Happy summer everyone!
This year I am celebrating my first summer without the task of changing diapers in a DECADE!! Which means there is actually a little daylight to sit down and read without stopping to clean up someone’s digested food waste. It’s so beautiful and wonderful, that to revel in the joy (and also because getting boys interested in reading is an uphill battle,) I’m adding a semi-regular feature to the blog, called “What’s in the Library Bag.”
I honestly cannot believe that the library is still a thing. Not only can you go in and borrow books AND movies AND music AND other media for FREE, but on top of that, they’re always giving you stuff just for showing up. Free educational programming for the kids, prizes for summer reading, prizes for winter reading, raffles, coupons, wi-fi, etc. Even in our small town, I’m amazed at the depth of their offerings. And these days, you don’t even have to show up to check out books! You can check them out on the Overdrive app, and download them to Kindle for free. It feels like a scam, like there is some kind of copyright law being violated, but I’ve been assured it’s not.
Libraries are our evidence that man is not entirely selfish and evil, that we still have altruistic tendencies woven into the fabric of society. Since the state of world affairs has been so depressing lately, if you haven’t stopped by your local branch to experience this goodness, I urge you to do so. You will be instantly renewed by the hope of possibility, and by the efforts of the programming to create equal opportunity for all.
Anyways, thanks to a great summer reading program and a load of free time, everyone here has been having such a good time with their books that we thought we’d share. We try to keep all of our books in the the same large reusable shopping bag so they don’t get mixed in with our own collection, and it is now endearingly known as ‘the library bag’. It doesn’t always work, we often misplace or forget something, but I have made peace with our overdue fines by considering it non-dedcutible, charitable giving. For this first edition, the kids and I picked out all our favorites (I’ve referred to each kid by their age,) and this is what we came up with…
Read Aloud Revival: For those who don’t know, this is the practice of reading chapter books, slightly above your own kids reading level, to them out loud. I guess the parenting movement to do this is called a revival because it feels like pre-industrial days, when a family would be lucky to have one book, and would read it aloud together. I usually read this book as the kids are getting into bed, after picture books, potty trips and prayers. I also cheat slightly, if I can, by checking out the audiobook version so we can listen to it in the car and get through the longer stories faster. Reading chapter books aloud has the dual benefit of lulling the littles off to dreamland (either in bed or the car), while getting the bigger boys to expand their literary horizons, and mostly everyone seems to enjoy it.
We stopped to read several books in between, and read a few of these books twice, but after two years on and off, we finally finished the “Chronicles of Narnia!” I feel like it warrants some sort of a party, although since they haven’t read the book of Revelations yet, or know much about end of the world prophecies, most of The Last Battle was extremely confusing for them. Despite the confusion they begged for another chapter every night, and by the end, even the two year old was bringing me the book saying, “Narnia!”
I’m a bit lost as to what to read next, I hate reading books in a series because I get so wrapped up in them, I don’t know what to do with my life once they’re over. We started Old Yeller last year, but put it down because our own dog was dying and it was too sad. Seven asked about it recently though, so we may pick that one up again soon.
Elementary Lit: I’m categorically not fond of the books my older boys pick out. I’m coming around on the “Captain Underpants” series because it interested them not only in reading, but also in writing chapter books and in drawing, and truthfully they are pretty funny. Their second favorite is anything “Goosebumps,” which is painfully awful, but I remember loving R.L. Stine as a kid, so I try not to be judgy about it. If they can’t find one of those they’ll pick “Diary Of a Wimpy Kid.” The series has redeeming moments, but (in my opinion) mostly reads like Calliou going through puberty, “Whine, whine, whine. Funny part, life lesson. More whining. The end.” In book choice, as with so many other boy things, they just think so differently from my female brain. If I push my dismay onto them about how they only want to read scary books, or poopy books, or worse, scary poop books, I will probably only succeed in damaging their will to read. I try to mute my horror by politely asking them to try and pick out one new or random book that looks interesting each month. I don’t force them to read it, I just want it in the bag in the off chance that when they’re really bored, some actual literature might spark their interest. In that pile, they did find a few interesting books this month…
Nine’s pick of the month: Fuzzy by Tom Angleberger. My bigs loved the, “Origami Yoda” series so much, that now both of them always check the ‘A’ section of the library to see what other Angleberger book they’ve acquired. Fuzzy is a futuristic book about a robot that is being integrated into society as a middle school student. This particular robot is a big deal because he’s prototype of a new model that’s able to use Fuzzy Logic, hence his name and the books title. As he befriends a student and creates code to help her, he also becomes mortal enemies with the schools virtual Vice-Principal Barbara, who is something like a cross between Big Brother and HAL. In classic Angleberger style, it appeals because of his ability to empathize with misunderstood kids, and because the plot twists like a rollercoaster. Also my kids are obsessed with all things robot, and most robot lovers will probably enjoy the story. The bonus for grown-ups is that he weaves in references to old futuristic favorites, like I, Robot and 1984, and to great sci-fi themes which question the morality behind progress. Also, as in the “Origami Yoda” series, he continues his commentary on modern education, showing disdain for our constant testing, and standards based learning. As a homeschooler who keeps her kids home mostly for these reasons, I love that he is subtly supporting my argument against public education, but parents with kids in school might not appreciate the questioning of the system quite as much. Regardless, the story has great characters and suspense, and your kids will love it. Nine liked it and quoted it so much the other kids wanted to find out what was happening, so now we’re all reading this one.
Nine did also re-read the entire “Captain Underpants,” saga, again, after watching the movie. His opinion on that is that epic novel #10, The Revolting Revenge of the Radioactive Robo-Boxers is the highlight of that series. But as the author, Dav Pilkey, often says, ‘Before I tell you that story, I have to tell you this one….’
Seven’s pick of the month: Give Yourself Goosebumps: Little Comic Shop of Horrors I can’t say that this book is anything close to literary masterpiece. It’s R.L. Stine’s version of a Choose Your Own Adventure type of book. He’s completely uninterested in regular ‘Choose Your Own Adventure,’ but Seven, squirrelly as he is, sat in the chair and read this book for hours. Literally, hours. And Stine should probably get a literary award just for that.
His second, but better pick, was a fantastic picture book called Cowboy and Octopus by John Sciezska. Sciezska is so funny, and when you’re trying to get boys like mine interested in reading, humor is one of the top things I look for in a book. There is no plot to this book, each page is a new interaction between these two polar opposite friends, but I haven’t seen him laugh so hard while reading a book since The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak. Despite the lack of plot, it does have value in promoting a friendship between two characters that have in nothing in common, which is not a lesson you find in the world these days. There’s misunderstanding and cultural difference in every scenario, but still they forgive, make concessions and laugh about everything. If it takes talking about, “things horses drop behind them” for my boys to witness a friendship like this, then I’m completely fine with that. The pictures are engaging, fashioned from cutouts of old fashioned news print and paper dolls, but the real charm for everyone here was the humor.
PreSchool Picture Books: I love reading bedtime stories, especially to my littles. It’s such a healing moment that helps us remember we do love each other, despite acting like ogres during the rest of their bedtime routine. Their stories can get repetitive quickly though, and often they leave you puzzled, like in “Despicable Me,” when Gru, holds up the unicorn book and says, “This is Literature?!?” I’m as grateful that the library demands their books be returned, as I am for their large selection, because without either this bedtime tradition would’ve failed long ago. To keep it fun I ask each kid to pick out at least two or three books for bedtime each week, and then I throw in at least four or five more as a sanity buffer.
Five’s pick: Tugboat Bill and the River Rescue by Calista Brill, illustrated by Tad Carpenter. This is a cute character building story about a kind tugboat (Bill) and barge (Mabel) duo, who help save a drowning kitten when the other big important boats of the NY harbor are too proud to help. In addition to its Good Samaritan plot, it offers introductions to a few basic language arts concepts: rhyming, adjectives, and character description. Things are introduced with a list, either of “or” or “and” statements. For example, the Hudson river is “Smooth or choppy. It is Blue or Gray. It is swift or sluggish, depending on the day,” while the barge is, “Rusty and dusty. She is dented and heapy. She’s loyal and brave and just a bit leaky.” The primary color illustrations are also appealing, and Five spent a lot of time flipping through them even when there was no one to read him the words, although it’s short enough that by the end of the week he had picked up most of the story himself.
Two’s pick: Gus’s Garage by Leo Timmers. This book is best for its bright, adorable illustrations, and will certainly appeal to any two, especially if they love trucks as much as mine. Gus has a large pile of junk at his garage, but he’s very resourceful. So when everybody brings Gus their problem cars and he uses his junk to fix them up with a creativity that makes “Pimp my Ride” seem like a boring old body shop. I read this to Two so much, he had it memorized, and could ‘read’ it back to me. While he liked this book best, the older boys didn’t find it babyish, were also fond of the pictures, and actually enjoyed trying to guess which piece of junk Gus was going to use to solve a problem.
Grown up land: I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction lately, about some pretty depressing things, opioids, addiction, alcoholism, foster care and coal mining. Or anything that will explain why Appalachia is the way it is. It’s gotten to the point where my husband is starting to make fun of me and my ultra depressing book choices, but something about being done with baby stuff has lifted this huge veil for me, like my brain couldn’t handle the stress of societal problems and training toddlers at the same time, probably due to lack of sleep. My favorites have been narrated journalism, Dreamland by Sam Quinones, Drink by Ann Dowsett Johnston, and To The End of June by Cris Beam. All of these are packed with information, but intertwined with interviews and/or memoirs that make them hard to put down. They’re all worth reading, but they’re all incredibly sad. I’ve talked about each on the Apple Mountain Facebook page, so I won’t go into them here. I did finish one fiction book, but it wasn’t very uplifting either…
The Weight of this World by David Joy. This book is classified as Appalachian Noir; it’s a web of chaotic relationships and depressing circumstance coupled with deep loyalty to family and to the landscape itself. I read a recommendation for this author at This Appalachia Life, which claimed Joy was the most important voice in the region right now. In full disclosure, these characters are the kind of people that are shunned even by their own neighbors, and their choices take the plot to some depressing and gory places. In the books defense, it is well written. One lady sees herself as K-Mart classy, which I loved. While the twists the story takes are dark, the characters were real, as was their kinship to the mountains. They weren’t likable, in the way that sometimes you sometimes find yourself rooting for a villain, but he did make you understand the traps they were caught in, and that due to everyone’s circumstances the story really couldn’t end any other way. In the end, I found it way less horrific than Big Little Lies, so if you could read that book without feeling overly disgusted, you might do okay with this one too. I’m supposed to be reading Fall of Marigolds for a book club I’m in, which is pretty much the polar opposite of this book and may balance out my moral compass. It’s not that I’m cheating on you book club, its that one of you still has it checked out right now. HA!
This book has piqued my interest in finding more Appalachian authors. The original recommendation I read said that if you weren’t willing to advocate for the characters in this book, there would be no advocating for Appalachia. I found it to be true as the blogger said, and if you’re truly willing to, “love the least of these,” you can test your ability to do so by staring down these people’s stories without flinching. I was very impressed by the preacher in the end who listened to the main character’s saga without freaking out or devolving into a sermon. Understanding is especially important right now, even if you have no connection to the region, because mountain problems are becoming the center of some big political debates. Between healthcare, opiates, coal and environmental policy, these debates will affect people nationwide, and occasionally globally, even though typical Appalachian people will have almost no say in what happens. The population here certainly helped Trump win the last election, same as they helped win political battles for the Kennedy’s and LBJ, despite being a region that has been mostly caricatured, marginalized or ignored, and probably will be again once the current debates are resolved, or lose popularity, or both. In the meantime, maybe the Appalachians can milk the national spotlight for good and for some lasting change. Maybe, through re-reading their history, and through their literature and the other arts, if we can learn to love or just understand the parts that make us uncomfortable, then maybe it’s issues won’t fade quite so much in the future.
So. That’s what was in our bag this month. Special thanks to our awesome Samuel’s Public Library for helping us fill it up each week! We hope you make it out to your local branch soon so you can also soak up some of the goodness of humanity. And let us know, what’s in YOUR library bag?