Good Idea: toddler open mics

July 30, 2015 § Leave a comment

Previously, my kiddo went through a phase where he told kid-style jokes which he mostly learned from a library book about Fozzie Bear (whence he also learned to punctuate his jokes by saying “wokka wokka”) and popsicle sticks.

Currently, he has moved into a phase in which he makes up his own jokes.  For instance THIS.

So here is my idea: an open mic night for toddlers! (and their parents!)

I imagine it would happen on, say, a Sunday around 5PM – early enough for the kids (aka “the talent”) not to be melting down because its too close to bed time, but still late enough for the adults to enjoy a cocktail in a socially-acceptable way.  The venue could be pretty much anywhere, though it would be imperative that adults be allowed to bring in kid snacks.

The kids could go up and tell jokes and stories and do impressions.  I feel like it would be all kinds of good practice for them in terms of public speaking, being a good audience member, empathy, delayed gratification . . . And while non-parents would think it was a horror show (and they wouldn’t be wrong), parents would find it totally entertaining (and maybe a good way to make other parent-friends?).

This would NOT ever be an opportunity for scouts to come find child stars of the future.  It would be purely for the entertainment and gratification of kids and their parents.  And while I’m sure much of the time it would be a mess, I’m also sure that it would yield Andy Kaufman-worthy moments of avant garde comedy GENIUS!

What’s your best kid joke?  Post it in the comments!

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Summer reading for Peanuts

July 17, 2015 § Leave a comment

vintage library read

My kiddo – who is 3.25 years old – has loved stories pretty much forever.  He loves to be read to and he loves to be told made-up stories.  I noticed a while ago that, if we were making up a story for him, he had a pretty high tolerance for a story much longer than the average picture book.

We dipped our toe in with The Invention of Hugo Cabret which alternates a few pages of plain text with many pages of text-free illustration.  Later, over the course of a couple of low-energy sick days, we plowed through Peter Pan.  So we continued.

Mixing longer books in with the picture books kept me from getting really sick of reading and re-reading the same five-minute story over and over again.  Longer stories have also been great as a way to enjoy some quiet time after a big day at camp or on the playground, and they keep us all entertained on longer car rides or the occasional flight. There’s also something nice about having more entertainment in a smaller, lighter volume given all the other stuff we’re inevitably schlepping around.

Early on, we had some hits and some misses.  The Wizard of Oz was great . . . except for that scary chapter where she sends her pack of wolves to attack Dorothy and friends (yikes!).  The Enormous Crocodile was a pretty big (if slightly intense) hit which got me excited for more Roald Dahl, but The Magic Finger which focuses on characters who hunt ducks introduced a slew of concepts we weren’t necessarily excited to discuss and Esio Trot was too much about spelling or romance (or both).  James and the Giant Peach seemed like it would be a good idea, ’till I started to read it and realized that James’ parents are killed by an escaped rhino in the first two pages.  Duh, mom.

But, with the help of the wonderful people at our favorite local book store, Bank Street Books, we’ve really hit our stride this Summer.  These books all hit the sweet spot of being a great story, but with mostly accessible vocabulary for a younger kiddo, a picture on every page or two, and content that doesn’t venture too far beyond their years.  And they’re fun to read as an adult.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.  I’m a lifelong fan of Dahl, but most of his books are too edgy for our kiddo right now.  Not so Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which we borrowed from the library and read all the way through at least four or five times before returning it a couple of weeks later.

My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett.  This is a trilogy, although I happen to like the first book the best.  Each is about 70 pages long with a picture on every other page or so.  They are stories of a young, kindhearted and very independent little boy going on an adventure to find and rescue a captive baby dragon and the adventures that ensue.

Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo.  There are six books in the Mercy Watson series beginning with Mercy Watson to the Rescue, about the (mis)adventures of a toast-loving pig named Mercy, her owners Mr. & Mrs. Watson and their neighbors on Deckawoo Drive.  All the books are lushly illustrated in full color by Chris Van Dusen.  The books feel old-fashioned and wholesome though they are contemporary.  The characters are a bunch of delightful oddballs.

Bink & Gollie by Kate Di Camillo & Alison McGhee.  We discovered Bink & Gollie through the Mercy Watson books.  There are currently three books in this series about a pair of best friends who love roller-skating, pancakes and each other most of all.  These books feel a bit like the Elephant & Piggie books for the next age group up and they’re the shortest books on this list.

The Magic Treehouse by Mary Pope Osborne.  This is a fun series because it involves time travel and magic.  The first book in the series – Dinosaurs Before Dark – was an instant favorite.  A word of caution, though, as other books in the series dip in and out of being little-kiddo appropriate.  A book set during the Civil War, for example, (which I never should have agreed to read, so that’s on me) prompted a discussion of war in general, and an explanation of slavery – it was just a lot for a 3 year old.  So these are recommended but not without some parental vetting.

The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner.  Because the first book is about kids who are alone in the world, fending for themselves, we skipped it and went right on to Book Two: Surprise Island which is delightful old-fashioned.  Four siblings are allowed a summer largely to themselves on their wealthy grandfather’s private island where they gather and prepare their own food, craft their own museum, and discover American Indian artifacts.  These books are probably the biggest wild-card of the group and, like the Magic Treehouse books, should probably be vetted on an individual basis for appropriateness, but the kiddo and I are well into the Woodshed Mystery (#7) and having a great time with it.

What are you reading with the kiddos in your life this summer?  Leave a comment!

I scream, you scream, we all . . . ARTs-cream!!

May 28, 2015 § Leave a comment

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This past weekend, my husband, the kiddo and I explored a cool public art exhibit that’s going in in Central Park right now.  Presented in conjunction with Creative Time, the exhibit is called Drifting in Daylight (all the info if you click on that link).  It’s based in the northern parts of Central Park and it happens Friday and Saturday afternoons through June 20th.

We had a great time visiting Spencer Finch‘s ice cream truck and watching a brass sextet perform on a boat on the Harlem Meer.  The former was fully delightful and delicious while the latter was lovely to behold and surprisingly moving.

Days later, my son asked his babysitter “Do you know Spencer Finch?  He has an art thing.  You should go.  There’s ice cream!  You have to wait in line.  You should go.”  That and the fact that he wanted to stay for three performances by the sextet make me fairly confident that he liked it too.  Recommended for families.

We’d started the day with a visit to the Natural History Museum, so by the time we made it up to the Meer, the boy was exhausted and it was time to head home to walk the dog, but we hope to go back to see the rest of the pieces which include visual art as well as dance and performance pieces.

Have you seen this exhibit?  What did you think?

Mother’s Day at Storm King

May 14, 2015 § Leave a comment

We had the most beautiful Mother’s Day!

Have you been to Storm King?  It’s an open-air museum full of mostly-but-not-only large-scale modern sculptures, situated beautifully on a large campus about an hour outside of NYC.  You can bring a picninc.  You can rent bikes to toodle around.  It’s gorgeous AND it’s a great place to go with young kids who can run and make noise and explore and enjoy nature as well as taking in the art.  Here are some photos to give you a sense:

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Storm King

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The open space, the woods at the borders, the sun, the smell of the air all combined to evoke so many happy memories of my back yard, summer camp at Cornell, time in England, time at Vassar, biking in France with my husband.  The biggest gift was how it all combined to make me (allow me?) to feel more expansive, happy and optimistic than I have in a really long time.

I don’t imagine that Storm King will provide such a profoundly joyful experience for everyone as it does for me, but I do encourage you to go for a visit if you have the chance.

Calico Easter Eggs

April 29, 2015 § Leave a comment

For Christmas, Santa brought my son a doll house.  It was the only thing he wanted.

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The doll house was very popular right around Christmas, then it had a long-ish break with intermitent play, but lately it’s been getting a lot more attention again.  These days, though, my son is NOT into having the doll house in any kind of order.  In fact, he used the word “ransacked” to describe how it looked which was accurate.  Why he wants his poor Koala family to live like that is beyond me, but it prompted me go get a little bin to put the tiny accessories in so they don’t get vaccummed up during this disarray phase.  And looking at all of the delightful little doll house things, reminded me of this amazing Easter Egg the makers hid in the newspapers that came with the living room furniture.

There are two newspapers.  Sunday, April 1 and Monday, April 2.  Here they are:

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I mean, come on.  He discovered a treasure!  But then: he was so disappointed because “Treasure was just a broken box!”  I find this endlessly hilarious.  And I want to thank whoever behind the scenes at Epoch or Tomy designed these amazing tiny newspapers.

You Say It’s Your Birthday (Part One)

March 12, 2015 § Leave a comment

When a blog post concerns the birthday of a three-year-old, there should only be one part.  This was my first mistake.

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Very early on the morning of my brother’s third birthday, I was awoken by a sound that went:

thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump (long pause) “WAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!”

This, of course was the sound of sleepy three-year-old Ian wandering out of his room and, disoriented, falling all the way down the front stairs of our house, breaking his leg.

What a terrible thing to have happen on your birthday!  Except he didn’t know it was his birthday and no one was going to tell him.  As far as he was concerned, his birthday was that upcoming weekend on the exact same day as his birthday party.  (If you’re wondering, the party went on as planned with my hobbling around in a full-leg cast.)

I remembered all of this as I was icing the first of the two birthday cakes I will have made by the end of the week because I wasn’t smart enough just to tell my kid that the day of his birthday party is his actual birthday.  So we celebrated his real birthday at school and at home yesterday and, on Saturday, we’ll do it all again.

So much cake.  Not to mention that the poor kiddo was, apparently, kind of confused and wanted to know last night where all the kids were?!  Sorry, peanut.

Next week, I’ll let you know how the party went and (what other wisdom I may have gleaned in the process of throwing it) . . .

Patience & Fortitude

September 9, 2014 § Leave a comment

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Did you know that Patience and Fortitude are the names of the lions who adorn the entrance to the main branch of the New York Public Library?  I learned that from Salvatore Rubbino’s A Walk In New York which I borrowed (with my son) from . . . the library.

I have mixed feelings about the library which mostly amount to feeling fussy about due dates and fines.  In college, senior year, you could keep the books for the entire semester unless someone else requested one and then you’d be notified to return in – that seemed so fair and sensible to me! Also, in college, the books were organized according to the Library of Congress Classification (LCC) as opposed to the (highly inferior) Dewey Decimal Classification (DCC)(don’t even get me started!!).  So, as a young adult person (read: in my 20’s) in NYC, I tried the library, but we quickly fell into conflict and I took to buying my books or borrowing them from friends and that worked out great . . . until I had a kid.

There are just too many not-very-long and maybe-not-that-great books for kids to go around buying every single one that interests you.  I feel lucky to have a kid who loves books and reading almost as much as I do, so we enjoy visiting the library every few weeks to expand our repertoire.  When we find one we *really* love, we return it and make the investment.

The other thing I used to do as a young adult person in NYC, was kill time reading children’s books at whatever book store was nearest where I needed to be.  A lot of children’s books are really mediocre but the good ones are such a pleasure.

So, whether you have a kid or whether you are just killing time somewhere, I encourage you to check out these very recent discoveries (via the library!) which I could happily read a zillion times each.

13 Words by Lemony Snickett – A despondent bird, a haberdashery, a mezzo-soprano . . . I get the nerd-tingles just thinking about it.

Inventor McGreggor by Kathleen T. Pelley – That joyful feeling you had as a kid from believing in magic?  This book makes you feel that way about believing in yourself.

Uncle Elephant by Arnold Lobel – Arnold Lobel wrote the Frog & Toad books and so many others for kids of a certain age. This one feels so extra-special; Lobel writes about difficult feelings with gentle candor and without embellishing them with interpretation or solutions. Read this before you share it with kids you know, but read it for yourself for sure.

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