Blueberries for Sal

Some books don’t age well. The customs and styles of a certain era aren’t necessarily appealing decades later. Blueberries for Sal, however, has aged well and is just as delightful as it was when I read it in the 70s, when it had already been in print for thirty years. Perhaps it’s because the behavior of Sal is timeless and modern parents can still relate. And the depictions of the styles of the time (the car, the kitchen) become glimpses into the past rather than simply seeming outdated.

The black-and-white drawings were not so appealing to our youngest ones, who are very used to everything being in bright, full color, but the story is appealing. The concept of climbing a hill, eating food that is simply lying there to be found is perhaps the most appealing part – an activity that now seems almost fantastic in the modern world.

Moana

I’m normally a pretty cynical person, but I thought Moana was just great. Great story, great music, great everything.

(The executive producer was John Lasseter, who produced and/or wrote/driected most of the great Pixar movies before and after the Disney purchase, which may have something to do with the quality)

It is not a typical Disney princess movie, and in fact some of the dialogue pokes fun at that idea. The story is of a Polynesian girl who finds a demi-god (smug strongman and shape-shifter, Maui) and together they go on a fantastic adventure full of very original characters and scenes, with a very entertaining musical number by Jemaine Clement (of Flight of the Conchords) as a giant crab.

Fun for parents and kids alike, boys and girls.

The songs are catchy and tuneful, written by Opetaia Foa’i, Mark Mancina, and Lin-Manuel Miranda, and manage to maintain the balance between sounding authentically Polynesian and contemporary. The songs and the beautiful animation made me pine for Hawai’i.

There is also, of course, the obligatory themed Lego set:

How to Dig a Hole to the Other Side of the World

This book answers a question every kid asks at some point, “What would happen if I dug a hole and just kept digging?”

The journey soon requires the construction of a very heat-tolerant “no-spaceship” that is like some kind of submarine drill thing. (The schematic for this vehicle in the book is very appealing) The character in the book makes his way through all the layers of the earth, learning about geology along the way.

Faith McNulty wrote this book. She and her husband John were part of the mid-century group at the New Yorker under Harold Ross, where she edited the annual New Yorker compilation of the year’s best children’s books. She is probably most famous for The Burning Bed (which is absolutely not children’s literature)

The very engaging illustrations are by Marc Simont, who has illustrated many children’s books, perhaps most famously the “Nate the Great” series. Some of the pictures are quite beautiful and I had the thought of cutting them out of the book to hang on the wall (but I didn’t want to damage the book)

Wacky Wednesday

This was a favorite of mine as a kid, and has been a huge hit with our kids as well when I rediscovered it.

It was written by Dr. Seuss and illustrated by George Booth. The book does not get as much attention as other Seuss books, perhaps because it does not have his iconic drawing style. There is one picture of a kid with a bare butt in the shower. It’s not outrageous or titillating, but could be enough to keep it off the shelves of some school libraries.

The book is a series of scenes with increasing numbers of ‘wrong’ things in it, e.g. a tree growing in the toilet, a chair with no legs floating in mid-air, an alligator in a stroller, etc. The book is described as a ‘learn-to-read’ book, but the purpose of the book is not reading, it’s about finding all the weird things. The book is more of an activity than simply reading, so is better as one to read on the couch than before bedtime. And this is a good one for a parent to read with a child. You can count and find all the wacky things together.

Jungle Party

This is another book that our kids regularly pull off the shelf year after year. It comes with paper dolls, stickers, and a party hat, and other stuff, so has some extra fun. We have since lost everything but the book itself, but we still enjoy that. The papercraft makes it a fun gift that the child can play with independently during the day, and the book is a fun story for bedtime reading.

The theme is of animals planning a party, and a bird visits different biomes (arctic, jungle, farm, etc.) to talk with the animals there. They talk in terms of opposite prepositions and adjectives, each pair of sentences covers high/low, cold/hot, etc.

The mood is very cheeful and happy and our kids enjoy it.

Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes

There are plenty of collections of nursery rhymes, partly because the text is not copyrighted and publishers don’t have to pay author royalties. But nursery rhymes remain popular among young children because they are fun and the simple rhymes make them a good too when learning to read. It’s easy to memorize a line such as “Mary, Mary, quite contrary” from hearing a parent read it. So then, when the child is sounding out words on their own, and get to the relatively difficult word, “contrary”, they can recall the rhyme and figure it out.

This particular collection is more British than most Americanized sets of nursery rhymes. For example, American collections typically don’t include traditional rhymes such as, “I had a little nut tree” or “Ride a cock horse”. So in some ways this feels like a more “authentic” set.

The drawings are very simple, but for whatever reason, our kids keep pulling this book off the shelf for us to read together.

Peek-A Who?

This is one of the books that has survived multiple children. It’s been chewed on, dropped, thrown, left under couches and sofas, and traveled with us to faraway places.

It’s only a few pages, with a handful of words, but this gets the A+ seal of approval from our kids.

This is actually one in a series. There is a box set with all of them.

Parenting Rules

A growing list of wisdom I’ve gained over the years.

No grudges/punishments after midnight. This applies to spouses as well. Everyone (including you) gets a clean slate in the morning. Everyone deserves a fresh start and second chance. And just as importantly, it’s stressful and exhausting to try and remember every bad behavior that needs correcting.

If I am grouchy and see my kid do something bad, I may make a rule (“no TV for the rest of the day!”). If/when they do it again, my instinct is to then extend that rule (“no TV for a week!”) but this is too hard to enforce and then what the kid ends up learning is that I don’t follow through on my threats. There are no good easy ways to maintain discipline, but if I am inclined to start doling out punishments that will last for more than a day, better to just change the environment, physically move them and me somewhere else.

• Related to the above, give feedback immediately. A popular concept these days is ‘gamification’ and the essence of that is immediate feedback, both positive and negative. If a child (or employee, or spouse, or friend for that matter) does something that you want to reinforce, don’t make a mental note to give them ice cream later – give them a hug and praise them right then and there. Similarly, if you see behavior that you want to correct, again, don’t delay your reaction. If your reaction is not immediate, the child will not associate your reaction with their action and your reaction will seem irrational.

Sugar is ok as long as you have a plan for where the kids will be when they are burning it off, running around and screaming, and where they will be when they crash, grumpy and unmotivated. A sweet treat about an hour before leaving a playground is great because the kids will run around and start to get tired around when it’s time to leave anyway.

… more to come

Word Girl

The name is bland and the artwork is simple, but Word Girl is one of the better kids shows out there now.

You can watch it for free on PBS Kids, where you can also play related games.

The writing is snappy and funny enough to keep parents engaged. The voice acting is good, and helped with the comedic talent of Chris Parnell (Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock, Archer).

I read once that J.K. Rowling chose to make her wizarding stories have a boy as the central character because she was afraid boys wouldn’t read a story with a female protagonist. And I’ve seen that behavior among boys, where they weren’t interested in stories ‘about girls’. But this show is very popular among our boys, and they were in rapt attention when watching a recent, very good set of episodes dedicated to bullying and rude behavior.

The dialogue is witty and multi-leveled and the education works at multiple levels as well, focusing on vocabulary and grammar, but also behavior and ethical/moral development. This means that kids of all ages can enjoy it and get something out of it, while not annoying the parents.

Children’s Museum Networks

There are three networks of children’s museums in the U.S. ACM, ASTC, and NARM. (If there’s another that I missed, please let me know at matt@matchstick.com).

Belonging to a network means you can go for free or reduced entry to any other museum in the network. We’ve saved many hundreds of dollars by joining. Typically, the cost of joining one of the networks is $20 or so in addition to the cost of an annual membership at one of the museums in the network.

We frequently go to children’s museums when the weather is wet or cold, and it can be a great way to have a playdate without having to mess up the house. And then when taking road trips to the grandparents, we will look for a museum on the way that is in one of the networks, and we go for free.

ACM is the Association of Children’s Museums and has 341 member museums. You can use their online tool to find a museum or look at their PDF, current as of February 2017

ASTC (pronounced “Aztec”) is the Association of Science-Technology Centers. The ASTC Passport Program is similar to the ACM one, though the focus is on children’s science museums. Their list of 364 participating museums is in a PDF, current as of 2017

The NARM (North American Reciprocal Museum) Association is another network, much larger than the other 2, with 896 participating museums. NARM includes many historical sites and other kinds of places beyond the STEM-focus of ASTC. Use the NARM interactive map to find museums near you, or look at their PDF, current as of 2017.

Look at these three networks for a children’s museum near you (some museums belong to more than one network) and see if there are other museums in the same network you are likely to visit, e.g. near a relative’s home. You may be surprised at how many children’s museums are out there. Many have limited marketing budgets and don’t advertise much.