Celebrating a Reading Life

Three years ago today, we lost my dad to the cruelty that calls itself Lewy-Body Dementia. Each year, my Mom and I commemorate this day with a community service project.

As only a reader can understand, my Dad wanted his books donated to our local library. It took us almost two years to catalog the thousands of books in my dad’s personal library.

Today, Mom and I are honoring that request by delivering more than 400 books (only about 15 percent of the full collection) to the branch in my my folks’ neighborhood.

In tribute, I’m also republishing a post I wrote the day Dad left us.


Today my family is closing a chapter of an incredible story: my dad’s life. I know a lot – the polio, the streetcars, family life in the 1940s, growing up the oldest of 11, the Polish/German boy going to my Italian great-grandparents’ house for Sunday dinner with his “girlfriend” that first time – and now I’ll never know more.

The ugliness of Lewy-Body Dementia had been taking its toll on my father for three years, with a precipitous impact this summer. He played 9 holes of golf with my husband on July 11, 2011 … and today he was called Home.

Growing up, my dad was supposed to become a priest, because that’s what the first born did back in the day. Then he met my mom. He was supposed to go into the family business: running my grandfather’s bakery. Because THAT is what you did when you didn’t enter the church. But my dad’s destiny was to share a love of learning and books. His passion was teaching and mentoring and nurturing.

My dad was many things – educator, corporate executive, administrator, among others – but first and foremost he was a bookworm. He L-O-V-E-D history, especially European and colonial American history. He was writing a book about how to use literature and primary sources to teach history. He was rereading the novels of his youth to show how culture and beliefs affect literature and to “place” them in the context of their time.

When I took his AP European History class in high school, we listened to music and looked at art. We read original sources and correspondence. We didn’t memorize dates. We didn’t have reading logs.

After my parents moved to Charlottesville in 2006, my dad asked if he could review books for the Reading Tub. He wanted to see what kids today are reading and practice his writing. Why? Because that’s what readers do. Yes, he tired of the Harry-Potter-wannabes, but he reveled in some of the “really great stuff” he was seeing. I can’t count how many times he said “boy, I wish I would have had a book like that when I was teaching.”

Even when he could no longer review, he kept reading. He’d see an interview on News Hour and ask Mom to put the title on his list. He is my personification of Thomas Jefferson’s quote: “I cannot live without books.”

I miss him, but I know what he’s doing … strolling the stacks of Heaven’s library, looking for Great Books and people to talk with about them.

I need some time to deal with the harsh realities of not being able to talk with Dad, to see his smile, to hear him say cina-min-a-min and make Catherine laugh. I don’t know when I’ll be back. I hope you can understand.

Thanksgiving with a Literacy Side

Yeah! The kids are home. The schedule is “between seasons,” so the kids need something to do. Why not let them help you get ready for Thanksgiving?

You may not be ready to hand over an apron, but there are other ways they can help. Here are some ideas that will keep them busy and use materials that you already have around the house. Who knows, they might even become new Thanksgiving traditions.

Thanksgiving Place Cards

thanksgiving place cardsWe started using place cards when my daughter was learning to read.

One year we wrote out the names for her on a piece of paper, and she wrote them on her foam-cutout leaves.

Another year we lined them all up and would read out the name. She had to “pick” the right card from the pile and place it at the correct place.

In our house there was (lots) of glitter involved, but there are lots of ways to create Thanksgiving place cards.

  • Send the kids out to collect leaves, then use a Sharpie to write the name on the leaf.
  • Grab some construction paper and let them trace a cookie cutter.
  • Print copies of a leaf template they can cut out, color, and then write names on.
  • Fold index cards and let the kids decorate the card with drawings or stickers before adding a name.

Cutting paper, tracing, and drawing are great for building fine motor skills. Writing names is good for practicing letters and penmanship. [photo source: Pinterest.com]

Make a Hand-drawn Turkey

hand drawn turkey for ThanksgivingWho doesn’t love a turkey drawn from a hand print? Grandma definitely will! Try this twist on a Thanksgiving classic.

  • Tape a piece of white paper to the wall.
  • Hold a hand up about 8 inches from the wall.
  • Shine the flashlight on the hand so it creates a shadow on the paper.
  • Trace the outside edges of the hand print shadow.

Once you’ve got the print transferred onto paper, it is ready for coloring or decoration (feathers anyone?).

The idea is to create a turkey bigger than the size of the hand shadow on the wall. It can be your hand that your child draws, or your child’s hand that you draw – or both! This is an activity where older siblings can be involved (and free you up for older things).

This is a fine motor skill activity, that sneaks in a little bit of science too. Here is a great collection of images illustrating different turkey hands.  [Image source: JibJab Thanksgiving eCard]

Create a Gratitude Collage

gratitude collageGiving thanks is at the heart of this holiday, and this project gives everyone a chance to share what the things for which they’re grateful. Each family member makes his or her own collage or you create a wall mural to which everyone contributes.

  • Cut out images or words from magazines, catalogs, or (parent-approved) websites.
  • Create original drawings by hand or with a drawing program.
  • Use Word Art or hand-draw words that express gratitude.
  • Combine any / all of the above.

Smilebox.com has templates for Gratitude Collages, from simple card-like presentations to slideshows.

Two Bonus ideas:

  • make the collages the size of a place mat and use them on your Thanksgiving table.
  • Use the initial letters of the word “Thanksgiving” as the foundation for expressing gratitude.

[Image credit: KateWares.com]

Your turn …

What are some of the fun ways you’re going to have a side of literacy this Thanksgiving?

Say What? Reading Double Speak

reading with kids fun with wordsWere you thinking this is an article about some of the conflicting data about literacy theory? Sorry to disappoint! This is our Reading with Kids Series, where we celebrate books that engage young listeners and readers with the experience of reading. We have had fun with words and books that make you laugh out loud.

Next up: books that explore the multiple meanings of words. Say what? Yep! As our title suggests, words can have many meanings. Weave them together into a story and Voila!

These are some our favorite books that play with words in ways that make the reader think and laugh!

Say What? Books with Visual Illusion

books with double meaningDuck! Rabbit!
written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal; illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
Chronicle Books, 2009

It’s a simple image, or so it seems. One narrator says it’s a duck. The other says it’s a rabbit. Can it be both? This is a book that demonstrates that one thing can be interpreted different ways.

A simple illustration carries along this story about two (off-page) viewers who seem to see one thing in two different ways.

More Imagery Fun @ The Reading Tub

Say What? That’s Pun-y

say what - books with puns The Amazing Trail of Seymour Snail
written by Lynn E. Hazen; illustrated by Doug Cushman
Henry Holt and Company, 2009

Seymour’s house is filled with his sculptures and paintings. Seymour liked them, but he wasn’t sure anyone else would. When his friends discovered his talent, they encouraged him to get a job. Ultimately, he took a job with the Speedy Arts Gallery as the errand snail: sliming envelopes, making deliveries.

A snail working in the Speedy Arts Gallery? Seymour Snail illustrates different ways of playing with words. This is an illustrated easy reader for developing readers, but it is also a nice choice for a read aloud book when you’re ready to read longer stories (but not yet chapter books).

More Word Play @ The Reading Tub

Say What? At a Loss for the Right Word

books that play with wordsPick a Pumpkin Mrs. Millie
written by Judy Cox; illustrated by Joe Mathieu
Marshall Cavendish, 2009

Mrs. Millie is a silly, silly teacher! She is taking her class to the pumpkin patch, but she gets all her words mixed up! In stead of saying “It’s NICE to see you!” she says, “It’s MICE to see you!” Each page has one mixed up word, with an illustration to match! Each time, the children in the class say “We know what you mean! You mean SEE the animals!).

This is a funny picture book that sneaks in learning about words with humor.  If you don’t read it exactly as the text appears on the page, sometimes there is more than one word that fits the story and also rhymes, and it’s fun to see what the kids come up with on their own.

More Word Oops’ @ The Reading Tub

Your Turn …

Now its your turn to say what books you love that play with words!