Category Archives: Books To Read

From an old, beloved book

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

– The Velveteen Rabbit

The Curious Case of Supposed Poultry

This morning, I took some time to understand Athos’ current book series obsession, Beast Quest. As far as I can tell, it’s a fantasy with the usual battles between good and evil. And thus ensued this conversation:

Pilgrim Mom: You know, a lot of modern fantasies are inspired by classics like “The Lord of the Rings” and the “Chronicles of Narnia”. [We chat about common themes, and land on betrayal.]

PM: Remember how Edmund betrays his siblings in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”?

Athos: Yah, all because he likes…what was it…Chicken Supreme?

PM: Eh?!?!

Athos: Isn’t it Chicken Supreme?

PM: No, it’s Turkish Delight!

Athos: Oh, it’s turkey then!

I couldn’t stop laughing for a long, long while. We were on the way to the optometrist so it’s a mercy that I didn’t crash….

Pilgrim Discovery: Storyline Online

Please stop everything you’re doing and go over to Storyline Online. It came up in one of my feeds today and after reading a few of the raves, I had to go over and check it out for myself.

Utterly delightful.

The concept is similar to Tumblebooks (another website which I raved about in an earlier post) – children’s books read aloud online. But in the case of Storyline Online, the reading is done by established screen actors like Sean Astin and Elijah Wood (from the “Lord of the Rings” movies), Bradley Whitford (“The West Wing”), Jane Kaczmarek (“Malcolm in the Middle”), and even Al Gore.

Nothing like being read to, and I was completely captivated.

The stories comes with suggested activities and a downloadable activity guide, and some also have reader’s theatre versions.

Please check it out. It’s just wonderful.

And While I’m On The Subject…

Continuing on the theme of the previous post, we were at the library a few weeks back. While at the dinosaur section (the only section we visit without fail), I idly browsed the facing shelves and found this gem:

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Originally in Japanese and translated to English, the book describes factually a normal bodily function, without embarassment nor disdain. And somehow manages to be humorous as well. I read it out to Athos and Porthos and we laughed so hard I was surprised we were not kicked out of the library!

If your kids, like mine, have an inexplicable interest in things scatological, I also highly recommend “The Little Mole Who Knew It Was None of His Business” – which I reviewed in this earlier post.

Of Garage Sales And Wondrous Treasures

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Our 6th multi-family charity garage sale flew by on the blessed wings of gorgeous weather, generous donors, faithful helpers and bargain hunters. We had items of every category from 27 (!!) families, and a steady stream of customers, especially on the first day. And I am delighted to share that we raised almost $2,500 for missions work in the Philippines!

One of the things I love about garage sales is the serendipitous discovery. For me, this mostly happens in the books section. And this garage sale did not disappoint. Continue reading

You Are Special

Thanks to a cousin, we got free tickets to I Theatre’s production “You Are Special“.

Based on best-selling author Max Lucado’s book of the same name, it features an original script, original music, and a cast that is on the whole very strong. All the actors/actresses were unknown to me so I was pleasantly surprised by the overall quality of the ensemble. They adopted standard American/British pronunciation and the accent didn’t slip at any point (not obviously anyway), which is rare for a mostly-local cast. There was some slapstick and melodrama, but none of the awkwardness that sometimes accompanies inexperience. Although a few of the songs weren’t especially melodious, they were well-sung. I was especially taken by the strong vocals of Dwayne Lau (Punch) and Juliet Pang (Lucia). Dwayne in particular had excellent stage presence and carried the show. Candice de Rozario was delightful as the colourful and comical Mayoress. The message of the story is the production’s strongest selling point – that all of us are special because we are loved.

Athos and Porthos enjoyed it, and there were points when Athos guffawed so loudly that those in the neighbouring seats turned to look. The actors also came out to mingle with the audience after the show which was quite a thrill for the boys.

The show is running at the Drama Centre and ends on 18 Nov. Tickets range from $23 to $38. Catch it if you can!

Primary One, Here We Come

Yesterday we reached a huge watershed – Athos registered for primary school.

Primary school! The words bring back a flood of memories – of classrooms and chalkboards, friends and enemies, teachers and homework, school fields and tuckshops. There were days I loved school, days when I hated it, and days when I didn’t have much energy left to feel anything.

As we made our way to register, I wondered how Athos would take to school. Continue reading

More On The Nature Deficit Disorder

I last posted on the nature deficit disorder here. While catching up on blog-reading, I found this link to a Washington Post story via Whymommy over at Toddler Planet. The article expresses concerns over nature’s diminishing presence in the lives of our children, and it’s worth a read.

It’s sad but true that unless we make a special effort, the next generation of children will experience less of nature than us. My father talked of catching guppies in drains and fighting spiders as a child. Today, we have to go somewhere before we can be surrounded by nature, and ahead of that douse ourselves head-to-toe with insect repellent so we don’t get dengue. And here in Singapore, it’s hot, it’s sweaty, and it’s so much easier to go to a mall or just stay home watching TV and playing videogames.

But let’s not be lured by what’s easy, nor put off by what’s hard. Is being outdoors amid nature a good thing? If yes, for the sake of our children, let’s just do it.

Need ideas? Try the Places to Go link above.

Here’s more if you’re interested in the topic:

Incidentally, Whymommy, whose blog I read regularly, has just been diagnosed with breast cancer. She has two boys aged 2.5 years and 5 months. Would you drop by her blog and give her some encouragement?

Ack, I’ve Been Tagged!

The always thoughtful New Parent has tagged me with the question:

“What is the meaning of your kid’s name?”

It’s funny he should ask. I’m now reading a book by Eugene Peterson, a pastor, author and professor of theology, who has this to say on the issue of names:

“At our birth we are named, not numbered. The name is that part of speech by which we are recognised as a person. We are not classified as a species of animal. We are not labeled as a compound of chemicals. We are not assessed for our economic potential and given a cash value. We are named.

A personal name, not an assigned role, is our passbook into reality…. Anything other than our name – title, job description, number, role – is less than a name. Apart from the name that marks us as uniquely created and personally addressed, we slide into fantasies that are out of touch with the world as it is and so we live ineffectively, irresponsibly. Or we live by the stereotypes in which other people cast us that are out of touch with the uniqueness in which God has created us, and so live diminished into boredom, the brightness leaking away.” (Run With The Horses; p25, 32)

So on to the question:

盛 洋 天

 

The first character is Athos’ name, meaning “abundance”

The second character is Porthos’ name, meaning “ocean”

The third character is Aramis’ name, meaning “sky” (or more metaphorically, “reflection of heaven”)

I hereby tag the following three very fine ladies:

  • Mustard Seed Mom, because I am embarrassed to say that I actually don’t know what her kids’ names mean though I should
  • Rachel @ Pigstorm, because I recall that her kids have very meaningful names
  • Mama Stop Knitting, because her kids’ names (and hers as well) are the essence of bilingual chic

Where To Find Classic Children’s Books For Free

Books are expensive, good books even more so.

But the wonderful thing about the Internet is that it has made some books accessible that would otherwise be out of reach.

Some months ago, I discovered the Baldwin Online Children’s Literature Project. This site has free, printable e-texts of children’s classics. Because the books are public domain (i.e. old), the language is occasionally antiquated. But the site is extremely flexible – the modularised format means you can print just the stories you like rather than the whole book, and customise your printout in several ways. If you’re not sure where to start, the website features two homeschooling curricula on the left navigation menu so you can match the age of your kids to the books they might like. Overall, it is an absolutely fabulous website and I highly recommend it.

The website appears to be a labour of love rather than lucre, so do consider making a donation as you download.

And while we’re on the subject of books, may I once again plug NLB’s eBooks service. Athos and Porthos just had a half-hour on Tumblebooks a few nights ago – I continue to be thoroughly impressed by just how well done it is.

Playing It Safe Can Be Risky

I’m now reading a book called The Medici Effect by Frans Johansson. It’s not a parenting book; rather a business book about creativity and innovation (and one of Amazon’s 10 Best Business Books of 2004). But one of the concepts in the book caught my attention as a parent, and I thought was worth sharing.

It’s called Continue reading

NLB, My Library

The boys got their own library cards today. And Athos is absolutely thrilled because he can now bring home a ton of books. At least, that’s what it felt like carrying them home just now….

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And here, I must pause once again to pay homage to the National Library Board. The whole process of applying and receiving each card took me 3 minutes tops, and the only physical document required was my IC. I was so impressed I walked to the counter just to tell the librarian-in-charge what a terrific service they had. The best part was, the cards came free! So easy, so fuss-free, and the Singaporean in me shouts hurray!

Waxing Lyrical About My Christmas Books

I just had to rave about two of the best Christmas presents I received this year. Both are books.

The first is Framed!: A Baby Blues Treasury a collection of Baby Blues comic strips. I love Baby Blues because Jerry Scott and Rick Kirkman get the issues, impact and insanity of parenting spot-on, and do a brilliant job of making them funny. Virtually every strip has me at least nodding in agreement, if not smiling or laughing out loud.

The second is Maya Angelou’s Hallelujah! The Welcome Table: A Lifetime of Memories with Recipes. Oh that all cookbooks were written this way! It’s a hybrid between a regular recipe book and a collection of Maya Angelou’s life stories. Each tale is told in a folksy earthy style, features food as a central character, and is accompanied by the respective recipes. Her descriptions had me wishing I was a guest at the table, and inspired me enough to cook dinner!

Evernew Bookstore – Ever My Favourite!

After ordering our spectacles at Kwong Shin, we hopped over to Evernew Bookstore. This is my favourite shop in Bras Basah, and one of my favourite corners in the city. It’s a second- (and probably third- or fourth-)hand bookstore, with the majority of books priced at $1 or $2. The kind of place you want to just dig about all day just to see what treasures you can unearth.

I discovered it after Athos was born, and it made a lot of sense to me since books are expensive and kids are destructive. Evernew is known for old school textbooks, but there is a large selection of Ladybirds, board books, and non-fiction/information books. I built up a collection of about 10 Thomas the Tank Engine stories from Evernew, plus the classic Peter and Jane books, some Mandarin early readers, and an almost complete set of hardcover discovery books about air travel, sea travel and the earth. Many of the books aren’t in great shape – the delicious irony of the store’s name! – but at $1, what can one say?

I’ve also made some wonderful finds. Today I picked up a book called I Spy Super Challenger, and knew that it would be a big hit with Porthos. Only upon flipping to the back did I discover that the book is actually a collection of the best “riddles” from the award-winning “I Spy” series published by Scholastic. Some reviews from publishers below:

  • “Oversized pages are chock-full of delectable details…. A can’t miss crowd pleaser. Yum. Yum. Yum.”—Kirkus Reviews
  • “[I SPY] is so visually arresting and complex, so engaging that fans old and new will find much to keep them happily occupied in this literary hide and seek.”—Family Life
  • “A visual feast that children (and many adults) can savor. The images first dazzle the observer…. Then, they pique the reader’s curiosity.”—The Boston Globe

Indeed the detailed photographs immediately drew me in, and Porthos and I sat there playing “I Spy” for a good few minutes and could easily have gone on for longer had time permitted.

We’ll be going back to Kwong Shin to pick up our glasses in a week. Can’t wait to drop in to Evernew again!

A Guide to the Best Children’s Books

I brought the boys to the library earlier this week. It’s wonderful how NLB doubles our borrowing limit during the school holidays. All the same, every visit to the library leaves me with only one conclusion — too many books, too little time!

Thankfully, there are some helpful guides to good books for kids. Two of these are the Newbery and Caldecott awards. Both are awarded annually by the Association for Library Services to Children (a division of the American Libarary Association). The Newbery is given to “the most distinguished American children’s book published the previous year”, while the Caldecott is for “the artist of the most distinguished American Picture Book for Children published in the United States”.

You can find the complete list of Newbery winners here, and Caldecott winners here.

NLB eBooks – A Big Hit!

NLB’s Tumblebooks was a big hit with Athos and Porthos! We spent a good half hour at the e-library this morning. After showing them the three books I’d flagged, we listened to some others, including Can I Have A Stegosaurus, Mom? and Can I Have A Tyrannosaurus Rex, Dad? (Athos is really into dinosaurs right now.) The site allows for manual advance for faster readers who do not want to be read to, and going backwards too.

NLB’s eBooks – Brilliant!

I’m so excited about my latest discovery – the National Library Board’s eBooks service. I was thoroughly absorbed by the kids’ collection, called Tumblebooks Library. You’ll need to register as a member (free, and the Singaporean in me says Hurray!) Then scroll down to Tumblebooks and start browsing.

Some are pdf versions of books for reading online, including classics like Alice in Wonderland, Little Women and the Wizard of Oz. Others are audio books.

And then there is the best category of them all – picture books with audio and animated visuals. I randomly listened to/watched three – Little Pea, The Dot and The Fire Station – unqualified fun! It’s been a long time since I’ve been read to, and I felt like a happy child.

The reading is expressive, American-accented (Tumblebooks looks like a Canadian outfit), and the images appear to be animated versions of the actual book illustrations. Best part for the beginning reader: the sentence being read lights up, karaoke-style.

No substitute for parents reading to their kids of course, nor the range of a physical library. But on a rainy (or hazy!) day, I can imagine how this service might be a great babysitter. And it’s one way for parents to check out the books before deciding whether to borrow/buy them. I heartily recommend this. Can’t wait to show this to Athos and Porthos tomorrow.

The Velveteen Rabbit – Passed Down To the Next Generation

Now that Athos prefers to read by himself than to be read to, the only way I know how much he likes a book is if I see him read it more than once, and especially if he uses it for loo reading. 🙂

Imagine my delight to discover him doing both with one of my favourite children’s books, The Velveteen Rabbit!

I still remember the first time I ever heard the story. It was on a long plane ride many years ago. I was idly listening to the in-flight entertainment system when an audio recording of the story came on. The narrator was the incomparable Meryl Streep, accompanied by a gentle, lyrical George Winston on keyboard. I was riveted. Margery Williams tells a magical tale of a stuffed rabbit, beloved by his owner, and what happens to him when he is Really Loved.

After that I simply had to buy the book. I’ve possessed various versions at various times, and my current edition is a hardcover illustrated book I got in 1997, on sale somewhere (I think) in the US. Sometime after the kids came, I put the book together with their books, hoping one day to read it to them. And lo and behold, Athos has read it by himself, not once but three times!

I’m so thrilled he likes it — it’s such a beautiful classic and I think the world might just be a better place if everyone read that story!

3 All-Time Favourite Books

Tonight I had the responsibility of keeping a pair of 4-year-old twins occupied. We sang songs, played with lightsticks, and talked about whatever they felt like talking about.

One of my favourite things to do with my own kids is to read. So I brought along three of my all-time favourites to share with the twins, in the hopes that they would enjoy them as much as Athos and Porthos do.

It worked! We read them, talked about them, read them again, and would have read a third time except that supper was ready. There are few things more delightful than seeing young children connect with a good story. Here are the books:

  • Hug by Jez Alborough – Bobo the monkey goes through the jungle and with the help of other animals, finally finds what he’s looking for. This is a truly remarkable book that uses just 3 words, yet communicates powerfully through a heartwarming storyline and expressive pictures. Works well for pre-bedtime reading and cuddles!
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle – A caterpillar is born, eats his way from Monday to Sunday, builds his cocoon and emerges a butterfly. The artwork is vibrant and colourful, and the story works on a surprising number of levels – the plot itself is engaging, and there are opportunities to teach about numbers, colours, days of the week, types of food, the life cycle of a butterfly, and even the importance of fibre and greens!

  • The Little Mole Who Knew It Was None of His Business by Werner Holzwarth and Wolf Erlbruch – Originally in German, the book was subsequently translated into English, and what a superb addition to the world of children’s literature! In general I don’t mind spoilers for children’s books since the idea is to help parents make a decision whether or not to introduce it to their kids. But in this case, it is such a deliciously funny book that I shan’t rob anyone of the pleasure. Let’s just say that it’s a story about a mole who wakes up one morning to a dreadful event, sets about finding the perpetrator, and brings justice to bear. Now there IS a sub-plot of revenge, but in this case, the retaliation is so harmless (and funny) that I don’t think the kids will take it too much to heart.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (minor spoilers)

I finally finished Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close last night, while tucked in bed nursing a dreadful cold, fever and headache. I know, I know, I should probably have just closed my eyes and tried to sleep. But Pilgrim Dad was such a sweetheart to brew me herbal tea and put the kids to bed, and it seemed such a shame to waste the peace!

Anyhow, the book is about a precocious 9-year-old named Oskar, who discovers a key in his father’s closet, and sets out on a journey to find the matching lock. It’s told in the first person, mainly by Oskar, giving the prose a lightness (and readability) that belies the tragedy beneath. Two acts of war frame the narrative – 9/11, where Oskar’s father perished, and the WW2 bombing of Dresden, which traumatised Oskar’s grandfather in his youth. Ultimately, the story is less about the mystery of the lock than what he discovers along the way, about loss, grief and love.

The book was by turns funny, heartwarming and heartwrenching. Great how the author Jonathan Safran Foer gave his prose a visual kick from time to time e.g. by playing with spacing or other more graphic devices. And I especially loved how the character of Oskar’s mother was subtly written, and revealed.

Wonderful!

The book reminded me of another child-narrated novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which I also thoroughly enjoyed. Using a flawed first-person narrator is such a great way to tease and engage a reader!