need at least 4 players, 6+ is better). Each team has their cluemaster and their guessers. The cluemaster for Codenames looks at a little map that shows which cards his team is supposed to guess, which cards the other team must guess and which cards cause no points or sudden death. Then you come up with clues! There's a little more to it, of course, but it's got the fun of Taboo and the fact that the opposing team might guess one of your cards and earn you a point is really interesting. Being the cluemaster is totally a nail-biting experience, especially if your guessers are chatting amongst themselves and headed in the wrong direction!

Libertalia is one I hadn't played before, but Jacob had. (He went to a previous game night without me, you see.) It is one of those board games with tons of pieces and a complex turn-taking sequence, like 7 Wonders. This group loves those kinds of games. In Libertalia you've got a pirate ship and you're ranking and out-ranking each other and splitting the booty and taking certain actions "morning," "noon," and "night." What I liked about it was that you needed to look and be able to plan a few "days"into the future, but not very many rounds ahead. I'm good at that middle ground, and came in a close second place. It's also a good game to jump into the middle of. I was helping the baby while the rest of the group played the first of three "weeks," but they just let me take Jacob's week 1 score and jump in for weeks 2 and 3.

We had a good time playing both of these games, and have talked about buying Libertalia. I think our kids are too young to successfully play Codenames with us, but I could really see the boys getting into Libertalia. At ages 7.5 and 9.5 they're enjoying Dominion and getting some of the strategy down pretty well.

photo credit to Jubilee, age 4

I'd love to hear what games you've been enjoying lately!

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: Book 1: The Mysterious Howling
by Maryrose Wood

Ages and ages ago, Ashley told me to read The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place. But I didn't. Then, last week when I went to the library I saw book one The Mysterious Howling on display and it looked like just the perfect thing to pick up. So I snagged it. I loved it.

I'd like to think this is the sort of book I would write, if I wrote a middle grade novel. It's a little silly, our main character has just graduated from The Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females. And it's very sweet, she is a thoughtful governess and loves her three new charges dearly. It has intrigue, but I don't find it particularly suspenseful. I knew at once what the "mysterious howling" must be. I still love it.

It reminded me of The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry, and that's a high compliment. I read the beginning of it to Jacob and it reminded him of Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett- another compliment.  I've put the second one on hold at the library; it looks like there are 5 in the series, and the final volume will be published this year. I heartily recommend this book to intelligent readers young and old.

Friday, April 20, 2018

How to Get Kids to Share

When my oldest son, Benjamin, was little, I realized it was up to me to teach this kid how to share. I had known this would be my responsibility long before the cutie ever visited a library story time or went to a play date, but it wasn't until then that I started to think deeply about it.

I noticed something about the way all of us moms were trying to teach our kids to share. It was awkward. Even more awkward was the interaction with other moms. Who is supposed to make their kid share in this particular situation?

Consider some scenarios: Benjamin would walk up to a kid and try to take his toy.  The kid wouldn't let go. Benjamin would step back and be thinking about what to do next. The other kid's mom would swoop in and say to her child, "Honey, you've got to share!" This other mom would wrestle the toy from her child and hand it to mine. Or she would attempt to take the toy, but not really follow through, then look at me and shrug, as if to ask me permission to let her kid keep playing. Or, she would not do anything. Then I'd wonder, "Am I supposed to be stepping in here?"

Also awkward was when I would notice a mom particularly zealous for sharing. Your kid wants something? My kid must share! My kid wants something? No, my kid must share! Observing this kind of mom I thought, "to your child sharing must mean they always lose."

All this awkwardness got me wondering, and thankfully that wondering worked out! As I watched sharing happen among adults I discovered two things. First, most of the time when we say "you need to share" what we mean is "you need to take turns." Second, to effectively take turns you have to follow a certain process: ask/respond, wait/finish up,  offer/receive. 

Taking Turns - The Process

Let's call the kid who wants something Kid #1 and the kid who has something Kid #2. Both children have a job to do at each of the three phases.


Kid #1: Our job as parents is to get our kids to ask for what they want in a nice way. Grabbing and hitting are ways to ask someone to share, but there are better ways. I focus on teaching kids to hold out their hand, and use a verbal ask. If the child is very young, I only expect them to hold out their hand. This cue works for any age and any culture. If you hold out your hand, it means I want you to give me that, anywhere you go. If the child is a little older, I prompt them to say "Can I have that?" If they're older still, I prompt them to say "May I please have that?'

Kid #2: Our job as parents is to get our kids to respond to the ask in a nice way. Yelling "NO!" and running away are ways to respond, but there are better ways. I focus on teaching kids to say either "Sure" or "Once I'm done." Sure means "Yes, I'll share this with you right away!" Once I'm done means "No, I'm not finished with this yet, but when I am I will give it to you." (Almost everything falls into one of these two categories, but I do talk about items we don't share at the end of this post.)

Wait/Finish Up

Kid #1: There is always a short waiting period between when you ask for something and when you receive it. Our job as the parent of the kid who wants something is to help them wait for their turn. This could mean distracting them with something else. This could mean setting a timer for them, so that they know when it will be appropriate to follow up.

Kid #2: If the child who has something isn't done with it, now it's time to finish up. Our job as the parent of this child is to do nothing. This can be quite difficult. But it's worth it, and I'll tell you why. If you watch and wait, you will avoid nagging. You will avoid accidentally teaching your child that sharing means losing the fight. Hang in there and be ready to help with the next step. Sometimes, it's a good idea to set a timer for your child to finish up, but try to use the timer sparingly. I've noticed that young kids often finish up a lot faster than a timer does, and the timer ends up being a distraction, maybe making them think they need to use up all their time when they're actually done with the toy already. Recognize when they're done, avoid tantrums


Kid #1: If the child with something is ready to share, this is usually a pretty smooth step, as simple as it sounds. Accept the item. However, sometimes the child isn't ready to share. In that case, it's time to take it back to step one: Ask/Respond. Stick that hand out and ask nicely once again.

Kid #2: Sometimes the child who wanted the toy has now lost interest. Our job as the parent of the child who has the toy is to help them offer the toy. This might mean holding the toy out to the other child. This might mean putting the toy in a safe place until the other child comes back. What we're trying to avoid is letting our child just drop the toy and move on to something else, without offering it to the child who asked. By helping our child offer the toy we avoid that terrible moment when he turns around, sees the other child playing with it and yells "I wasn't done!" We're also teaching our child respect for others.

Teaching It - In Real Time

That's a lot of talk about a pretty simple process! So how does it work in real time? It's most effective to teach in the moment and/or when you've set aside time to play/practice.

Here is a walk-through of how I now teach toddlers and preschoolers to take turns.

I see a child grab at something another child is holding. I go over to the child and kneel down so I am on their level. I ask them "Do you want that?" (Obviously they do, so I look for them to answer yes, but I don't wait too long.)

I say, "Hold out your hand, and say 'Can I have that'." (ASK) 
Then I turn to the child who has the object. I tell them "You can say 'Sure' or 'Once I'm done.'"  
I wait for a response.  
Often the child with the object will say "No."  
I then re-state what I said, and explain. "You can say 'Sure' or 'Once I'm done.' If you're still playing with it, say 'Once I'm done.'"  
Usually now the child will say "Once I'm done." If the child with the object pulls it close to his chest or turns away or something defensive, I look at both kids and say "That means, 'Once I'm done.' Can you say 'Once I'm done'?" (RESPOND) 
Then I watch and help the interaction finish smoothly.  
If the child has said "once I'm done" (which is usually the case), I wait with and help the child who wants a turn. We play a little something else for a minute. (WAIT/FINISH UP) 
When I see that the child with the object is done with it, I help that child give it to the one who is waiting. I often tell them to say "Here you go!" when they hand it over. (OFFER/RECEIVE)

You'll notice that it's often step one ASK/RESPOND where the most time is spent. That's okay, it's totally worth it to spend time there. Learning how to communicate is a top priority for teaching kids how to share! Even if the communication is non-verbal, communication is absolutely essential to sharing. 

If your child is having particular trouble or throwing fits when you try to teach sharing in the moment, take time to practice with some puppets or stuffed animals when it's just the two of you. Help the stuffies share with each other. Spend most of your time showing what good turn taking looks like, and then at the end mix it up with some stuffies that aren't very good at sharing.

The Words

Sure - Using the word "Sure" works really well because it doesn't have an opposite. So many times when you prompt a toddler, preschooler, or any person, to say "Yes," they say "No." Yes and No just go so well together! Let's not even bring them into the equation.

Once I'm Done - This is a simple promise, instead of a request (like "please wait" for instance). It is reassuring and undemanding. It works well.

When NOT to share

In my house, each child has one or two things they do not have to share with their siblings or friends. Usually the favorite stuffed animal or blanket is that sacred item. We say, "No, that's special to me." I've found that letting my kids say no to sharing a certain special item is actually super helpful to me as a parent. It helps me teach boundaries, and it gives me a phrase to use myself when they're getting into my special make-up bag.

Sometimes I've found myself saying to my kids, "Once I'm done..." and then, as I finish up with this item, I realize I really don't want to give it to them. At that point I'll explain, "I'm actually not going to give this to you now, because..."  or "I'm worried that if I give this to you this will happen..." Having that buffer of a few moments between the ask and the response really softens the blow. 

In Summary

If your child wants something from another child: Help your child ask. Help your child wait. Help your child ask again soon.

If your child has something another child wants: Ask your child to consider "Am I done with this right now, or will I be done, soon?" Help your child deliver.

My kids have drilled this method so much that when a sharing squabble arises, all I have to say is "Sure or once I'm done." Every now and then I have to re-teach, and that's normal. But especially now that they're getting older and they have this good foundation, sharing is pretty smooth sailing.

Remember, teach this, model it, reteach it. Use this when you're sharing or taking turns with your kids. Kids need practice and you can help them practice the right way.
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