Thursday, January 19, 2012

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

Sometimes - no, oftentimes - the simplest books end up being the best books. Here is a 100% complete summary of I Want My Hat Back. Eh-hem...

1. Bear cannot find his hat.
2. Bear asks various woodland creatures, “Have you seen my hat?”
3. The various woodland creatures respond to the contrary.
4. Bear realizes that he has, indeed, seen his hat.
5. Bear gets his hat back.

Simple, yes, but it is in the pictures and the dialogue that I Want My Hat Back becomes a book worthy of repeated readings. Children will realize they have seen Bear’s hat before he does. One of the woodland creatures, Rabbit, appears to be wearing it. Oddly enough, it is Rabbit who is most insistent that he has not seen Bear’s hat. Rabbit insists, “I would not steal a hat” and demands, “Don’t ask me any more questions.” Eventually Bear realizes where his missing hat is, and the climactic confrontation and subsequent reunification of Bear and hat is where the fun starts.

Children will ask all sorts of questions and have all sorts of opinions. Did Rabbit lie? Did Rabbit steal the hat? Is Bear dumb or is Bear just not very observant? Is Rabbit suspicious? Is Bear suspicious? Is the resolution fair? When I read it with second graders, the reading took five minutes but the discussion was spirited, vocal, hotly debated, and twenty minutes long.

I don’t want to give away the end of the book, but it’s awesome. It’s clever, surprising, funny, and refreshingly different from what one might expect from a typical children’s book. Here’s a 100% complete summary of what you should do. Eh-hem...

  1. Get the book.
  2. Read the book slowly.
  3. Look carefully at the illustrations.
  4. Draw conclusions with each page, especially near the end.
  5. When you think you've got it - about 3 pages from the end - pat yourself on the back and smile at the clever surprise ending.
  6. Then turn the page and realize that you really never saw it coming.
  7. Repeat. With friends.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Parental Superpowers

When my son asked me about having superpowers, he meant it as a "What if...?" question. Instead it lead my brain down a rabbit trail of thoughts, starting with the belief that I was already in possession of numerous superpowers, all parenting related, and ending with the realization that there is truly only one superhero in our household. And it lead to my latest column. (Read it on the newspaper's website here.)

“If you could choose two superpowers, what would they be?” my son wondered one gray winter morning over breakfast, as if the day’s agenda included re-creating his parents as comic book characters.

“Just two?” I asked.

“Yeah, just two.”

“That’s a tough one. Let’s see, superpowers...” I tried to buy time (superpower: stalling), but kids sometimes use questions only to introduce their own answers. This was such a time. I needn’t have delayed.

“I already know mine,” he interrupted. “Invisibility and teleportation.”

“No, you don’t want invisibility,” I told him. “Invisibility would only get you in trouble.” (superpower: wisdom)

“But what about teleportation? Then I could, like, just show up at school. I wouldn’t have to walk.”

“Seems wasted when you live less than a block away.” (superpower: observation)

“Yeah, well...” he muttered, shrugged, and slurped his last three Cheerios, a whole grain ellipsis punctuating his unfinished thought.

Still not prepared with a response, I deferred to my daughter. (superpower: diversion) “Hey, Meg,” I yelled down the hall to my no-longer-sleeping yet still-in-bed oldest. “If you could choose two superpowers, what would they be?”

“Invisibility and mind reading.”

“Mind reading? People already SAY plenty of nasty things. Why would you want to know everything they’re NOT saying?” (superpower: persuasion)

“Good point,” she conceded.

“Besides, you’re already invisible.” I added. “You haven’t appeared at breakfast all week.” (superpower: humor)

“You guys are freaks.” This was my wife’s unexpected contribution, added with a slight roll of her eyes and accentuated by the thwack of her coffee cup on the kitchen table. “He just throws out ‘superpowers’ during breakfast, and suddenly you three are engaged in full-on conversation. Is there some standardized list of superpowers that I’m not aware of?”

“Well there’s flying and super strength and speed. Those are pretty standard,” I inform her. (superpower: analysis)

“Yeah, like Mr. Incredible and Dash - pshooo!” the boy says, providing his own sound effects.

“I meant real superheroes like Superman and Spiderman and the Flash.” (superpower: suspension of disbelief)

“Real superheroes?” my wife asks.

“But you have to watch out for guys like Batman,” I continue. (superpower: avoidance) “Batman was just a normal guy with cool gadgets. No super-strength or anything.” (superpower: rambling)

The boy nodded his agreement.

“You know what?” Jennifer placed both hands on the table and stood slowly. “You all just keep making stuff up, all your invisi-portation and tele-bility.”

“Invisibility and teleportation?”

“Whatever. Here’s the deal.” She paused and glared at each of us in succession. “I can clear the table without you noticing.” We looked down and sure enough, our cereal bowls were missing. “I can get dishes, laundry, and bathrooms clean faster than you can get them dirty. I can organize transportation for dance, soccer, swim, and after-school meetings and - legally, mind you - get everyone there on time. I pick up the clutter and lay down the law. So you can talk about superpowers all you want.”

“I’ve got work to do.”

(superpower: Mom)

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Pint Man by Steve Rushin

This site is generally home to children’s book recommendations, but occasionally a grown-up book comes along that deserves a mention. I have been a fan of Steve Rushin’s writing since his early days with Sports Illustrated and was curious to see if his style would translate to a novel.

The answer, without a doubt, is yes. The Pint Man is funny and clever and filled with Rushin-isms. And while the book is not for children, it is most definitely a book for certain grown-ups, including people who:

  • have spent regular time at a local watering hole, preferably an Irish establishment.
  • have ever admired a public restroom.
  • enjoy a pint of Guinness. Or Harp. Or Fosters.
  • think it’s funny that a bar has booths made from salvaged church pews, above which hangs a sign quoting Mark 2:16. “When the scribes and Pharisees saw him, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?”
  • also think it’s funny that the bar’s resident bulldogs (one, sadly, deceased) are named Edith and Drinketh.
  • are personally offended by the general public’s inability to correctly use apostrophes.
  • keep random reference books on hand to settle trivial disputes.
  • spend time on Wednesday afternoons watching the English Premier League or wish their schedule would allow it.
  • think pollen and swollen ought to rhyme, like main character Rodney, and “not just because they look alike. They were partners in crime. One led to the other.”
  • appreciate wordplay, the sort employed by Carnac the Magnificent. (Answer: “Sis boom bah.” Question: “What is the sound made when sheep explode?”)
  • keep every book they read.
  • find connections between life and literature.
The list could continue, but we’ll stop there. Suffice it to say, if you see yourself (or another reader) in the above criteria - if not perfectly, at least partially - then Rodney’s tale of losing employment, nourishing a relationship, sheltering an injured friend, and pursuing a refreshing beverage just might be for you.

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Post at the Nerdy Book Club

Thank you to the Nerdy Book Club blog for giving me the opportunity to share about junior high study hall, pink eye, and other such reading topics in my post The Non-Reading Reader. It's an honor to be included.

To everyone who makes their way to Help Readers Love Reading from the Nerdy Book Club post, thanks for visiting. I hope you return soon, and it would be great to hear from you. To regular readers of HRLR who came here to read a new post, please visit The Nerdy Book Club to see how pink eye helped me earn my NBC membership.

Thanks, everyone, for visiting, reading, and doing what you do to help readers love reading.