Wednesday, January 25, 2012

“Yeah! Another dumb book.”

Books, the gift you can open again and again.

Have you ever wondered what compels some people to give books as gifts?  They give them as an occasional gift or just gift books for no particular reason (my personal favorite).  I believe it to be a noble gesture proclaiming to the recipient “Hey, I have this idea or this vision or this story that I want to share with you.  I hope you will enjoy it.”

The gesture of book giving also demonstrates that some type of contemplation was given as to content and receiver reaction.  Kinda sentimental or quite possibly dumb luck.  I dunno, it varies.

I adore books.  Everything about them is like a song sung by the sun each time it rises and sets.   A melodic blend of color and texture perfectly balanced to take your breath away.  Neatly wrapped in a sweet little package (this works on techy devices too!! Have you seen the great assortment of covers and jackets-Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about).

Being an admitted, card carrying bibliophile, I naturally assume that most everyone else on the planet shares this same admiration, nay adoration, of books.  Throughout my life, many people have made the same assumption and on various occasions made gifts of YAY! a book.  However, this response may vary depending on the age of the receiver.

Now I don’t know about you but on Holiday mornings when you have your heart set on the latest and greatest gadget or toy, the last thing that will excite you beyond belief is opening a beautifully wrapped package with the greatest of anticipation and find, a book.  “Yeah, another dumb book!”  The battle cry of many a child when they got a book instead of well whatever else they had dreamed would make the perfect gift.  Holidaze have a way of inciting unrealistic expectations.  Sad, but true.

That was the case with my siblings and cousins.  Since I come from a long and distinguished line of generationaly habitual book gifters (most likely dating back to the Sumerians), "Yeah, another dumb book" was often heard at various celebrations when a book whose choice was well intended by the gifter, just wasn't what the giftee had in mind.  

Over the years I've delighted in recieving books as gifts.  They usually came with a personalized inscription and often reflected whatever subject I happened to be involved with at the time.  Somebody put a lot of thought into what they were giving me. Throughout my childhood and teenage years I amassed quite a little library and some volumes are still with me today.

I strongly encourage books as gifts for children or anyone for that matter.  It teaches the value, the importance, the utmost specialness that is a book.  With a book in hand you are challenged to discover the possibility of transporting yourself to another dimension, to transform yourself into another character.  It is pure magic in the form of paper and ink, and now bits and bytes (yummy).  Books are also wonderfully decorative and were arranged thusly, before the DeweySystem.

Enter technology.  With the emergence of digital technology and the World Wide Web some children may spend more of their time on some type of kindle-y I-touchy smart paddy device to discover the sacred journeys on which you may embark through a book.  And this is a good thing.  The key here is that they are reading.  They are engaging in brain stimulating activity and whether they find that adventure through an electronic device or through paper and ink bound in a colorful jacket, they are still reading and that is the key.
The key to what?  The key to life!

Reading is the key to lifelong learning.  The written word has shaped humanity since the Sumerians started making symbols on clay tablets with reeds.  And it’s not just words.  So many other forms exist for communicating our ideas and emotions, from music to math.  Each is a language.  Each can be found in a book or a program or a file somewhere and each has interest to someone.  So many magic kingdoms to explore and all are of equal benefit to the explorer.

But I digress, so back to books as gifts. Of this most worthy purchase, I wholeheartedly approve.  Even if they (the young children wishing for the latest well marketed gadget-y whatever, scowl, or say “thanks” in a way that says ‘seriously, did you not review my gift wish list?’), in the long run it will pay off.  The time will come one lazy afternoon when every other toy or game has lost its entertainment value and your child will go looking for something to do, and that something could be a book.

It’s up to you to start the trend.  Let the children in your life see you engaged in the act of reading.  When something strikes you as funny, then by all means laugh, out loud.  When you reach that tear jerking moment, be sure to cry.  The truth of reading is that it can stir emotions and that is refreshing.  It’s good for your kids to know that they can have a similar experience through reading. 

A mom once shared something that happened while reading Charlotte’s Web to her elementary school aged children.  She got pretty emotional during one part of the story and started crying.  Her wonderfully empathic offspring became very concerned.  They said, “Mom, we don’t know if you reading this book to us is such a good idea.  It’s making you sad.”  She replied that she was actually happy.  They were confused and relieved and later came to realize themselves the power of the written word.

Children everywhere should have the chance to experience stories and books and the relationships that they can build through them.  So, if by chance you decide to gift a book to a child, whether young or old, and the initial response is less than what you expected.  Fear not – for you have presented the opportunity for an adventure cleverly concealed as paper, ink, bits and bytes and that opportunity is never wasted.

Until next time…

…thanks for Tripping on Books!!

Monday, January 16, 2012

On Death

Today, the words of Kahlil Gibran -

     Then Almitra spoke, saying, 
"We would ask now of Death." 
      And he said: You would know the secret of death. 
      But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?
      The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day 
cannot unveil the mystery of light. 
      If you would indeed behold the spirit of death,
open your heart wide unto the body of life. 
      For life and death are one, 
even as the river and the sea are one.
      In the depth of your hopes and desires 
lies your silent knowledge of the beyond; 
      And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring. 
      Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity. 
      Your fear of death is but the trembling of the shepherd
when he stands before the king 
whose hand is to be laid upon him in honour. 
      Is the shepherd not joyful beneath his trembling, 
that he shall wear the mark of the king? 
      Yet is he not more mindful of his trembling? 
      For what is it to die, 
but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun? 
      And what is to cease breathing, 
but to free the breath from its restless tides, 
that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered? 
      Only when you drink form the river of silence shall you indeed sing. 
      And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb. 
      And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.

Kahlil Gibran - The Prophet - copyright 1923

Until next time...

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Teaches Reading

Praise passion and ingenuity where you find it!

I want to thank Buffy the Vampire Slayer for teaching my daughter to be an enthusiastic reader.  Sounds crazy I know, maybe it’s the age we live in.  If Mavis Beacon can teach us to type, then why can’t Buffy teach us to read?  From what I can see, there is absolutely no reason why she can’t.  My daughter is living proof that an inspiration to read can come from the unlikeliest of sources and not necessarily through conventional educational channels.

How did this come about you may ask?  How did Buffy the Vampire Slayer teach reading?  Well, as heroines go, Buffy has mad skills.  Her finely honed senses are wicked sensitive.  Being "the chosen one" with years of training and practice enable her to take down the largest and fastest of demons, vampires and otherwise incorporeal beings. “She has saved the world, a lot.”  Buffy also had a kickin’ wardrobe and nothing  screams get the bad guys like haute couture.
If you are unfamiliar with the character, you can find the episodes online, in bookstores or movie rental establishments.  Buffy the Vampire Slayer and her Scooby gang were the creation of Joss Whedon.  An incredibly talented writer, he created characters with simplistic complexities who were just trying to live a normal life.  Of course they lived in a sunny California community which happened to be built on a hell mouth that was constantly opening and closing and in so doing, bringing all manner of creatures between and across  dimensions.  The world he created was ridiculous fun and survived seven seasons.

So how does this dimension traveling superheroine play a role in reading?  Here’s what happened.  My youngest daughter, Hillary, is gifted in so many ways, most specifically her voice.  The girl can sing.  Since elementary school her plan has been to take the stage.  She was a good student, always made the grade except when it came to reading.  She just didn’t take to it the way we thought she would.  Of course she has two older siblings who are voracious readers, so it was naturally assumed that she would be an avid reader as well.

Fate had other plans.  Hillary was an okay reader, but she was uninterested.  Now in middle school she had two choices when it came to reading assignments.  Read book “a” or read book “b”.  The assigned reading list was “boring”.  She had no interest or desire to read anything on it.  Quite the dilemma, given the huge push to be proficient in reading on the standardized tests (another topic for another time).

Now I, being the diligent mother and also coordinator for the RIF (Reading Is Fundamental) program at her school, well I used multiple tactics to move her reading assignments along.  Doing all that I could to spark the interest.  However, she needed more than a spark.  She needed something akin to an inferno, something more along the lines of a volcanic intervention.  

Thinking somehow that I could be her literary inspiration, I obtained the assigned book list and suggested reading books along with her.  I suggested we  talk about the story, characters, etc.  Create a kind of oral book report.  Nope, she would have none of that.

I suggested that we read, aloud together .  Nope.   I suggested switching off reading while we did other things around the house or she could read to me while I was driving her to and from dance class or volleyball practice.  Nope.  Nope and again, Nope!  She just wasn’t going to read the assigned material.  I will share that I read some great middle school chapter books.  So my effort was not a total loss.

Somehow Hillary passed reading class that year although I was never sure how.  She was a classic case of being able to do the work but completely uninterested by the subject matter she found boring and without the choice, of well, choice.  Then something magical happened.

Each summer we took a road trip to Wisconsin to visit family.  On one such summer vacation, while staying at my sister’s house, Hillary was introduced to Buffy.  The series was still on cable.  After discussing the subject matter and previewing some episodes with my sister (great bonding time), I deemed it safe for Hillary to watch a few episodes.  She watched them with great interest, as many episodes as were available.  She loved them.  She was hooked!!

Buffy was still in production, so all that was available were a few seasons on DVD.  But that wasn’t enough, not by a longshot.  Hillary wanted more.  She looked at my sister and asked if there was any way that she could follow the Buffy story and characters.  My sister told her that she could read the scripts, online.  What an unconventional reading plan.  What of a wonderful summer of enthusiastic reading with remarkable comprehension.

From that point forward Hillary became a reader.  When she finished with Buffy scripts, she moved on to actual books.  It was as if this magical world had opened to her.  She was able to experience the joy and nimble dance that comes from immersing yourself, tripping in a book.  It was a very exciting time. 

To this day, when we reminisce on her Buffy  inspired passion for reading, she tells me this; “Whenever I read, I think about Buffy .  I loved the story so much that I just had to have more.  I’m so glad for that summer.”  As a parent, it doesn’t get much better than that. 

From paper to PDF, technology is ever changing the way we read, the way we learn, and the very way that we communicate.  I’ve been waiting for this time in history since I watched the Jetson’s as a kid.  This digital age in which we live has presented us with groundbreaking approaches to just about everything we do. 

It really is impossible to speculate how our lives would be today if we hadn’t discovered Buffy that summer.  We’ll never know.  We did learn something very important – the key to reading is desire and passion.  You may find the desire in classic works, graphic novels, comic books, picture books, magazines or tabloids.  You may become passionate about following a character or series of events.  But where ever you find the passion and desire to read, follow it!
More importantly, if you have children in your life, share your enthusiasm for reading.  Teach them how to read and support their efforts!  Praise their passion, encourage their ingenuity.

And if anyone knows where I can meet Joss Whedon, let me know I would like to shake the mans hand and say  "thanks"!

Until next time, keep tripping on books.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Dewey's Decimals and Maria Montessori

Organization is the Key – to everything and happens to be one of the top 10 New Year resolutions.  

What is it about organization?  Maybe it’s the security in knowing that when you go to look for something that you will actually find it.  Our modern world is full of fine examples and yet some personally fall short of hitting the organizational mark.  I don’t know.  I myself am relatively organized. 

Let me begin with today’s new word (and by new I mean I just made it up).  Archivery – the act of collection and organizing.

I love writing!  Creation in general gets me completely stoked.  But when you write, well you sometimes get to create words.  Yep, all that stuff in Webster’s had to come from somewhere.  Compare modern day editions of the dictionary to those printed 20 years ago.  You will find lots of new words.  How wicked exciting!!  More tools for the craft.

So I created the word “archivery” because I didn’t have it and wanted to express this idea in a single word- the act of collection and organizing.  I am a collector, by nature, it’s in my DNA (see my December31, 2011 post) and my collecting passion began at an early age.

I started out small.  Got my first fully accessorized Barbie when I was four, began collecting 12th scale miniatures at seven, then stamps, coins, lions, rocks, jewelry, art supplies, sheet  music and books.  Of course, as time went on I moved onto the harder stuff like furniture, cameras, power tools, ancient Egyptian everything, electronics and books.   Always books!

Honestly, I’m okay with this desire to amass curiosities.  It’s fun and gives my family a foundation of gift ideas when they shop.  I am never disappointed.

But collections come with a price.  They need to be organized and managed.  After all what good are they if you can’t find them or one of their specific pieces.  Especially disconcerting if the collection happens to be books scattered haphazardly throughout multiple locales.
Enter Melvil Dewey and Maria Montessori.  Two Masters of organization.  One of books, the other of minds.  What these extraordinary people brought to society revolutionized the library categorizing system and conventional ideas about education.
Melville Dewey patented the DeweyDecimal Categorization System (DDC) in 1876 during the rise of the modern library movement.  Before then, books were arbitrarily placed within libraries.  They were arranged by title, topic, author, an inconsistent numeric system or how they fit onto the shelf.  Some were arranged to be aesthetically pleasing without attention to their content.  This haphazard organizational method created a recipe for disastrous inefficiency.
And Melvil Dewey was obsessed with efficiency.  After extensive research and by studying different approaches to this book categorizing dilemma, Dewey devised his system.  During pensive reflection one Sunday morning (which translates into staring off into the distance while the sermon came from the pulpit) Dewey finally arrived at the plan that would revolutionize the library categorizing system.  You could say that his system was divinely inspired.

I for one am glad that Dewey developed this system and that it stuck.  It’s a beautiful example of organization in action.  Most people today fail to give the Dewey Decimal System a second thought.  Why?  Because it’s the norm; currently used in 95(ish)% of school and public libraries in 130+ countries.  Making it a standard and since it dates to the late 19th century those of us living today have no idea what library life was like before Dewey’s marvelous system.

I am extremely fond of libraries.  Got my first library card when I was 7, thought I was a real big shot.  I confidently entered my local library, made my selections, handed off my personal library card and walked out with books that I could keep for two whole weeks.  Empowerment through choice and responsibility at its finest.  It all worked harmoniously assuming I had someone to drive me seven miles to my library. 

And yes, it was my library.  Having a library card gave me ownership in a larger collection of books than I could find at home (so many books, so little time and shelf space).   I knew that I would have books throughout my life.  All children should know this.  This simple knowledge sets the stage for future exploration into the infinite.

It was during these early library visits that I first met the Dewey System.  This categorical decimal system with its simple yet limitless possibilities was like a terrific road map full of enchanting and exciting destinations in every stack.  It was cool.  Hundreds of thousands of books and at any given time I could go to an exact location to find a specific volume.  And I could do this from Alabama to Wyoming.  Now that is the epitome of organization and how I like to envision “archivery” in action.  Thank you, Melvil.

While Melvil had his affect during my elementary years, my organization skills came much earlier. 

Enter Maria Montessori - pioneer in education- through infancy and beyond.   Maria Montessori was born in 1870, six years before Dewey developed his system.   She was the first Italian woman to get a medical degree, doing so at 26.  She developed a philosophy that children were born with a unique and distinctive potential that would be realized over time.  This idea directly conflicted with the popular notion that children were a blank slate on which to be written.  Her ideology being paramount in developing free thinking, society contributing individuals, the latter being the cornerstone to creating mindless factory workers.

Dr. Montessori revolutionized education by suggesting not a rote system where students focused on the teacher’s knowledge but on a system where the child explored their learning environment and came to his or her own conclusions.  Montessori offered three simple ideas: that children are provided a natural and safe environment; that they are allowed to freely explore and exist within this environment; and that the environment is continually fluid allowing the “whole” child to grow and learn. 

WOW!!  Groundbreaking educational reform for the 1900’s.  Montessori opened her first school January 6, 1907 field testing her ideas in an Italian village where impoverished children had little or no hope of succeeding in their world.  Her results were “miraculous”.  Why, because she created and supported an environment of learning, of personal responsibility, of exploration and organization.  She did this under the notion that children are natural learners. 

“Supposing I said there was a planet without schools or teachers, study was unknown, and yet the inhabitants - doing nothing but living and walking about - came to know all things, to carry in their minds the whole of learning: would you not think I was romancing?  Well, just this, which seems so fanciful as to be nothing but the invention of a fertile imagination, is a reality. It is the child's way of learning. This is the path he follows. He learns everything without knowing he is learning it, and in doing so passes little from the unconscious to the conscious, treading always in the paths of joy and love.”     - Maria Montessori
What seems like a serendipitous classroom technique is actually highly organized.  From the size of furniture to the versatility of materials offered for study.  The Montessori classroom organization and theme is more than just a chance happening.  It is deliberately designed to foster the natural learning that is inherent in each of us.

How do I know this?  From personal experience.   I was a Montessori student.

That’s me on the left, 1963, yep, the curls are natural and thanks to my mom for her amazingly honed archivery skills.

I didn’t realize it then, but my brain was becoming wonderfully organized at this early age.  I started organizing my brain in preschool and have been honing it ever since.  Luckily, my preschool experience didn’t stop at the classroom threshold.  My parents were invested advocates to my learning and that of my siblings and the Montessori approach became a way of life.

Yes, I had a pink tower.   At mom’s urging my dad made one, precise and yes pink.  I had wooden puzzles, dad made those too.  Mom created tactile cards using brightly colored yarns, glue and index cards.  I had a set of sound cylinders made from empty cardboard tubes and contact paper.   I listened to French records and read French books. 

I experienced creation with focus on the process rather than on the product.  The product came later and quite naturally.  I grew organized in both thought and process.  To this day I can tell you the location of any item in my house or garage.  Right down to where the wire nuts are and yes, they are sorted by size/color. 

I admit that I do not follow the Dewey System in my home.  My books are organized aesthetically and my personal collection is less than libraric (ooh another new word- of or pertaining to libraries - especially at it pertains to volumes of volumes).  But I do rely on Dewey when I visit my library, like an old friend guiding you along literary journeys.

As for Maria Montessori, her influence remains.  I share that knowledge and sacred space for learning with my children, the biological ones and those whose lives I touch each and every day.  These precious little learners need a foundation and we own the responsibility of setting their whole learning stage. 

You can find Maria Montessori – Her life and work at your local library in Social Sciences number 370.92 and Irrepressible Reformer the biography of Melvil Dewey in General Works number 020.92.

Until next we meet, thanks for tripping on books.  

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The truth about Mother Goose

As young children many of us were taught nursery rhymes and lullabies that are generally lumped into the category of Mother Goose.  Who was this remarkable woman?   Her simple and catchy stories created magical places where children were entertained by the otherwise human antics of animals and inanimate objects.  Truly, a remarkable accomplishment for an old woman and a goose.   

And this old woman was smart.  She kept her fans engaged for centuries right up until the present day due to her wide audience appeal.  Here's why.  Mother Goose rhymes break down into four basic groups; lullabies, alphabet and counting rhymes to teach and entertain, puzzle rhymes for the more critical thinkers and finally those delivered as a kind of parable conveying historical and cultural events.  Amazing!

The popular use of rhymes as a means to share and send messages dates back to the 14th century, a medieval jingle of sorts.  The hidden message was easy to remember, because it usually rhymed and was simple.  (These two points are CRUCIAL and we will return to them.)  This rhythmic simplicity was very important as many people could not read.  Rhymes allowed people to share the latest current events with friends and neighbors.  Travelers could share tales at the local tavern or along their way as they moved from village to village.  Quite a mass communication feat considering the limited technology available at that time (y’know beyond things like metallurgy and the wheel). 

Over time the stories behind the rhymes were lost, but luckily the words and use of the rythmic, rhyming format remained; becoming nursery plays and stories.  During the late 16th century some of these rhymes were committed to print, allowing them to be passed generationally through the oral tradition as well as in print – that means a book!  Crude as they were initially, a book nevertheless.  (Bet you were waiting for this to get to a bookish part.)

You can read more about Mother Goose and the history of the rhymes and lullabies attributed to her.  The internet and libraries are filled with delightful musings on the subject.  Interesting stuff too, like how she was fashioned after a witch, flying around on a goose instead of a broomstick.  How she lived alone in the forest surrounded by magical talking animals with an owl guarding her house.  Real tabloid stuff here.

What is most important about Mother Goose, whether she is present in your home or not (hoping she will be after this article) is that her stories with their RHYME and SIMPLICITY are a great way to teach language skills, especially to babies and young children.  The three components; rhyme, rhythm and repetition (hey! another three r’s) are keys to building language.  The other part, the added bonus, is you and your child sharing time together reciting and reading these fascinating tales.

Initially you may engage your infant by gazing at his or her face and reciting the words.  Your child will be able to watch your mouth and your facial expressions.  This very natural and pleasant interaction allows for your child to stimulate the connections in the brain that will eventually become spoken language.  You will also have the added benefit of strengthening your parent/child bond.  This is great stuff people.

As your child gets older, the same rhymes in book form with colorful and interesting illustrations offer visual experiences and the opportunity to further develop language and vocabulary through the activity of talking about the pictures.   Open ended questions like; what are the characters doing, what are the colors of their clothes, time of day, etc.  Whatever the image contains is something to talk about.   This interaction between you and your child is more than just reading a book; this is sharing your attention with a book.  This is GOLDEN!!

The conversations you have with your child will evolve, but for a good stretch of time you can revisit the same book, discovering new ideas and conversations each time that you do.   Makes you think twice about silly old Mother Goose, who incidentally has once again found favor in the nursery. 

You may recall and sadly too, that for a period of time, quite recently in fact, Mother Goose was blackballed, banned even, for being politically incorrect.  Understandable, some of the rhymes literally are violent, but most children are too young to see the meaning behind the parts that matter – the rhyming and the simplicity.  It’s fun for them, especially when they have interaction with the significant people in their lives.

And why is this important?  It’s important because babies and very young children hardwired as they are to learn, thrive on simple repetition and interaction.  Mother Goose delivers that in full.   This is also important because children that can communicate and socialize have a greater chance of thriving in today’s world.  With the multiple complexities that we face this is our opportunity to give children a meaningful foundation in socializing and communicating.  Whoever would have imagined that a humble old woman riding through the sky on a goose could be so influential?

So despite her colorful and somewhat controversial past, Mother Goose does offer consistent substance.  Ring Around the Rosie works not because it calls to mind a horrific tragedy caused by bad sanitation and a lack of pest control.  Nope, Ring Around the Rosie works because children can grab the hands of their friends recite the words that they learned and remembered, while moving in a circle.  Then they can all drop to the floor and laugh.  They will do this over and over again for one reason and one reason only.  They do it because it’s fun, because they are learning and because they are engaged. 

So next time you see Mother Goose at your local bookstore or library, check her out.  Forget about the possibly morbid 400 year old gossip and tragedies.  Look through all of that to the true substance, the language and relationship skills it helps to build.   Moreover, consider the fun you and your child will have reading and reciting them together, over and over again.

Until next time…
                           …keep tripping on books.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Let Them Eat Books!

When Marie-Antoinette uttered the words “Qu'ilsmangent de la brioche” (which loosely translates to ‘let them eat cake’), she was doing one of two things; being ironic or being generous.  Why in the world would you give starving rebels cake?  Better question, why wouldn’t you?  When someone has a hunger and you have the means to satiate that hunger doesn’t it stand to reason that you would step forward and help out?

Maybe that’s what Marie-Antoinette meant to do, who knows.  Historians find fault even attributing her with this quote.  And to summarize what is written in the history books, the rebels didn’t get fed and she was put to death for treason.  A sad story whose fictional account lies within the pages of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.  
Ah yes, it all comes back to a book.  That’s the point.  Most every experience in life will bring you to or back to a book.  Depending on your appetite for books and your reading speed, which incidentally for the average person remains unchanged beyond elementary school, around 250 words per minute(I feel better now); you may be a casual, snacking kind of reader or a tear it apart and get to the meat of it, voracious one.

This is true whether you are a baby or an adult or anywhere in between.  Most all of us have some appetite for books, however acquired it may be.  That appetite and acquisition has been shaped over time by those of influence around us, especially if you are a young child.

To this day I remain very fond of books with pictures – coffee table books, reference books, photography books, cookbooks, and children’s picture books are just some examples; however I will rarely read the assembly instructions that come with – well, anything that needs assembling.  I do so like an adventure.  Many of us have a specific type of book we enjoy or desire to read.  While that enjoyment and desire of topic can change, what remains is our appetite for the Book.

Capitalizing the word makes it more austere, don’t you agree.  The Book.  Everything about it begs reverence.  Take a Book, set it in front of you and follow along as we embark on a journey.

Begin by examining the cover, which is sometimes swaddled in a lovely dust jacket.  This is the entry gate, the portal, the boards that will lead you to whatever journey lies within.  Leather or linen, gilt of gloss, the cover gets us started, especially if we know nothing about the content.  It’s a given that publishers have an extreme advantage today when it comes to cover art.  The sheer quantity and selection of materials available allow for infinite possibilities when creating cover designs.  How many times have you picked up and purchased a book just on the cover alone?

But I digress, so back to our journey.  Poised at this magic portal, take a deep breath and open, step inside the front cover.  You might encounter some endpapers; sometimes white, often times colored and embelished with spectacular artwork.  Kind of like a grand entrance hall or theatre lobby if you will.  Breathe it all in, celebrate the beauty of it.

Next, turn the pages as if drawing back a curtain, until you arrive at the title page.  Here begins the overture that includes title, author and publisher.  This list represents those personally responsible for the journey you are about to take.  They deserve honor and recognition - pause and praise them.

Ever wonder where the expression leafing through a book came from?  In the publishing world the page of a book is called a leaf.  These are the next and most important parts of your Book.  These pages, these leaves that dance with words and images are the true treasure, the inner sanctum.  Revel in them from start to finish.

Did you enjoy our journey?  Did you see a Book with new eyes?  Do you remember the first time you opened a Book?  What was that like for you?

The experience of exploring a book is similar for children.  Whatever their age, children are fascinated with books.  Not just the inner content but the Book as a thing is of great interest to them.  Why?  Because it is new, everything to very young children is new.

With books, infants are visually drawn to images (and will later draw images).  During this phase in their natural development, books with bright and simple pictures are about all they need (the words have been added for your enjoyment- please read them aloud to your child-thank you).  Hand a book to an infant, about 4 months old.  One of the first things that baby will do is grab it with both hands and put the book in his or her mouth.  Already, an appetite for books (pun absolutely intended).  It is perfectly acceptable, developmentally appropriate for a baby to explore objects by putting them in their mouth.
Babies, toddlers, children are hardwired to explore and experiment.  Be prepared for them to look at, touch, throw, chew, crumple, wash, step on, open, close and in some cases offer their Book to the family dog by way of the watering bowl (again with the appetite and feeding – this analogy will not go away).  During these early stages in child development, the Book is an object.  You will want to consider this fact when you buy books for children.

As babies become toddlers, they begin to name familiar objects when they recognize them in books.   They will point to or tap the image and say the name, or something sounding close to it.  Watch for quizzical looks when your child sees a new image.  That look is your cue to give them the word.  Another thing that toddlers and children are really masterful at doing is imitating whatever they see you doing.  From sweeping to sleeping, eating to reading, toddlers and children learn by watching and doing. 
This is where you become the catalyst that turns the contents of a Book into a magical journey.    When you place yourself and your child at that entry way, you become the spark to the fire of their learning, the chef to their appetite for books.  You accomplish that when you open the cover, when you share with them the words and talk about the pictures.  That is when you transform the Book from a thing to an experience.  You have that power (feels like you should get a cape and secret ring)!  

Remember the magical journey we took earlier?  You have the power to share that journey with your child.  You have the power to influence their taste in books, they already have the appetite.

So I say, “Let them eat books”!  Not because it’s ironic, but because it’s generous.  They have the appetite and you have the ability to feed them.

Thanks for tripping on Books.  

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Creating the next generation of Book Trippers.  Start them young  - on books!

Of my numerous passions, one is children another is books. 
Do you remember the first time you read something?

I was 6 and in the first grade.  I remember standing at the wooden bookcase that ran the length of my classroom.  The smooth varnish on the top of the case had cured to a warm honey color whose glow was intensified by the afternoon sunlight pouring through the classroom windows.  As I stood at that bookcase I opened the cover of my first grade reader, Dick and Jane.  I learned to read and was transported to a new and exciting universe.

I learned quickly that all those shapes and symbols had meaning.  I learned that their very arrangement on the page represented something and most importantly – I learned that my world had been forever changed.  The feeling was remarkable.  OMG!!   This thing, this new ability to read felt like magic.  It felt like nimble and fantastic dancing.  In that magic and innocent moment I became a book tripper.

It was so exciting how these simple stories with their simple words and humble middle- American characters were my gateway to the infinite universe of the written word.  So exciting in fact, that I knew one day I would share this enthusiasm for books.

I work with parents and their very young children.  This parenting collaboration often begins before the child is born.  It’s a remarkable privilege, being allowed into an eventual intimate family partnership, watching the child and the parents grow together.  They learn so much from each other.

Children learn about the world.  Parents learn what it means to be a parent.  It is a life-long reciprocal gift.
A lot of what happens with parenting is intuitive when we are in allowance of our intuition.    A lot of parenting is trial and error.  A lot of parenting comes from sharing between family members.  A lot of parenting comes from our willingness to enlist the help of other parents.  A lot of parenting is purely chance.  Seems like incredible odds when you consider that you are responsible for influencing a person.

A person who one day will achieve great things, be it diplomatic relations or fast food burger flipping.  Each is equally deserving of a solid foundation in language.  Many parents have asked me when is the right time or the best time to start reading to their child.  My simple answer is NOW! 

Yep, you read that correctly.  The time is now – in utero or in grade school, preschool or high school.  You can and should read with your child whenever the opportunity presents itself.  Consider it one of your many privileges as a parent.   

Most people get the 'read to you child when he’s two or three' concept, but in utero??  That idea has raised some eyebrows.   Not surprising since we often fail to consider that babies can hear what’s happening in the outside world before they arrive in it.  At birth a baby will turn to the sound of his or her mother’s voice.  Stands to reason, considering they hung out together 24/7 for about 40 weeks.

Another key piece about reading to babies – they learn the rhythm, sound and mechanics of language, their language.  That is a powerful bit of knowledge for someone so young.   Scientific studies show that at 6 months of age, a baby can watch people speaking without hearing them and identify their native language.  I’m not sure how they determined this fact, but the research is there.

Astonishing!  Amazing!  (Opportunity, hear it knocking?)

So given this - I recognize my own language - fact, babies are much smarter than some may think and need healthy neural stimulation on so very many levels.  They need things to look at to stimulate the eye to brain connection.  They need textures to stimulate their sense of touch and smell.  They need the opportunity to be on the floor so they can explore what the muscles of their body can do.  They need to be talked to and read to.  They need to hear spoken language.  They need to hear that language spoken to them by a person.  Television and the radio just won’t get it done.
Language is key to lifelong learning.  Oh, another interesting note, babies are natural learners. 

Yes, yes, yes.  Babies learn naturally.  How else can you explain all that they do in a short span of time from learning to eat, to learning to communicate, to learning about how to move.  And that’s just the beginning.  Babies, all children for that matter, are in a constant state of learning.  As they grow the learning continues.  The learning intensifies.  The learning never stops, hence the read to them NOW approach.

When you read with your baby, your child, you give them a foundation for language.  You become their most important coach, instructor, professor, sensei and teacher.  You become their partner in learning.  You also build relationship.  A relationship that will pay off as you and your child continue to grow, continue to learn.
A closing note about reading.  

After reflecting on your first memory of reading to yourself, take a moment now to reflect on your first memory of being read to.   

What do you remember?  

Is it the kind of experience you would like for your child?  Whether it is or it isn’t the choice to create a rich learning experience through reading is yours.

It is my greatest desire that you will choose to read with your child now and forever.

Coming soon - tips on reading to and with children.  Thanks for tripping along.