Monday, November 21, 2011

Real-Life Lessons

This article appeared in last Monday's newspaper. In the week since its original publication, I'm sorry to report, there are no updates to the story. Not that I expected anything different.

When you boil it down, a great deal of parental instruction falls into one major category: responsibility. Children need to know that it is their responsibility to brush their teeth, finish their homework, behave in an acceptable manner, and put on clean underwear.

As parents we keep on our kids about such things so that as adults they have their own teeth, achieve the tasks set before them, and behave as civilized contributors to a peaceful society. And wear clean underwear.

Yet we know that children aren’t perfect. They make mistakes, and mistakes lead to more lessons about responsibility. I’ve got no problem with that.

But what frustrates me to no end, makes me want to throw up my hands and yell something unsavory, is that even when a parent’s lesson is taken to heart and a child does exactly what has been taught, the outcome can still turn sour.

I’m not talking about getting cavities. That happens. Even completed homework can get eaten by the dog. It’s the bigger stuff.

Our daughter wanted her own iPod. Her mom and I discussed it. What are the positives? The negatives? Most importantly, has she demonstrated sufficient responsibility to warrant such a purchase?

Yes, she had, we agreed.

She responsibly saved her own money. She diligently bypassed short-term trifles for a long-term purchase. Basically, she proved us right.

She got her iPod.

She took care of it. She asked us before purchasing music or installing new apps. She designed and purchased her own iPod cover using a photo she took of a palm tree and printed “Palm Tree Girl” across the top. She used the alarm, took notes, read the news, and even read ebooks.

And then it got stolen.

Brilliant.

What do you say to that? Where is the lesson in this? “Sweetheart, sometimes even when you do everything right, someone else’s shallow actions and irresponsibility can take away something you’ve worked so hard for.”

Nice.

Welcome to the real world where not all people value responsibility, where a person’s long-term achievements can be crushed by another’s short-term greed, and where doing the right thing can still result in frustration, anger, and disappointment.

In all of this, however, I can give thanks that it’s a stolen iPod, not a missed meal. I can give thanks that my daughter has shown such responsibility and that the employees at the doctor’s office were empathetic.

So I’m thankful.

And through it all I have faith that the lessons my daughter has learned - and the lessons we’ve learned from her - will not be forgotten. She’s handled herself well, which brings joy to her mother and me. And we’ll all certainly take more care of our belongings.

So one might say I’m faithful, joyful, and more careful.

And I hope that maybe there’s a parent wondering why their child went to a doctor’s appointment and came home with an iPod. I hope someone will follow the request that appeared on the iPod’s screen to return it to the office where it was stolen. I’m hoping a friend or relative might question the appearance of an iPod where there wasn’t one before.

But honestly, I’m not hopeful.

Sorry. Just being truthful.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Guys Read: Thriller edited by Jon Scieszka

Jon Scieszka, children’s book author and the nation’s first National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, founded Guys Read to “to motivate boys to read by connecting them with materials they will want to read, in ways they like to read.” The Guys Read mission lists six points, the first of which is “Make some noise for boys.”

Despite the fact that boys tend to need no help making noise, I wholeheartedly concur.

Guys Read: Thriller is the second volume of the Guys Read Library, following the excellent Guys Read: Funny Business. These books (sports and nonfiction are upcoming subjects) are compilations of short stories from a variety of authors who all share one common trait: Boys read what these authors write.

Scieszka writes in the introduction to Thriller,

“Why is that shady-looking character lurking in the dark alley? What’s he doing with that crowbar? Is that something in his other hand? What is he doing? What has he done?  
That is the mystery.”
Guys Read: Thriller is full of the mysterious. There are ghosts and haunted houses. There are wishes that come true and a bumbling detective. There are pukwudgies, pirates, a missing copperhead snake, and a body on the train tracks. In other words, there’s everything a guy might want in a thrilling book.

At the end of the introduction, Scieszka leaves readers with these words. “What happens next? You read to find out. And don’t look now, but the guy in the alley is turning your way.”

It’s good advice. Get the book. Get reading. And move quickly, before the guy in the alley sees you.

The first book in the Guys Read Library had a great video introduction featuring all of the book’s authors. No such luck this time, but I did find this little gem on YouTube. Enjoy!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Benjamin Bear in Fuzzy Thinking by Philippe Coudray

The latest entry to the ever expanding and impressive Toon-Books collection is Benjamin Bear in Fuzzy Thinking from author Philip Coudray. While the format is slightly different - a series of one page comics rather than the longer stories that make graphic novels - some things remain the same. Just like his predecessors Little Mouse, Benny & Penny, Silly Lilly, Mo & Jo, and others, Benjamin Bear is engaging, age appropriate in reading level and interest, and flat-out funny.

As the title indicates, some folks might describe Benjamin Bear’s thinking as fuzzy. Others might see it as outside the box. Kids won’t care. They’ll be too busy laughing. When Benjamin Bear doesn’t have enough courage to hang glide off a cliff, rather than find a way to build up the needed bravery, he instead gets an angry dog to chase him … right off the cliff. In another scene he gets lost in a giant maze carrying nothing but an apple. Rather than eat the apple to get energy to find a way out, he just sets the apple down and waits. When the ants come for his apple, he follows the ants out of the maze.

Traditional graphic novels and comic books tell stories - longer narratives sometimes broken between issues or separated into episodes in one book. Benjamin Bear is a series of unrelated one-pagers. Think Sunday comics. More than the three-panel weekday comics, but much less than a full graphic novel.

On each page Benjamin Bear faces a problem or challenge. Apple too high in the tree? Pets want to visit the ocean floor? But in a matter of moments, a period of panels, by the end of the page, Benjamin Bear creatively figures out a solution.

All thanks to his fuzzy thinking.
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