Thursday, June 17, 2010

Stories from an Unconventional Childhood, Week Two

Over at Mommy's Piggy Tales there's a cool project going on about family history. There is a challenge to blog for 15 weeks about our growing up years, with a different time period covered each week. Spitfire talked me into joining in because she's hoping for some wild stories from my childhood.

When I was about 3-1/2,  we moved into a downtown loft that covered most of the top floor of a large bank. While there are advantages to such a home, like ample floorspace for riding tike bikes and easy walking access to nearby German barbecue and strudel, a distinct disadvantage is the lack of a yard. My parents overcame this with frequent trips to the park, but Easter presented a problem. The park was too crowded so my folks came up with a creative solution.

In those days, stores sold marshmallow eggs that had a hard candy shell and came in bright cellophane wrappers. My dad took a bag full of them and hid them along the railroad tracks that ran near our home. He told me we were going for a walk and grabbed my plastic pail "in case we found anything". As soon as I spotted the first brightly colored candy egg amongst the railroad ties, I was off and running. Anyway, we lived there long enough for me to develop a love of German food and books. I received the first books I ever owned,  in the mail while we lived in that loft.

After a while, we moved to Austin so my parents could attend the University of Texas. I was enrolled in a nursery school caddy-corner from the white frame house we lived in. After a few months, my mom figured out that their "hot meals" consisted of pb&j and "educational activities" were playing outside and watching TV.  I was removed from the school and began going to classes with my parents, switching off to avoid classes where tests were being given. I sat quietly and looked at books or drew pictures. I was occasionally used as an example in my mom's early childhood education classes. One time I attended my dad's figure drawing class, complete with live nude model, and sat quietly on my stool, avoiding looking that direction. I was sitting so still, that one of the students who was finished, drew me on the side of her drawing. A few weeks later, when the model called in sick, I was pressed into service (fully clothed) after the student showed off her drawing and convinced the instructor I really could sit still that long.

At the university, I saw and experienced a lot of things most 4 and 5 year-olds aren't exposed to. I saw, in addition to nude models, Hare Krishna followers, drunkeness, drug use, lewd behavior and much more. This all seemed like perfectly normal behavior for the time and location. But it wasn't all bad. I also learned to read, learned how to make pottery on a potter's wheel, learned how to make an etching and print it, learned a lot about art history and appreciation and developed a strong love of learning. Over the years, my parents joked about me attending college instead of kindergarten, which was a rousing start to an unconventional childhood.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Top Ten {Tuesday}: Ten Favorite Read-Alouds

When you have 10 kids, you get lots of opportunity to read books to kids. These are some of our favorites from down through the years.

1. The High Rise Glorious Skittle Skat Roarious Sky Pie Angel Food Cake by Nancy Willard

The High Rise Glorious Skittle Skat Roarious Sky Pie Angel Food CakeThis is a charming story about a daughter trying to make her mother a birthday cake. It's a special cake from her mother's childhood, but has a secret ingredient no one knows. The illustrations are great.

Adventures in the Big Thicket is a fun story that takes place in the Big Thicket area of East Texas. I read this one making up voices for all the different animals, which of course have distinctive accents.

3. Alexander and the Magic Mouse by Martha Sanders

Alexander and the Magic Mouse (Piccolo Books)This is a favorite book from my childhood that I love sharing with my children. It's the story of The Old Lady, her Magical Mouse, a Brindle London Squatting Cat, a Yak, and Alexander, the smiling alligator who live together in the house on the hill

4. Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain by Verna Aardema

Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain (Reading Rainbow Book)
This is the story of Kipat, a young boy charged with watching the herds. It's a time of drought, but Kipat figures out a way to change the weather. I've read this one so many times, I can recite most of it from memory. It has an easy sing-song rhythm to it that makes it a pleasure to read and to hear.

5. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs
Long before the goofy movie of the same title, there was this book, the story of the town of Chewandswallow and their unusual weather that brings food instead of rain and snow.

6. A Pair of Red Clogs by Masako Matsuno

A Pair of Red Clogs
We first encountered this one years ago when we were doing Five in a Row. We stopped using the curriculum, but the books stuck with us. A couple of my kids mentioned this one as a favorite. A little Japanese girls gets a shiny new pair of red clogs and soon gets herself into trouble. I think kids identify with Mako, the little girl, because delight in a new pair of shoes is pretty universal. I know I still get excited!

7. How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World by Marjorie Priceman

How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World (Dragonfly Books)
Another FIAR book. This one tells the story of making an apple pie, which necessitates traveling all over the world to gather the ingredients. It's a neat way to show where things come from. Be sure to catch the sequel, How to Make a Cherry Pie and See the USA.

8. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Where the Wild Things Are
Where the Wild Things Are is the classic story of Max, who gets sent to bed without supper and the adventures that ensue once he gets to his room. It's a Caldecott Medal winner, so you know the illustrations are wonderful.

9. Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney

Miss Rumphius
Miss Rumphius, an American Book Award winner, tells the story of Alice Rumphius as she goes from a little girl to an elderly lady. When she was young, her grandfather advised her that in order to live a good life, she had to "do something to make the world more beautiful." She spends her life trying to figure out how to do that until she hits upon a plan that transforms her surroundings.

10. In His Steps by Charles Sheldon

In His Steps
Okay, this one is a bit unusual in that it's not a kids' book, but we did this as a family read-aloud over the course of a couple of weeks several years ago. We thoroughly enjoyed the book and it fueled many great discussions. In fact, I'm thinking it's about time to repeat it with the younger crowd.

The book traces the story of a group of volunteers who pledged for a year to do nothing without first asking themselves "What Would Jesus Do?" and trying to follow that lead. If you ever wondered where "WWJD" originated, this is it.

That brings me to the end of my list. The hardest part was limiting it to only ten. We are a book-loving family and the list could have gone on for far too long. What books do you like to read to your kids or like having read to you when you were a kid?

For more great top ten lists, be sure to visit Oh Amanda.

Quirky Quote

"If A is a success in life, then A equals x plus y plus z.
Work is x; y is play and z is keeping your mouth shut."
--Albert Einstein

Food for Thought

Imagination is more important than knowledge.
--Albert Einstein