Book: The Buddha Sat Right Here

Twenty years ago I traveled through India for three weeks, so when I heard Dena Moes interviewed about her family’s eight month pilgrimage to India, I knew I wanted to read her travel memoir about that journey, The Buddha Sat Right HereI thought it would be a fun to “see” India again through someone else’s eyes, and I was right.

The Moes family is a Buddhist family from California. Dena and her husband had two young girls at the time of their trip, and they wanted to take them away from their modern life in order to help them understand why their parents chose to raise them as Buddhists. But, for me, this book was not so much about religion, which is why I’m reviewing it here on my blog. Dena does describe some of the sacred sites and their experiences in beautiful detail, but the book was more about traveling as a family and being a family. Dena faced some difficult feelings about how she didn’t want to return to the way things were when they returned home, and she makes some serious, life-changing decisions while they are in India. Ultimately, the pilgrimage they took into their hearts and minds was more meaningful than the pilgrimage through India.

I thought it was a worthy book because I could relate to all the family stuff — the good, the bad and the in between of daily life, which is exacerbated whenever we’re away from our creature comforts. While I would never want to undertake a journey such as this, and I couldn’t relate to all the reasons they had for visiting each site in the book, I think many women can identify with Dena’s struggles to balance being a wife and mother while running a thriving business as a mid-wife.

If you like to read travel memoirs, or if you are interested in India, Buddhism, or reading about the ups and downs of family life, you’ll enjoy this book. If you like all those subjects, you’ll love it.

Giant Pumpkin Suite by Melanie Heuiser Hill

You know how Amazon.com will make recommendations to you based on your previous purchases? Well, after buying some cello repertoire for my 10-year-old cellist, Amazon recommended the young adult novel Great Pumpkin Suite by Melanie Heuiser Hill. After reading the about it, I decided to check it out from the library.

At first my 10-year-old looked at it and said, “Ah, I don’t want to read that.”

I said what I always say: “Let’s read the first three chapters. If you don’t like it after three chapters, we don’t have to finish it.” He agreed. (So far we have never not finished a book after using this strategy.)

What’s funny is that after three chapters, I wasn’t as interested in reading the book (I liked it okay), but I thought for sure my son wouldn’t want to read it. Instead he said, “We can keep reading it.”

While it was a rather slow beginning for me, it hooked him, and since it’s a young adult book, that’s not surprising. But after we kept reading, I began to love the story more and more. 

It’s about twelve-year-old Rose and her twin brother, Thomas. Although they are twins, they are different in many ways. Rose is very tall for her age, but Thomas is not. She’s also very gifted — school work is easy for her, and she is a prodigy at the cello. She practices as much as she can. She’s very goal-oriented, and she doesn’t let anything get in her way of achieving her goals. At the beginning of the book, she’s preparing for an important competition, and it’s all she can think about. If she wins, she’ll get to study cello with the esteemed Dr. Wallerstein.

Thomas has trouble with school work, and besides that, he’s a very energetic boy who would rather be outside or doing anything besides schoolwork. At the beginning of the book, he discovers that their elderly neighbor, Mr. Pickering, has fallen down his basement stairs. Thomas and his family help Mr. Pickering, and while he’s in the hospital, Thomas takes care of a very important seed that Mr. Pickering is growing. He learns later that it’s a giant pumpkin seed, and he plans to help Mr. Pickering grow it.

Mr. Pickering needs more than just Thomas’s help, however. They get Rose to help them whenever she can, and slowly the whole neighborhood gets involved. The book is full of fun and interesting characters who live and work in her neighborhood.

After a terrible accident, the pumpkin project helps Rose get through her summer, and she and Thomas make many new friends. Best of all, throughout her turbulent, pumpkin growing summer, Rose learns that there is more to life than cello and school work.

I highly recommend this book to all parents and their young children. It makes a great read aloud.

The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason

Recently I read The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason. It was published in 2002, and I think it was also turned into a movie, but I haven’t seen that yet. I would recommend it for adults. I doubt I would have liked it as a teenager.

It’s set in 1886 and begins in London where we meet Edgar Drake, a piano tuner, and his wife, Katherine. The British War Office summons Edgar and gives him a strange commission. They ask him to travel to Burma and tune a rare Erard grand piano that is sitting in the jungle. It belongs to Surgeon-Major Anthony Carroll.  Carroll is beloved and respected by most of the soldiers who have worked under him, but some of the officials in the military get irritated at the mention of Carroll and his piano. They tolerate him only because he has proved himself indispensable in furthering the expansion of the British Empire.

Edgar, with the support of his wife, decides to make the journey, and it’s after he leaves London that the book starts to get interesting. I felt that it had a slow beginning, and he doesn’t actually meet Carroll until much further into the novel. He has some strange encounters and experiences on his trip, but the book kept my attention, and I wanted to keep reading. In Burma, Edgar meets a beautiful woman who seems to be close to Anthony Carroll, but we’re never quite sure what kind of relationship she has with him. As we keep reading, we realize that Edgar is falling for her, and he becomes Odysseus-like in that he can’t go home. However, unlike Odysseus, we know he could go home, if he really wanted to.

Although the act of tuning a piano is only a small part of this novel, I loved the way that the author described Drake tuning the piano and the feelings it evoked in him. I also loved his use of classical music and sound in the imagery and plot. He gives much respect to the craft of tuning. This and his descriptions of the Burmese countryside and the Shan people are probably the best parts of the book. It’s worthy to note that this is the first novel by Daniel Mason, so I would be curious to read his other works and see how they compare.

The ending has a twist, and I’m still trying to decide what I think about this book. If you have read it, please tell me your impressions of the book. If you haven’t, I recommend it, but at the same time, I would not say it’s a “must read.” I could see how some people might not care for it at all, but I think it would be perfect for a book club because it leaves the reader with a lot of questions.

Wesley the Owl by Stacey O’Brien

When Stacey O’Brien was introduced to a little barn owl chick that had nerve damage in his wing, making it impossible for him to return to the wild, she knew she was meant to become his caretaker.

Wesley the Owl is a heartwarming memoir that I believe both mature teens or adults could enjoy. Stacey takes you on a journey as she raises Wesley from a three-day-old chick. She keeps him until the end of his life, which at 19 years is much longer than the average lifespan of a wild barn owl.

Her trials and tribulations with Wesley are not much different from parents raising human children except that when Wesley comes of age, he doesn’t see Stacy as his parent. He sees her as his mate. This creates some funny and embarrassing moments for Stacey, but she is able to record some remarkable data that had never before been observed with a wild or captive owl. Not only did she form a life-long bond with such a beautiful, intelligent creature, he saves her life in return and teaches her many life lessons. In her book, she passes those lessons on to us. 

This book touched me to my core, and I highly recommend it. I am saving it for my boys to read when they are in high school. It is a book in which science and the spiritual side of life come together in a beautiful and rare way.

Book: Anna Karenina

Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina was always on my bucket list, so my husband bought me the new translation by husband/wife team Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. They are translators of many Russian novels, and their work is critically acclaimed. This translation of Anna Karenina was published in 2000 and was the winner of the Pen/Book-of-the-Month Club Translation Prize. According to the Paris Review, “Pevear and Volokhonsky’s translations have been lauded for restoring the idiosyncrasies of the originals—the page-long sentences and repetitions of Tolstoy, the cacophonous competing voices of Dostoevsky.”

I had never read the previous translation, and this was my first Russian novel. (Well, I tried to read Gogol’s Dead Souls, but I just couldn’t finish it. Maybe I didn’t have the right translation.)

(SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t read the book yet, and you think you’d like to, stop reading now.)

I loved Anna Karenina. Before I read the book, I knew it was about a woman who cheated on her husband, but I didn’t know it was also about the character of Konstantin Levin. His story is juxtaposed against Anna’s story. He is struggling to find himself as he tries to prioritize work while also nursing a broken heart. He is young and anguished, and at times, annoying, but slowly, his circumstances change, and he becomes a better man because of all his experiences.

Anna is in a loveless marriage, though she seems content enough at the beginning of the book, and she adores her son. It’s not until she meets Vronsky, the man who becomes her lover, that everything goes wrong. Unfortunately, she lives in a society that is not kind to anyone who decides that they want to leave their marriage. It was very interesting to learn about 19th century high class Russian society, which reminded me a great deal of Victorian England. I spent most of the book wondering who to blame — Anna, Vronsky, Anna’s husband, or the society they lived in — and my sympathies changed constantly. I thought Tolstoy’s brilliance was being able to show how complicated people and life are. There are no clear cut lines.

Despite being enthralled with the story, I can’t come away from Anna Karenina saying it’s one of my favorite books. At times the book was boring — Tolstoy adds a lot of social commentary on Russian society that was lost on me — and Levin’s long, drawn-out religious conversion at the end was a let down when I wanted to spend more time with Vronsky and those mourning Anna’s death. I understood that this, too, was a sign of the times and commentary from Tolstoy, but that didn’t make me like it better.

Having not the advantage of reading this in a Russian literature class, or discussing it with others, I still enjoyed it, and I’m so glad I read it. Have you read it? What did you think of it?

Book: Ravens in Winter

One of my goals is to read more nature and science books, and I particularly love birds, so when I found Ravens in Winter by Bernd Heinrich at a library book sale, I couldn’t pass it up. I knew that more research had already been done on ravens because I had seen an interesting documentary about them. (This book was published in 1989.) But since I still don’t know that much about ravens, I knew I could enjoy the book anyway. (The latest news is that scientists have figured out that ravens can plan ahead for the future.)

This is the first science book I’ve ever read. That is, it’s about one scientist’s ongoing study of a subject and what he learned through his observations and experiments. (He had help from graduate students too.) What I loved about the book is that it perfectly illustrates the scientific method. Heinrich had observed ravens on some land his family owned in Maine. They seemed to be sharing their food and calling other ravens to join them. From this observation, he formed a question, or hypothesis, in his head. Did ravens recruit other ravens when they found food? Most animals do not share their food with others, so what advantage did this give them? Heinrich took a sabbatical from his job as a biologist at the University of Vermont to try to find out the answer.

The study ended up taking four years, and he did most of his work whenever he had some time off during the extremely cold, Maine winters. While I read about his adventures in the subzero temperatures, sleeping in a non-insulated and non-heated cabin, carrying heavy carcasses to places in order to attract the birds, climbing to dangerous heights in the trees to get a better view, I quickly decided that I would never have been a good wildlife biologist.

But I’m glad there are other people crazy enough to go to extremes to observe ravens because he found out some amazing facts about them, and his descriptions of their behavior were fascinating. While reading the book, I felt like a detective, sitting with him out in the woods, spying on these creatures, trying to figure out what all their odd behavior meant. Take this, for example:

NOVEMBER 27. I’m awakened to a rosy red dawn under a crystal clear sky with temperatures at 10 degrees F.

At 6:38 A.M. a raven flies over, then a second one. The pair has come–the Hills Ponders. They quork a few times during their apparent morning inspection for intruders and return down the valley to the pond. For the next three hours I see only the ever-present blue jays. They have not made a sound all morning on their frequent trips to the pile of new bait.

At 9:45 I suddenly see several ravens. I cannot count them because in the next half hour they circle over only briefly, disappear behind the trees, return, circle some more, and disappear again in to the forest. One flies to a tree where another has landed, and the first leaves; the second flies on to another perched bird, and that one leaves also. Two circle the bait together. I hear one set of deep quorks and one set of knocking sounds. There are no juvenile yells and no trills.

The chapters in the book alternate between a diary of his observations and experiments and also the research he did on previous scientist’s observations about ravens around the world. He also writes about observations from people who are not scientists, and though their observations can be helpful, he explains that it’s important for a scientist to remain subjective and not assume that certain behavior equals human behavior.

I was joking, a little, when I called him crazy. I can clearly see how appealing it would be to spend so much time out in the wild — sometimes alone and sometimes collaborating with others. You can get the sense of how he feels about about his work in the following passage:

FEBRUARY 5. The days are getting longer, but it is still deep winter. Last night, the northern lights were flickering across the sky. Tonight the sky is lightly veiled in clouds, and the quarter moon has a halo around it. It does not shed much light as I snowshoe up with my gear. I have to make three more trips, each time carrying about seventy-five pounds of frozen meat in a burlap bag slung over my shoulder. All of this is unpaid volunteer work, of course. It is fun. What I do will never have any major significance in the scheme of things. So it had better be fun.

Finally, near midnight, I’m done with my exertions and gratefully crawl into a cool but comfortable bed. Alone–unfortunately. A coyote barks from Gammon Ridge. It sounds like the dog next door. But out here it seems wild and exotic, elemental and beautiful. I am paid many times over for my efforts. But the same things I experience would not be rewards at all if it were not for the efforts I’ve invested.

Heinrich had to conduct many experiments, but he did find out that juvenile ravens will recruit other ravens to a food source, if it is located in the territory of an adult pair. This way, the adults cannot chase them off as easily. But that’s a very simplified explanation, and there is much more to glean from his data. These birds are very clever and deserve our respect. I encourage you to read the book, if you have any interest in science or birds.

Note: A high school student interested in science may enjoy this book, but younger kids would probably think it was boring.

Heinrich has written many books, and I see he has other books about ravens too. Have you read any of his books? Which do you recommend the most?

Worthy Reads about Raising and Educating Boys

Since I have two boys, I cannot help but be interested in information to help me understand the unique needs of boys.  Below is a list of books and online resources that I have found, and I plan to add to this list as I find more.  I hope you’ll contribute to this by leaving me your recommendations in the comments section!  I know there is a lot more out there, but I haven’t had much time to research it.

Books

The Wonder of Boys by Michael Gurian – I owned this book before I even got married!  I liked the first chapter, especially, because it describes the difference in brain development of boys and girls.  It’s fascinating.  At the time, I guess I needed some insight on understanding the opposite sex, but after I had two boys, I sat down and finished the whole book.  I highly recommend this to any parent who has a boy.

Raising Boys by Steve Biddulph – Recently I read Biddulph’s Secret of Happy Children, and now this book is sitting on my night stand ready to be opened.  I’ll be sure to review it once I’m finished.

Online Resources

Bloggin’ Bout Boys – Jennifer Fink’s blog has a treasure trove of information.  She should know since she has four boys.  And she has homeschooled them too!

Why Boys Fail – I haven’t read through Richard Whitmire’s blog yet, but it looks like a good source of information and I want to go back to it.

Building Strong Boys – Not Just Cute – This looks to be a promising series about boys, risk factors and the positive things they need.

Interesting Articles

Schools “relearning” how to teach boys – recent article on king5.com

Why Boys Are Failing in an Educational System Stacked Against Them – by Lori Day of the Huffington Post – Very good article. I especially like this quote: “Particularly relevant to this discussion is the theory of “natural learning,” which takes for granted that a learner is a whole person — a living system — and that every aspect of a person, boy or girl, contributes to his or her learning.”

Our boys are falling behind in education – 2010 op-ed in Denver Post

New Studies highlights needs of boys in K-12, Higher Education – article in Science Daily

The Truth About Girls and Boys – a 2006 article that offers a different point of view

Teaching boys to be men – Interesting article about a boy’s school in Kenyan newspaper.  The quote I found most provocative in the article: “Why boys? Though she knows she might sound unpopular, Purity believes that the girl child has been empowered at the expense of the boy.”

Teacher and dad Michael Reist urges retooled approach to raising boys in new book

Anything Boys Can Do…Biology may play only a minor role in the math gender gap: Scientific American

A Huge Gender Gap Persists In College Degrees, Do We Need A White House Council On Boys And Men? by Mark Perry

Boys falling behind girls in education, experts look for solutions by Bruce Lindsay for KSL.com-Utah

All-boys’ classes grow confidence, leadership by Tamara Shephard on InsideToronto.com

Who says raising boys is easier?  by LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor

Learning to live with ‘boy energy’ by Stephen Bede Scharper

Book boys can’t resist – the notebook.org

Thousands of boys’ at least four years behind in reading – telegraph.co.uk – I see articles similar to this one almost everyday.  Something is wrong with how kids are being taught to read!

How to Help Your Kinesthetic Learner Do Better in School – NannyPro.com

Educating Boys – ABC Sydney – Australian Broadcasting Corporation – Though this sounds like a good school, I don’t agree with the statement that boys are different because we nurture them differently. They are just different!  And we nurture each child according to his/her needs.

Why You Should Care About International Men’s Day – Blogging ‘Bout Boys

‘Girls’ better behaviour results in higher grades than boys’ – Education – Scotsman.com – This is an irritating article. Boys are no less well-behaved than girls. They (and some girls) have different needs, including the need for a better learning environment where they can move and do more hands-on activities! This article is from Scotland, but the expert quoted happens to be from a local university.

How to Help Boys – Blogging ‘Bout Boys

As I noted above, this is my attempt to start collecting resources on this topic.  I’ll be adding more as I find them, and I hope you’ll contribute by leaving your recommendations in the comments below.  Thank you!

Do you think there’s a difference between boys and girls and how they learn?  

Book: Reflections on The Secret of Happy Children

Recently I read the book The Secret of Happy Children by Steve Biddulph, which is an oldie but goodie in the world of parenting books. The title appealed to me because like every mother, I want my kids to be happy.  I also like the fact that it’s not a long book, and Biddulph writes with ease and humor.

He also gained my trust by writing at the beginning of the book, “I still believe experts are a hazard to your family!  If you listen to your own heart it will always tell you what the best way is to raise your children.”

I liked that because up until this last year, I have been loath to read many parenting books.  I know I’m not an expert, but whenever I start reading about parenting, I get anxious because there’s always something in those words of wisdom that I’m not doing.  I let my kids watch more T.V. than the experts say they should, I lose my patience, and I don’t always remain calm.

Yes, I know it’s normal, but when you start to read parenting advice, the logical part of you that says, “Nobody is perfect, and kids don’t need perfect” gets blurred because you want to be a good parent.

But it’s better to be informed.  How can we get better if we never educate ourselves?  So I read the book, and I’m glad I did.  I know I won’t be perfect, but it gave me some things to think about.

In his first chapter, Biddulph talks about the negative programming parents give their children when they are unaware of it.  Most of us adults come equipped with the programming our parents gave us.  Did they tell you that you would never amount to anything?  Compare you to someone else?  Tell you that you were lazy or selfish?

“Children,” Biddulph writes, “with their brilliant, perceptive ways, will usually live up to our expectations!”

He writes that while any of us would recognize the extreme negative statements, most of the programming is subtler.  “Observe children playing in a vacant lot, climbing trees,” he writes, “‘You’ll fall!’ ‘Watch out!’ ‘You’ll slip!’ cries the voice of their anxious mother….”

“Don’t be a pest” is one example he also gives, and I have to admit, I have used that myself.  If used continually, this kind of talk will create “seeds that will grow and shape the child’s self-image, eventually becoming part of his personality.”

I think it’s hard to be conscious of everything we say to our children.  When I’m tired and burned out by being a mother, who knows what kind of messages I’m sending just with my attitude?  But since I read his book, I’ve been making strides at keeping myself more well rested and with a grateful attitude.  I know I’m a more uplifting mom when I can do that.

The rest of the book offers alternatives to this kind of parenting, including chapters on “active listening” and the “assertive parent” (vs. the aggressive or passive parent).  It covers what to do with tantrums, whining, and reminds us to foster a healthy relationship with our partners and also to take care of our own needs.

What stuck with me the most was his chapter on “What Children Really Want.”  Though it should be common sense, every parent can use the reminder that when kids act up, it means that they have unmet needs.  And usually what they want the most is our love and attention.  Not half-the-attention-on-them and half-the-attention-on-our-smart-phones, but our full attention.

I read somewhere else recently that toddlers need at least one hour of sit-our-butts-on-the-floor and play with them per day.  This may not seem like a long time, but if you are a parent, you know one hour is a very long time to sit and give our full attention to playful activities that are thrilling to children yet mind-numbing to adults.

Biddulph says parents should give their children (of all ages) at least half an hour a day of full attention.  Let the rest of the world go, and listen, play, be with your child.  That’s not much time in the big scheme of things.

I am a stay-at-home mom with the luxury of time with my children, but even I can use that advice.  Adults have stress and work that takes our minds away from our kids even when we’re with them.  So I appreciate the parenting advice Biddulph gives, and I highly recommend this book to any parent looking for more insights on how to raise happy kids.

Note: This column originally appeared in the October 7, 2011 edition of the Barrow Journal.

Two Stories I Made Up For My Five-Year-Old — to Show That YOU Can Do It Too!

This is the third in my series of posts about storytelling for children by their parents.  The first post was a review of the book Tell Me A Story by Chase Collins.  The second post was “How I Use Storytelling to Enrich the Lives of My Children.”  In that post, I warned you that I might get brave enough to share one of my stories with you! Well, guess what?  I’m giving you two!

With these stories I would like to illustrate something that Chase Collins taught me in her book.  When you are thinking “what the heck am I going to tell a story about?” she suggests that you look at what is going on with your child at that moment.  Did they do something special that day?  Is there something that they are into?  When we were on vacation in Chicago this summer, my son took his first subway ride, so I told him a story about some children riding on a subway and meeting a subway monster (not a scary monster)!  Right now my son is into snakes, so you can guess that many of my recent stories have snakes in them.

She also said that if you can get your child to give you an idea, then go with that!  Sometimes my son says, “Just tell me a story,” and I know he doesn’t want to contribute an idea.  But lately he has been saying, “Can you tell me a story about Jack and Piper?  And it could be about how Jack goes walking to the river and finds a rainbow snake who is lost?”  (That was my son’s prompt tonight!)

The following story is one I told last month before my boy’s birthdays, and while I usually forget my stories by the next day, this one stuck with me because I was kind of proud of it.  But I don’t always tell good stories!  Usually I start one and then struggle to come to a conclusion.  After telling this tale, I later I realized it has a similar theme to a book that I’ve read to my son….but I promise I am not plagiarizing!  My story is very different, yet perhaps I subconsciously got something out of that storybook.  I think this is okay when making up stories for kids.  We are not telling these stories to sell them.  It’s a one-time love offering to our children.  Get your ideas anywhere!  It doesn’t have to be original or told with perfect diction.  If it’s a bad story, don’t worry.  You’ll forget it and tell another one the next day.

The beginning paragraph is how I usually start out my “Jack and Piper” stories.  My main character is Jack, but since I told this story right before my son’s birthday, it seemed better to make Piper the main character in this one.

Once upon a time there was a little boy named Jack who lived in a forest in a log house, and he had a big garden full of vegetables and flowers.  And he also had a friend named Piper who was a troll with big feet and shaggy hair, and he lived down the path in a tree.  Piper couldn’t talk, but he had no problem communicating with his friend Jack.  

Well, tomorrow was going to be Jack’s birthday, and Piper was at home thinking about what to get for his friend.  That morning he walked outside his treehouse and noticed how beautiful the first morning light was glowing through the trees.  Oh, it would be wonderful to get Jack something as beautiful as that morning light, he thought.  Later, he was walking along the river, and he noticed how good the morning air smelled.  He breathed deep and sighed.  It would be wonderful to get Jack something that smelled as good as the morning air.  Then he walked up a small hill to one of his favorite places.  There, he sat in the grass and watched the sunrise while he ate some warm bread for breakfast.  Oh, he thought, I would love to get something that Jack would love as much as I love this morning sunrise!  

Piper sat there all day feeling kind of blue because he couldn’t think of anything he could give to Jack.  He didn’t have any money to buy anything, and he wasn’t very good at making things.  He went to bed feeling sad, but he woke up early in the morning, determined to be the first person to wish Jack a happy birthday!  He warmed up some bread in the oven and though he still felt bad about not having a present for Jack’s birthday, he knew it would be worse to not wish Jack happy birthday at all.  So he went to Jack’s house early.  It was barely light, and Piper snickered because he knew his friend liked to sleep late.  He would wake him up and be the first person to say “Happy Birthday!”  

When Piper got to Jack’s house, he knocked on the door, and a very groggy Jack answered it.  “Aw, Piper!” Jack whined.  “You woke me up!”  Piper clapped and jumped up and down.  “You want to wish me happy birthday?” Jack asked.  Piper nodded and held up the warm bread.  “Okay,” Jack said, “Just a minute.”  It didn’t take long for Jack to get dressed, and very soon the two friends were walking along the river.  “Wow,” Jack said, “It’s a beautiful morning. Smell that fresh air!”  The first light was easing its way through the branches.  The fog was gently lifting off the water.  Soon they were on top of the hill where Piper liked to eat his breakfast.  They ate the bread and watched the sunrise together.  

“I haven’t been up to see the sunrise in such a long time,” Jack said.  “I forgot how amazing it is! Thank you, Piper!”  

When Jack said that, Piper became very happy!  Suddenly he realized that he did give Jack something as beautiful as the morning light, that smelled as good as the morning air, and something that he loved as much as the sunrise!  

Currently, for a several nights in a row, my son keeps asking me to tell him a story about Jack and Piper AND an animal that gets lost.  I have no idea why he chooses this theme.  We did not have any occurrence when he got lost, and to my knowledge he has not watched a television show with this theme, but maybe he did.  Who knows?  For whatever reason, I believe it is important to him, so I am indulging him with stories about an animal getting lost and Jack and Piper helping the animal get home.  For the first couple of stories, I just had Jack and Piper help the critter home, but then I wised up.  I used the opportunity to tell my son what he could do to find his way home, if he got lost.  So in my third story, I had Jack instruct the animal to remember what landmarks he passed on his way down the river.  They followed them back up the river, and helped him find his way.  In the fourth story, which I’ll share below, I gave the advice we always hear:  If you get lost, stay put!  (Tonight I told a similar story, and I’m starting to think I need to encourage him to think of a new theme.)

Another note before I share the story:  As I mentioned before, my son usually tells me what kind of animal gets lost.  For the story below, he pointed to a snake on his “Snakes of Georgia” poster that he has on the wall next to his bed.  The snake he pointed to was a Yellow Rat Snake.  (Yes, you know you love your child when you let him have a poster full of snake photos and are willing to tell him a story about a Yellow Rat Snake!)  Here it is:

One morning Jack decided to take a walk down by the river.  When he got there, he sat down on a rock and enjoyed watching the river, listening to the gurgling sound of the water.  Suddenly he saw a baby yellow rat snake slithering by on the path very fast!  

“Little snake!” he said.  “Where are you going so fast?”  

“I’m looking for my mother!” the little snake said.  “I’m lost!” 

“Oh no!” Jack said.  “I’ll help you!  I’m very experienced at helping lost animals.”   (At this point my son asks me where Piper is, so I have to go get him.)  “But first we need to go get my friend Piper.  He’ll help us.”

Relieved, the baby snake went along to Piper’s house.  When Jack told Piper that the snake needed help finding his mother, Piper nodded and came along.

“First,” said Jack, “We’ll go back to where I found you.”  Soon they were at the place where Jack was sitting that morning.  “Now, Little Snake, where were you when you lost your mother?”

“Not far from here,” said the snake.  “Over there!”  He looked in the direction of a big boulder that was sitting on the bank of the river.   “My mommy took my sister and I out to find food, and she found me a cricket.  Then she went off with my sister to find her some food.  And I was so busy eating that I didn’t notice that they were gone!”  The little snake cried.  He wanted his mama.

“Ah,” said Jack.  “You know what?  I bet your mama isn’t far off.  The best thing to do when you’re lost is to stay right where you are.  Let’s go back to the boulder and wait.  I bet your mama will find us!”

“Okay,” said the little snake.  So Jack, Piper and the snake sat down by the big rock and waited.  The snake was still worried, but he was glad he had Jack and Piper to be with him. 

After a few minutes, the little snake’s mama and his sister came around a big tree that was close by.  “Mama!” the little snake cried.  “I thought I lost you!”

“I’m sorry you were scared,” said Mama.  “I was right over there with your sister.”

Jack and Piper were very happy that they were able to help the little snake.  They waved good-bye and watched as the snake family slithered down the trail.  Then they went back to Piper’s house and played together for the rest of the day.

Okay, so it won’t win any awards, but it made a 5-year-old very happy.  I hope you’re inspired to tell stories to your child.  If I can do it, you can do it!  Just let your imagination go wild!

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Note: To find more resources on how to start telling stories to your children, see my Storytelling Page.

 

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How I Use Storytelling to Enrich the Lives of My Children

In my last post I reviewed the book Tell Me a Story: Creating Bedtime Tales Your Children Will Dream On by Chase Collins, and I spoke a little about her reasons and strategy for making up your own tales.  In this post, I want to share my experience in telling stories to my son.

Telling stories has always been a passion of mine.  I used to write fiction, though I wasn’t very good at it or at least not good enough to get published.  Oral storytelling is also a passion, especially since I met the late J.J. Reneaux.  I can’t wait until my boys are old enough to go to the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesboro, TN.  I have been once, and it’s a wonderful experience.

But it took reading Tell Me a Story to get me started on making up tales for my own children.  Since I am a busy mama and often exhausted, I had felt like most of my creative juices were used up, but Chase’s book is inspiring.  When I read it, I began wishing I had someone like her to tell me stories!  She knows how to bolster confidence.  If you want to do anything creative and think you can’t do it, you might want to read the first part of this book.

It also frees my creative side to know that I’m telling stories to a five-year-old who will be happy with anything I come up with.  I don’t have to tell publishable stories or stories that adults or even other kids might like. I just have to tell something!  My child is thrilled that I’m taking time to tell him a story that is just for him.

As Collins suggests, I think about what happened to my son that day or what he’s interested in at the time, and I incorporate those things in the stories.  Even though it’s only been a few weeks since I finished the book, I have told dozens of stories to my son.  Many of them had different characters and were in different settings, but then I came up with Jack and Piper.  Jack is a little boy who lives in the forest in a log house with a large garden full of vegetables and flowers.  Piper is a troll with big feet and shaggy hair that lives down the path in a tree, and he’s Jack’s good friend.  Piper doesn’t talk, but Jack and Piper have no trouble communicating.

My son seems to love Jack and Piper because he’s been requesting a story about them every night.  He’s starting to tell me who they meet in the woods too.  I adore my son’s input because I know his creative juices are flowing, and he’s starting to see all the possibilities….

Best of all, he told me his first story the other night!  His story was very similar to some of my stories, but he put in his own character and changed the setting. I was so proud.

A few observations about my storytelling since I read Tell Me a Story:

  • When necessary, I have tried to come up with stories that might give my son a message I want him to hear.  This is something Collins talks about in her book, and I love the opportunity to teach my son in a fun way instead of hitting him over the head with a lecture.  Once I told a story about a little girl who babysat a very naughty puppy.  The puppy chewed up her favorite toy and wouldn’t do anything she needed him to do.  I hoped that on some subconscious level, my son might start to understand why there are times I need him to obey, be calm and not so difficult.
  • In my last post I shared Chase Collin’s “nitty-gritty story structure,” which she claimed, if followed, was an easy and full-proof way of coming up with a good tale on the spur of the moment.  Well, it’s not as easy as she makes it sound, but it definitely helps.  I have created some decent stories using this structure.  But then other times it’s so hard.  I can come up with a journey and a threat, but figuring out a hero-inspired way out can be tricky!  Luckily my son doesn’t mind my lame endings.  However, I have found that I enjoy telling stories more if I just let go of the structure and tell, which brings me to my next point…
  • Sometimes my stories are more like a “slice of life.”  Just a simple moment, a walk in the woods, what the hero encountered, what the hero liked and didn’t like, and then he went home.  After telling a few of these, I realized they relaxed me tremendously, my son enjoyed them, and I think they impart a great wisdom: to notice life, our surroundings, feelings and to appreciate nature.  And sometimes after telling these stories, I would think back and realize that it did indeed follow the nitty-gritty story structure after all!  Just in a very subtle way.
  • Finally, I have observed how happy storytelling makes me.  Take away the pressure to create a good story and simply speak about what you love, where you would like to be, what you’d like to be doing and with the kind of people you love, and you create a beautiful fantasy that both you and your child can dream on and keep with you throughout your day.  And then, of course, you might start to notice how your life parallels the lives of your characters…

Please come back again because in my next post, I might get brave and share one of my stories!

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Note: To find more resources on how to start telling stories to your children, see my Storytelling Page.