What is it about underpants?


I’ve been reluctant to admit that I am raising a reluctant reader.  At two months old, my kid was bapping the pages of board books to turn them faster than I could read.  Look at that, I thought smugly… So clever! As a kindergartener, he would follow along when his older sister poured over early readers, and blurt out words if she stopped to sound them out.  I’d look over at my husband and arch my eyebrows as if to say, Pretty good, eh?  

As he advanced in grades, reading remained a strength.  I thought that “getting my boy to read”  was one of those battles I wouldn’t have to fight.  I made the mistake of assuming that because he was able to read, he would want to read whatever I got for him from the library, book store, community book sale, you name it.  So many great books!  Hey, MANIAC MAGEE by Jerry Spinelli, he’ll love that!  Oooh…TREASURE ISLAND, what boy could resist?

"No thanks"

“No thanks”

But time and again, my son would look at the cover of a book, read the first paragraph, then shrug his shoulders and pass the book back to me, saying, “no thanks.”  The latest blow came after I’d made a special trip to a fantastic indie bookstore.  Carefully, I selected Gary Paulsen’s HATCHET.  Cool title.  Invokes violence.  He’ll bite.  

“No thanks.”

A week after that I was at a big box store and saw a stout volume of the first three books (Super Burp, Trouble Magnet, and World’s Worst Wedgie) in the George Brown, Class Clown series by Nancy Krulik.  Nearby was book #7 in the series: the picture on the front was of a boy in underpants, of the tighty-whitey variety.  My son had loved that other famous Captain of the unmentionables, so I sighed and put the collection of the first three stories in my loaded cart.  It just wasn’t what would pick.

That night I handed it to him the way you would hand a banana to a hungry ape.  Hoping it will satisfy.  He checked out the cover, and nodded seriously.  He opened the front page and read one, two, three, paragraphs.  He looked up at me, and clutching the book to his chest, said, “YES.  This is the perfect book.  This is the kind of book you should be getting me.”

"Yes please"

“Yes please”

I hadn’t even realized I how harshly I was judging the underpants, diaries, and other graphic novels he gravitated to.  There is a place for stories that simply seek to be silly and fun.  And apparently one of those places is on my son’s nightstand. I had to just get over myself and my vision of what were the right books. The right book, it turns out, is any one that makes a kid run up to his room after school so he can get back to the story.

I have to remind myself that maturity level and style of humor have a lot to do with what works right now.  I haven’t given up on to Treasure Island, Maniac Magee, or Jerry Spinelli.  But for the time being, here are some that have worked for us:

1) George Brown, Class Clown (Series by Nancy Krulik) “Mom, did you know a lady wrote this?”  Yes, and I thank her!

2) Captain Underpants (Series by Dav Pilkey) “I love letting the funny seep into me.”

3) Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Series by Jeff Kinney) The “Do-It-Yourself” books in this series have the added benefit of encouraging creative writing.

4) Horrible Harry (Series by Suzy Kline)

5) The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, Darth Paper Strikes Back, and The Secret of the Fortune Wookie, all by Tom Angleberger.  Bonus side effect of son taking an interest in origami.  (At least when the end result is a Star Wars character).

There are many other fantastic graphic novels out there that are kid favorites.  If you have suggestions that have worked for the reluctant reader in your life, I’d love to hear them!


Feelin’ and Spreadin’ the Love


Happy Valentine’s Day!  Did you know it’s also International Book Giving Day?  IBGD is a “volunteer initiative aimed at increasing children’s access to and enthusiasm for books.”  What’s better than sharing book love?

The initiative suggests spreadin’ the love in one of these three ways:

1. Give a Book to a Friend or Relative.
2. Leave a Book in a Waiting Room or Lobby.
3. Donate a Book.  
There are so many good programs working to get books into the hands of kids who would otherwise not have access to them, including:
As for me, I’ll be leaving a fresh copy of BOY + BOT by Ame Dyckman (illustrated by Dan Yaccarino) in a local pediatrician’s office.
My favorite part of this book is when Bot finds Boy sleeping, and he thinks Boy is sick.  He takes the boy home where he gives him oil, reads him an instruction manual, and tries to change his battery.  I think kids headed into a check-up at the doctor’s will get a kick out of this.
The International Book Giving Day’s website has a lot of other great ideas for giving.   They also have fun bookplates, some designed by big names in the biz, which you can download for free.  I chose one by Debbie Ridpath Ohi, (illustrator of the new picture book, I’M BORED!):
I’m all for flowers and chocolate, but if my husband gave me a bouquet of a dozen books, that would be an amazing valentine!  Hope you all get to share and feel some love today.

Sentimental Sucker!

There is a television commercial from the mid-80s for Folgers Coffee that still runs (now in an updated form) around the holidays.  The scene opens in the morning, with a college-aged guy entering a quiet home.  The youngest family member wakes up, and after a happy hug, the two of them head to the kitchen to brew coffee.  Steam lifts through the sun rays that pour through the window.  Mom and Dad and older sis smell the coffee and come downstairs…only to be overwhelmed by emotion when they see… “Peter!!”

It gets me every time.  Every.  Single.  Time.  I get all verklempt and the tears come, because Peter is home for Christmas, and they just weren’t expecting him.  But after 20 years, shouldn’t I be expecting him?  Why does this TV commercial still make me cry?

It’s because I want it to.  I am a sucker when it comes to being entertained.  Give me a good sob story, and I’m hooked.  Even when I know I’m going to be a mess, I read or watch on.  The dialogue in my head goes something like: “this is going to be really, really sad.  I should turn this off.  I should stop reading this.  I’m going to be so sad!  I’m going to cry.  Really, I need to put this book down!”  But I persist.

Some authors are particularly good at reeling me in (my first sob-out-loud read was THE BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA by Katherine Paterson).  I’ll never forget how heartbroken I felt.  What power storytellers have!

One of my recent favorite authors in the “I am going to make you do the ugly cry” category is John Green.  I know I am a bit late to the “I love John Green” party, but maybe you are too.   He is a talented author of young adult fiction.  I decided to read THE FAULT IN OUR STARS after seeing it on numerous award lists.


Well, from the first scene, you know you are going to be sad.  I mean, the book starts at a support group for kids with cancer.  It’s not like the author is trying to be sneaky; you know where this is going, right?  But you read on.  Knowing it will be painful and tear-filled, he reels you in with his delightful way with words and characters you want invite over for dinner.

Many writers say it’s hard to know how to react when people say things like, “I loved your book!  It made me bawl my eyes out.”  Ummm…sorry?  The truth is, those writers should feel free to say thanks, because deep down we want them to break out hearts.

Whether I know what’s coming or it’s a complete surprise, get me crying and I’ll love you for it.

And because I know you too, dear reader, will fall for it, click here to have Peter come into your home:

Folgers Peter Commercial.

You’re welcome!