Tag Archives: children’s books

The world that lives in me – and us.

Pippin once upon a time.

“I wish you many years — but not for them to be too happy, because happiness in the world isn’t really so healthy. When a man is too happy in this world, he forgets God and forgets death.” 

— Elder Paisios 

It is customary in the Orthodox Church to wish people “Many years!” or to sing the whole hymn, “God grant you many years…” (x3 of course) on any happy occasion such as an anniversary or birthday. Three birthdays of my children and grandchildren are coming up this week and next, so the quote is timely.

We visited our favorite apple ranch.

 

 

In the last ten days Soldier’s family and I did not think much about death, we were so happy together. Still, we didn’t forget God for long periods, because we know to Whom to be thankful. The children and their liveliness was the focus of our attention. When fear grips our hearts over what deathliness they will have to encounter in the future, we try to pray….

They departed yesterday, and I don’t know when I’ll see them again. Kate and Tom are in Panama, very securely quarantined there for their jobs, I’m afraid. I see their family on FaceTime. I don’t plan to visit Pearl in Wisconsin in the next months, because I already went there in fall and winter, and would like to experience that part of the country in a different season next time.

Pathfinder is in the middle of smoke; no one would want to go there unnecessarily. It’s kinda smoky where Pippin is, too, but I hope to go next week anyway, to be with Ivy for her birthday; I missed it last year.

Picking raspberries in Mr. and Mrs. Bread’s garden.

Pippin brought her three down last weekend to see their cousins.
The kids gathered around the Lego bin right away.

We went to the beach again,
a different one with lots of marine plants to identify.


The sky was not orange that time.

Turkish Towel on the right.
Grape Tongue kelp
Chain Bladder Kelp and Ostrich Plume Hydroid

One of those nights at bedtime Ivy asked me to fasten her nightgown in the back — the one I originally made for Aunt Kate decades ago — but only one of the three buttons could reach its buttonhole. Next morning we agreed that I would sew her a new nightgown, and we sat browsing flannel prints at my desktop; she started with the idea of a pink flowered nightie, but when she saw the cats, she changed her mind. I ordered the cat fabric.

“The Socialist saw plainly the rights of the Society; the Anarchist saw the rights of the Individual. How therefore were these

— Robert Hugh Benson

Liam found a California Sister butterfly (some might know it as “Arizona Sister”!) and when Ivy said, “Can I have it?” he let it crawl onto her hand.

“One should never direct people towards happiness, because happiness too is an idol of the marketplace.  One should direct them towards mutual affection. A beast gnawing at its prey can be happy too, but only human beings can feel affection for each other, and this is the highest achievement they can aspire to.”

— Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Also while six grandchildren were on the premises, four of them helped Soldier to stack a cord of oak firewood. I had on hand children’s gloves for such a time as this. Even four-year-old Brodie was a willing worker who did not tire easily; he lugged logs for quite a while before he even interrupted his flow to put shoes on.

My son shopped all over town with me, considering which wood stove I should buy to replace my current one that is dying. It was so helpful to have help in choosing such a big item. It’s scheduled to be installed before winter.

“The family is the test of freedom;
because the family is the only thing that the free man makes
for himself and by himself.”

— G.K. Chesterton

Recently I got the bright idea to do as my grandfather had done when I was in my teens: Once when we were visiting him he told us four children, of whom I was the oldest, that we might take home and keep any four books from his vast shelves. I still own my four books. My own shelves are loaded with titles that I know my grandchildren of various ages would enjoy, but they aren’t ever around long enough to think of perusing  the shelves.

Previously gifted.

So I told them the same this week, Please take as many as four books home with you. Two immediately wanted Socks for Supper.

The younger children who aren’t fluent readers needed some help to choose books that they didn’t already have at home, but in the end everyone took at least one. No one took four, which was interesting; maybe they aren’t developing their grandmother’s book gluttony. Does it surprise you that I just ordered replacements for two of the books they took?

Jamie’s pick.

Scout carried off dog stories by Albert Payson Terhune, and a cookbook. Liam took Finn Family Moomintroll, Rockinghorse Secret, and The Five Sisters, which I recently bought but hadn’t read. Laddie settled on The Pig in the Spigot, even though the illustrations are weird, we all agree.

“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”  -C.S. Lewis

One of the last jobs we worked on together was dehydrating a few of the apples that we’d bought at the farm. I cored them, two boys sliced, and one arranged the slices on the trays. The fruit dried all through the night and the rings were packed into bags to take on their journey home. Good-bye! Good-bye! and Godspeed!

“You can kiss your family and friends good-bye
and put miles between you,
but at the same time you carry them with you
in your heart, your mind, your stomach,
because you do not just live in a world
but a world lives in you.”

Frederick Buechner

In that book flies a bird.

The library is a pleasant walk away from Kate’s apartment, but maybe not on a day when it’s over 90 degrees and the library didn’t open until 1:00. So Kate drove the two of us while Raj was napping, and that way we could completely focus on finding the titles we really wanted, most of which we had researched together online the night before.

We were looking not for ourselves, but for a toddler. Kate’s eager to fill her child’s life with the most enriching books, nourishing not only because of the pictures or the text but also for how they provide an experience for the adult and child to share — and that they both enjoy. We’ve been talking about what makes a child love a book, and why we don’t like some of the traditional favorites. But even in cases where we can’t quite put our finger on what is “wrong” with a story or the illustrations, one reading to find out is more than enough time to give to it.

Today the bag of 14 books we brought home included 6-8 board books, including a few by Sandra Boynton and Byron Barton (Mi Carro); there were many sweet options in this category, so many that we had to narrow our choices by such considerations as, “Let’s not borrow this book I Hear, because listening to a book is not an experience of hearing the birds, rain, or wristwatch that are pictured; why don’t we talk about sounds when we are actually hearing them.”

One charming picture book with fold-out pages is Papa, please get the moon for me, by Eric Carle. It’s a whimsical tale in which the girl making the request does get her wish, and she even plays with the moon as soon as it gets small enough for her dad to bring it down the ladder. Raj seems to focus on the pictures of the moon in his story books, and I always love to return to the more poetic depictions of the moon when reading or singing to children.

A title that popped up on my screen was The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson, with pictures by Beth Krommes. It appealed to me right off, and the majority of reviews were positive, but some people said it was too dark and that several children had not liked it. As luck would have it, the small local branch had it available so I was able to see it for myself very quickly; now it’s my latest favorite picture book.

It has elements of Goodnight Moon, but the verse form of the traditional “This is the Key of the Kingdom.” And though it is about nighttime and there is little color on the pages, it is about light even more, somewhat in the way that the novel All the Light We Cannot See is radiant with love and hope.

The moon is shining in the sky when the scene opens, of a bed, where a violin and a book are lying. Only one line describes each scene.

In that book flies a bird.
In that bird breathes a song…
all about the starry dark.

Every week at Vespers we pray “Thou appointest the darkness and there is the night,” and it reminds me of how C.S. Lewis wanted to name his space trilogy something about Deep Heaven, because space sounds cold and unfriendly, whereas heaven is full of angels. God created the night and He is in it. This book seems to be about the sun (shining on the moon, even at night) and the electric lights in our houses, but when you come to the end and read about “a home full of light,” you realize that it is also about the human love and care — and that is only an overspilling of the love of the Holy Trinity — undergirding it through the night, making it the most restful place that is both safe and bright.

What’s blowin’ in the wind.

Rain, rain, rain! My biggest dodonaea or hopbush was blown over in the last storm. Alejandro came Saturday and Sunday to re-stake three of these bushes, just before this current storm arrived. I was so thankful to get them shored up before the next gale.

I stayed home all day today and did housework. Isn’t it fun, the way housework incorporates everything from book-mending to picture-hanging, laundry to cooking? I did all those things today, and more.

When I wanted to read a certain fairy tale to the grandchildren last week, I opened the anthology I grew up with, and the cover fell off – again. A decade or two ago I had duct-taped it together, and today I put everything back again with clear tape. Afterward I had to browse a few pages, of course, and wonder about how much of my philosophy of life and my ideas about various things might have been shaped by the words and pictures on those pages.

I’ve already written about “The Little Match Girl,” (eight years ago this month, I see!) but other fairy stories, poems and nursery rhymes had a big effect on me. The words generally impressed more than the pictures, as I developed the habit of devouring them greedily, not wanting to take time for the images. “Hickety, Pickety, My Black Hen” was the sole reason I kept black chickens when I was a grown-up lady, but I always envisioned straight black, not laced, feathers. I evidently ignored this drawing.

But – when I think of “Hansel and Gretel,” which I also loved, this is how those forsaken children look in my mind.

Some rhymes were so much fun they seemed to insinuate themselves into my consciousness without any effort:goops IMG_3158

 

In our family we were not coddled. I had little sympathy for the princess who was so thin-skinned and tender, but whose story I liked to read again and again, and to stare at the illustration, so simple and absurd:

Ah, “Over in the Meadow” —  This one, I’m not sure if I loved it as a child or only after singing it with my own children over the years. All the mothers and children in that rhythmic counting song make me feel cozy.

When I was leafing through these pages this morning I didn’t gravitate to the poems about rain and wind that are more in keeping with the season. We haven’t seen the sun for a couple of days, and are predicted to get six inches of rain before this three-day storm has passed! Right now the wind is howling and the rain clattering; this month has been an average of ten degrees colder than usual, too. I made a big pot of vegetable soup, and roasted another of my butternut squashes, and was grateful.

That’s the theme of the last page I am posting here, which was the first one I saw. It’s not one of the more familiar ones to me, looking at it, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it in the book, and it started me on my musings. Father in Heaven, we thank Thee!

A story, and thoughts for Advent.

The greatest pleasure and thrill of Christmas can’t be had without a little waiting, something like children of yore had to do, when their Christmas trees weren’t even ready for viewing until Christmas Day.

Seven years ago Pom Pom hosted a Childlike Christmas (blog) Party, a party to which we were invited to show up via our blogs four times during December. This year she hopes we will join her every day during December, but this time it’s a more general theme: Advent Blogging. Maybe it is the child in me that is once again saying, in spite of the much greater challenge, “Sure! No problem!” I am updating this post from back then as I join in seven-years-later, partly because I wanted to retain a quote from Pom Pom’s 2011 party announcement:

“Yesterday I asked my students, ‘Why the big greed festival over the holidays? Aren’t we fine right now? Don’t we have enough?’ …Here at Pom Pom’s Ponderings, we are going to think about the simple pleasures of the holidays, the childlike wonder that doesn’t involve the ka-ching ka-ching of the cash register….four holiday Wednesdays of posts that attend to the simple childlike thrills of Christmas. ….that babe in a manger and the children He loves and cherishes.”

The babe in the manger is, of course, the One whose Advent we are anticipating, but I feel the topical field to be pretty wide open. I will be writing about whatever I am doing and thinking during this season, knowing that He is the life and breath of me and everything.

The modern world likes to jump into Christmas immediately after Halloween or Thanksgiving, but the more traditional way to celebrate involves some Anticipation and Preparation. Children might think of it as Waiting and Getting Ready. Some of us have been in Advent, which we call the Nativity Fast, since November 15th.

I’m not experienced in helping children to forgo the treats that are pressed upon them in every shop and neighbor’s house at this time of year, but even before I found the Church and its traditions I tried to keep the family thinking ahead to a special Holy Day, and not just because of the presents.

We need some weeks to sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel!” and for it to register in our minds that God’s people had to wait many generations and thousands of years for the coming of the Savior. A little bit of suffering in the form of doing without the usual quantity of food, or rich foods (in the Orthodox Church we eat less, and almost vegan, when fasting) can make it more real for us that the world before Christ was suffering under the curse of sin. We feel our own weakness, too, when eating less, and that can soften our hearts.

Why the photo of Holy Trinity Cathedral above? My church and sister churches sponsor Advent retreats every year, usually a day or half a day when we can hear a lecture and attend services together to help us focus on the coming feast in a fruitful way. One year I attended one at Holy Trinity and took the picture.

A children’s book that might contribute to a child’s understanding of time, and the processes that are necessary preliminaries to accomplishing a goal, in particular a few points on the timeline of our salvation history, is The Tale of Three Trees, “a traditional folktale retold by Angela Elwell Hunt with illustrations by Tim Jonke.”

Three small trees stand on a hilltop and dream about what they might do when they are grown. One wants to be a treasure chest, one a sailing ship that carries kings, and one just wants to stay where it is and point to God.

It takes many years for them to get big enough to be cut for lumber and fashioned into items that play a part in the earthly life of our Lord. The first tree is made into a manger — and this first creation of wood that the Christ Child came in contact with establishes the story as one for Christmas.

All the trees feel initial disappointment and humiliation, none more so than the one that is made into a rude cross and used for violent purposes: “She felt ugly and harsh and cruel.” But in the end all of the trees realize the blessedness of being used for the glory of God, and the young reader is reminded of the reason a Baby was born at Bethlehem.

Even our Lord Jesus went through a period of preparation, growing up as a man for 30 years before He began His ministry, but He surely wasn’t idle during that time. As we wait for Christmas we can prepare our hearts by prayer and fasting and acts of love.

Those of us with families are blessed to have many possibilities under what might be the Acts of Love category. (They might even include some noise of cash registers, but I won’t say any more about that at this party.) I know I typically have things like cookie-baking, doll-clothes-sewing, decorating and menu-planning and making up beds on my list.

The truth is, I’m not very good at being child-like before Christmas. I feel so many responsibilities that children don’t have to concern themselves with, and I get pretty busy with all the fun type of preparations, not to mention all of the usual work that doesn’t stop.

Somehow, though, all of that, when combined with participation in the church traditions and services, adds up to make me feel some of the longing and the weakness that are appropriate right now.

It’s hard to juggle everything, including trips to the post office or the extra shopping and chores, with the quietness we long for. Maybe that tale of the trees has a meaning even for me as a grownup, about being used for His purposes, and finding comfort and courage in that, even when things are crazy with hammers and saws, blood and humiliation.

One thing more about children: Their feeling about Christmas, as I have heard, but can’t quite remember, is that it takes forever to get here! For me, it comes on like a bullet train. Will I even be able to notice each day before it is gone, long enough to post something? In any case, as Metropolitan Anthony says,

“…if the time ahead has a meaning that is necessary for us, it is inevitably coming towards us at a sure and regular pace, sometimes more quickly than we could run to meet it.”

Sometimes more quickly? I just got a funny picture in my head of the children running out ahead to meet Christmas, and us adults dragging them back by their sleeves with one hand, while we try to write the last batch of Christmas cards (or today’s blog post) with the other. Here’s an idea: Let’s all stop, and sit by the fire to read another Christmas story!