Archives for posts with tag: children

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SMART
by Shel Silverstein

My dad gave me one dollar bill

‘Cause I’m his smartest son,

And I swapped it for two shiny quarters

‘Cause two is more than one!
 
And then I took the quarters

And traded them to Lou

For three dimes — I guess he didn’t know

That three is more than two!
 
Just then, along came old blind Bates

And just ’cause he can’t see

He gave me four nickels for my three dimes,

And four is more than three!
 
And then I took the nickels to Hiram Coombs

Down at the seed-feed store,

And the fool gave me five pennies for them,

And five is more than four!
 
And then I went and showed my dad,

And he got red in the cheeks

And closed his eyes and shook his head –

Too proud of me to speak!

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THE DRIVERS
by Len Roberts

My five-year-old son rides the twelve-volt
   yellow car into the field
of wildflowers, beeps his horn
at the cat who zigzags madly
   before him,
switches on and off the low-density
   lights, turning around
just once to see I am still
   following.
It doesn’t matter, though, he won’t
   step on the brake,
won’t swerve around the first tier’s
   slope, instead goes
over it, out into the fields
   of straight spruce, where,
as he veers in and out of the rows,
it’s clear how much he is the driver
   my father was, speeding
to eighty miles an hour at the upstate
   New York winter curves,
the madman who whirled the Golden Eagle
   truck onto Lake George
ice in early April, drove it the entire
length trying to make a perfect figure 8.
The one who never once told me to slow down,
   to go straight,
who gave me two of his last four dollars
   an hour before he died,
blowing wheels of smoke into the yellow
   kitchen air, singing
with Tommy Edwards, Please Love Me Forever
into the idling engine of the night.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Len Roberts (1947-2007) was an American poet and teacher. His awards include a National Poetry Series award (1988), the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Award for poetry (1991), two awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, and two Fulbright Scholar awards. His many poetry collections include Black Wings (1989), The Trouble-Making Finch (1998), The Silent Singer (2001), and The Disappearing Trick (2007).

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While we try to avoid politics and polarizing discussions in this blog, whatever your political persuasion, you will have to admit that as an avid reader President Barack Obama is a reading role model to daughters Sasha and Malia (and to the rest of the populace, as well).

In the photo above (from November 2011), Obama and his daughters visited  Kramerbooks & Afterwards Café, an independent bookstore in Washington, D.C., and picked up a stack of reading material. According to an article at examiner.com, the Obamas’ purchases included:

THE BRIEF AND WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO by Junot Diaz

THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH by Norton Juster

DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: CABIN FEVER by Jeff Kinney

THE TIGER’S WIFE by Tea Obreht

THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET by Brian Selnick

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The last title — THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET, source material for the movie HUGO (2011) — is the volume in the middle of the book sandwich Malia Obama holds in the photo above. Happy reading!

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“…at birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow the child with the most useful gift, that gift would be curiosity.”

ELEANOR ROOSEVELT

Photo: This 1919 photo shows future president Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945; in office from 1933-1945), wife Eleanor, and five of their six children, along with Roosevelt’s mother Sara.

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“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

ALBERT EINSTEIN

Photo: Model Twiggy reads to daughter Carly (born 1978).

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“To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.” VICTOR HUGO, Les Misérables 

Photo: Mia Farrow reads to twins Matthew and Sascha Previn, baby Fletcher Previn, and daughter Lark Song Previn, Martha’s Vineyard, summer 1974, by Alfred Eisenstaedt, Time/Life, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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SantaLand Diaries (Excerpts)

Memoir by David Sedaris

I was in a coffee shop looking through the want ads when I read, “Macy’s Herald Square, the largest store in the world, has big opportunities for outgoing, fun-loving people of all shapes and sizes who want more than just a holiday job! Working as an elf in Macy’s SantaLand means being at the center of the excitement….”

…The woman at Macy’s asked, “Would you be interested in full-time elf or evening and weekend elf?”

I said, “Full-time elf.”

I have an appointment next Wednesday at noon.

I am a thirty-three-year-old man applying for a job as an elf…Even worse than applying is the very real possibility that I will not be hired, that I couldn’t even find work as an elf. That’s when you know you’re a failure.

This afternoon I sat in the eighth-floor SantaLand office and was told, “Congratulations, Mr. Sedaris. You are an elf.”

In order to become an elf I filled out ten pages’ worth of forms, took a multiple choice personality test, underwent two interviews, and submitted urine for a drug test. The first interview was general, designed to eliminate the obvious sociopaths. During the second interview we were asked when we wanted to be elves…

When it was my turn I explained that I wanted to be an elf because it was one of the most frightening career opportunities I had ever come across….they hired me because I am short, five feet five inches. Almost everyone they hired is short…After the second interview I was brought to the manager’s office, where I was shown a floor plan. On a busy day twenty-two thousand people come to visit Santa, and I was told that it is an elf’s not to remain merry in the face of torment and adversity. I promised to keep that in mind.

…All we sell in SantaLand are photos. People sit upon Santa’s lap and pose for a picture. The Photo Elf hands them a slip of paper with a number printed along the top. The form is filled out by another elf and the picture arrives by mail weeks later. So really, all we sell is the idea of a picture. One idea costs nine dollars, three ideas cost eighteen.

…This morning we were lectured by the SantaLand managers and presented with a Xeroxed booklet of regulations titled “The Elfin Guide.” Most of the managers are former elves who have worked their way up the candy-cane ladder but retain vivid memories of their days in uniform…

In the afternoon we were given a tour of SantaLand, which really is something. It’s beautiful, a real wonderland, with ten thousand sparkling lights, false snow, train sets, bridges, decorated trees, mechanical penguins and bears, and really tall candy canes. One enters and travels through a maze, a path which takes you from one festive environment to another. The path ends at the Magic Tree. The Tree is supposed to resemble a complex system of roots, but looks instead like a scale model of the human intestinal tract. Once you pass the Magic Tree, the light dims and an elf guides you to Santa’s house. The houses are cozy and intimate, laden with toys. You exit Santa’s house and are met with a line of cash registers.

…On any given day you can be an Entrance Elf, a Water Cooler Elf, a Bridge Elf, Train Elf, Maze Elf, Island Elf, Magic Window Elf, Emergency Exit Elf, Counter Elf, Magic Tree Elf, Pointer Elf, Santa Elf, Photo Elf, Usher Elf, Cash Register Elf, Runner Elf, or Exit Elf. We were given a demonstration of the various positions in action, performed by returning elves who were so animated and relentlessly cheerful that it embarrassed me to walk past them. I don’t know that I could look someone in the eye and exclaim, “Oh, my goodness, I think I see Santa!” or “Can you close your eyes and make a very special Christmas wish!” Everything these elves said had an exclamation point at the end of it!!! It makes one’s mouth hurt to speak with such forced merriment. 

…I am afraid I won’t be able to provide the grinding enthusiasm Santa is asking for. I think I’ll be a low-key sort of an elf.

…My costume is green. I wear green velvet knickers, a yellow turtleneck, a forest-green velvet smock, and a perky stocking cap decorated with spangles. This is my work uniform.

My elf name is Crumpet. We were allowed to choose our own names and given permission to change them according to out outlook on the snowy world….

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Excerpted from “SantaLand Diaries” in Holidays on Ice, a collection of stories by David Sedaris, available at Amazon.com.

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CHILD ON TOP OF A GREENHOUSE

Poem by Theodore Roethke

The wind billowing out the seat of my britches,
My feet crackling splinters of glass and dried putty,
The half-grown chrysanthemums staring up like accusers,
Up through the streaked glass, flashing with sunlight,
A few white clouds all rushing eastward,
A line of elms plunging and tossing like horses,
And everyone, everyone pointing up and shouting! 

Photo: Christopher Michael Hough, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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One of my favorite songs is “I’ll Keep It with Mine,” a ballad that Bob Dylan composed for Judy Collins in 1964. Collins released a beautiful version as a single in 1965, and the song was subsequently covered by a range of artists — including Nico, Fairport Convention, Marianne Faithfull, and the composer himself. I love the song for its haunting melody and mysterious lyrics that make you ponder about the meaning of the “it” in the title.

I often listen to music via YouTube and a few days ago woke up needing to hear “I’ll Keep It with Mine” more than I needed breakfast or a cup of coffee. During my YouTube search, I noted a “PS22” entry — and wondered how an elementary school chorus would tackle this unusual, somewhat existential song. Yep, the kids nailed it! I was totally blown away. Listen for yourself here.

Apparently, I’m rather late in discovering New York City’s PS22 Chorus (visit the official blog here). Located on Staten Island, the PS22 Chorus has been going strong since 2000 — led by choral director Mr. B. The PS22 Chorus enjoys many high profile fans — including Oprah, Rihanna, Adele, Tori, Tyra, Beyonce, Common, Sinead, Alicia, Katy, Martina, and Kylie. At the 2011 Academy Awards, the PS22 Chorus closed the festivities with a sweet, soulful rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

Listening to these young people reminds me about the power of art — and how the fine arts are as vital to education as math and science. Thank you, PS22 Chorus! 

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In a Paris Review interview conducted by George Plimpton, novelist E.L. Doctorow discusses some of his writing challenges — including trying to write an absence note for his grammar-school-aged daughter. I loved the humor here!

INTERVIEWER: You once told me that the most difficult thing for a writer to write was a simple household note to someone coming to collect the laundry, or instructions to a cook.

E. L. DOCTOROW: What I was thinking of was a note I had to write to the teacher when one of my children missed a day of school. It was my daughter, Caroline, who was then in the second or third grade. I was having my breakfast one morning when she appeared with her lunch box, her rain slicker, and everything, and she said, “I need an absence note for the teacher and the bus is coming in a few minutes.” She gave me a pad and a pencil; even as a child she was very thoughtful. So I wrote down the date and I started, Dear Mrs. So-and-so, my daughter Caroline . . . and then I thought, No, that’s not right, obviously it’s my daughter Caroline. I tore that sheet off, and started again. Yesterday, my child . . . No, that wasn’t right either. Too much like a deposition. This went on until I heard a horn blowing outside. The child was in a state of panic. There was a pile of crumpled pages on the floor, and my wife was saying, “I can’t believe this. I can’t believe this.” She took the pad and pencil and dashed something off. I had been trying to write the perfect absence note. It was a very illuminating experience. Writing is immensely difficult. The short forms especially.

INTERVIEWER: How much tinkering do you actually do when you get down to nonhousehold work—a novel, say?

DOCTOROW: I don’t think anything I’ve written has been done in under six or eight drafts. Usually it takes me a few years to write a book. World’s Fair was an exception. It seemed to be a particularly fluent book as it came. I did it in seven months. I think what happened in that case is that God gave me a bonus book.

Photo: Skobrik, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED