Imagination 101

 Sunglasses and Books

“Imagine with me if you will…”  Where is that from?  It sounds a little like the opening to ‘The Twilight Zone’ or something along those lines.  I can’t place it, but maybe you can. Either way, it is a phrase that has me thinking…there is just nothing quite like a good imagination.  If you read Monday’s blog post you’ll see there our list of some recent books that we call “page turners,” those books that you just can’t seem to put down and would risk choking on a small, green, sour fruit to read.

In that blog, I made a passing reference to the book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (first published in 1900 – that means this classic is 113 years old…that is cool).  Our children were especially enamored with anything remotely related to Oz when they were young and so I decided to read the original book to them before bedtime – our youngest was maybe four and so the older sisters were eight and twelve.  I have always had the original book on my shelf and can even remember that we were living on the farm and went to a nearby auction when I was in the 6th grade, where my parents bought it for me (I have no idea why that is such a clear memory to me).  However, I had never taken the time to read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, mostly because the movie was an annual television event when we were growing up in the 1970’s and 80’s – so I guess I thought I knew the story…so why read it?

Now as a father and a professor in the field of early childhood education, I have worried that movies would be the ultimate demise of great imagination in our kids.  Don’t get me wrong, I love movies and the girls and I have seen more old classic films than we can count, as well as the good new movies today.  We do love movies.  However, I realized that when our kids wanted to start seeing movies that were being made from good books, and more than likely books that they should read anyway, we needed to make a plan.  We agreed that if there was an appropriate book available that would also be coming out as a movie that they might want to see, we would read it before we saw it.  It wasn’t a hard and fast rule by any means, but we – both the girls and me – kept it pretty well and it worked its magic in the most unusual way.  And it was a century-old book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, that cinched the deal for us!

Our older daughters had seen the original classic film about Oz and starring Judy Garland and Toto and a tornado and black and white to color and on and on.  It is a great movie and the music, come on, who does not love to hear the Cowardly Lion sing his song of fear and courage in one of the best baritone voices of the period!  A great movie to be sure.

But the book – I can’t tell you how good this book is, how much better it is than this great classic film of it.  There is backstory and danger and fear and humor and a world so detailed and interesting that it is like every page was written in some alternate HD programming for books.


Our youngest had not seen the movie yet when we began reading the book, so we were all mesmerized by it as we read and talked about it and told others what we had found in its pages.  It is something to learn why the Tin Man is tin and why he needs that heart.  That piece of the story alone, it will choke you up.  And – there really are lions and tigers and bears in that forest and it is more than a little scary to read about them.

My daughter’s imagination grew by leaps and bounds while we traversed through the land of Oz.  Her dad’s imagination did, too!  When we saw the old movie again as a family, it was different because we knew “the rest of the story.”

Even better, the lesson was learned for us all – a great book that was great enough to be turned into a movie, is still a great book.  Next time you pick up a book, before you even open it to read it to your kids, point to the cover and say in your coolest Rod Serling or John Wayne or James Earl Jones voice, “Imagine with me if you will…” and then open up that book and watch what happens.

Look at this Book! The Doll People

* Every Tuesday we introduce you to a favorite book from our secret book room, and give you a unique recipe over on our Book Cook page…


Today’s great book: The Doll People by Ann M. Martin & Laura Godwin (2000, Hyperion) and illustrated by the great Brian Selznick who also authored and illustrated The Invention of Hugo Cabret (2007) and Wonderstruck (2011) as well as Amelia and Eleanor Go For a Ride (1999, illustrator only) and The Houdini Box (2001) and others. The Doll People story also continues in the wonderful The Meanest Doll in the World (2003) and The Runaway Dolls (2008).
Time to Read: 256 pages, a page-turner, 19 chapters
Summary: From the back cover: Annabelle Doll is eight years old – she has been for more than a hundred years. Not a lot has happened, to her, cooped up in the dollhouse, with the same doll people, day after day, year after year…until one day the Funcrafts move in.
Best Quote: “Annabelle stood still and looked at everybody, her hands on her hips. After a moment she said, ‘I have an announcement to make. I am going to search for Auntie Sarah.’…’That isn’t safe,’ said Papa. Annabelle thought about brave Auntie Sarah. She thought about Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt and Nancy Drew. ‘I’m going anyway,’ she said.”

Our View: In all honesty, at first I wasn’t excited about a book with the word “doll” in it, but I knew my kids would love it, and the illustrations are really what pulled me in as a dad…from the cover to the end pages. It is now among our top ten favorite chapter books in the secret book room! The illustrations are so detailed and nearly tell a tale of their own. Beyond that, the story that flows from the pages of this book really tells itself. Our first child was 6 when we read it, and my other two children, who always preferred for me to read to them together at bedtime, were 8 and 4. Your kids will be mesmerized by the matter-of-fact way in which the authors bring us into the lives of what we only thought were inanimate objects that looked like people and lived in a wonderful old, historic dollhouse in a child’s room. I’ll never forget that this was only the second book – the original The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) book was the first – that my daughters could hardly tear themselves away from and begged me to “keep reading” long after bed time. “Permanent doll state” is among our family’s favorite sayings now; that mysterious phrase alone should compel you to read this book. When you read the last sentence of the last page, you will wish it could go on – and thankfully it does. Though we had to wait for each additional book in the trilogy to debut, you don’t have to because all are now happily available at your favorite local independent bookstore.

Remember to visit our Book Cook page for a “Spider of the Doll People” recipe created by the kids to accompany this particular book.

Page Turners

Tub People and Doll People

I’m alive and still holding my place in my book! Just a moment ago I nearly choked on an entire lime slice in my salad. I eat at this restaurant a couple of times each week and enjoy this particular salad often, which means I know it includes a large piece of lime in it.

“So what happened?” you ask. Well, today while I was eating I was also engrossed in a book that both of my 83-year old grandmothers would describe as ‘a real page turner.’

Have you ever read a book that deserves such a description? If so, you can now understand the lime-to-choking ratio a little better.

But have you ever read such a book to children? These treasured gems have held their spell over my daughters (and me) for 18 years and counting.

I was reading just such a story after dinner the other night when I paused to see if anyone at the table was still listening. And there was our 8-year old, eyes focused, listening so intently that her mouth hung open. She was entranced with the story and didn’t even realize I had paused in its telling. When she finally noticed, she laughed and said, “Don’t stop now!” We read on.

Page turners that you read with your kids have so much to do with the types of books you and your kids BOTH enjoy. It is a bit of trial and error, deciding what you really enjoy reading, what your kids enjoy listening to you read to them, and being willing to scrap a book if neither of you likes it after all.

I can still remember when my wonderfully creative and energetic aunt, one of the truly great middle-school teachers of our time, began reading the very first book in the Harry Potter series to her classes. It was the late 1990’s and this newly published character was not as pervasively popular across the country as it would soon become. She read this book and, I clearly remember her describing it to me, her students were stopped in their tracks by it. They couldn’t get enough and would beg her to read just one more page…..that’s a page turner!

Here at home, we especially like to read stories that let us look behind the scenes into the lives and worlds of otherwise inanimate objects….picture books like The Tub People and its follow-up, The Tub People’s Christmas by Pam Conrad; chapter books like Doll People, The Runaway Dolls, and its follow-up, The Meanest Doll in the World by Ann Martin & Laura Godwin; and The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks. This is why we enjoyed the new movie “Wreck-It Ralph” so much. There is nothing like a story that takes something so normal and daily in the lives of real people, and then gives you that “what if it came to life when you weren’t looking” scenario.

It’s worth it for you as the dad to choose something you’ll be nearly UNable to put down when you’re reading to the kids, especially after a long day of work and life away from them and home. I guarantee success here…because you can’t go wrong reading to your kids.

Just keep the slices of lime at a safe distance!


Father Knows Five 7-26-13

*Every Friday we serve you an “a la carte” style list of 5 unique videos, articles, ideas, etc. from all kinds of locations. (If you are viewing this blog through your email subscription, please follow the link to our website to view all videos.) See you next week…

1. I can’t believe it took nearly a month of blogging for me to finally post something like this – a video for connoisseurs of Classic Literature AND Star Wars…

2. 3-year old Judges Books by Cover – This is one of the funniest things I have ever read about classic books and their covers. What a great dad to think of doing this with his toddler.

3. London Reading Marathon – an article especially for all our “Dr. Who” fans. This would have been a great event to attend!

4. WordGirl’s Word of the Week: Vanquish – your child can creatively vanquish evil all week long. This is THE word in superhero vocabulary!

5. Any book with this kind of review, by Lisa Poisso at Grabworthy, deserves a look – “If you’re nudging and tugging a reluctant reader through the long days of summer, Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein might just be the book that throws the door open wide. It’s every kid’s fantasy, part Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and part A Night in the Museum. In Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, 12 sixth-graders find themselves trapped inside a magnificent library/theater/museum complex the morning after a fabulous grand opening sleepover event. The kids must use every scrap of know-how about books and games in order to find the hidden escape route — and readers be doing the same alongside the young protagonists. Readers can also search for a secret hidden puzzle that rewards them (and their library of choice) with a real-life book prize…Kyle, the story’s protagonist, mirrors many of today’s young readers: a fan of board games, word games, and most especially video games. After spending a night in Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, both Kyle and your tween may discover they are fans of books as well!”



‘The Stormy Day’ – Thursday Stories with Baby Frederico

*Every Thursday we introduce you to another quick bedtime story about our family’s favorite resident reptile – Baby Frederico. The backstory can be found here. Enjoy!

Baby Frederico loves his Momma Mia and Papá Frita, his buddy Grenelda the Grasshopper, blue crayons, popcorn…and spaghetti with salsa; but he did not like stormy weather. Here is his story:

Baby Frederico was pedaling as fast as he could. What had started as the most perfectly sunny day of the year was now nearing complete washout status, which was bad enough for a kid who just wanted to ride his bike, jump ramps and sail over potholes that sat like craters in the dirt road that led from his home to the ancient barns on the other side of the field. Now, impossibly large drops of rain hit like bombshells on his helmet and the noisy sounds of a storm brewed somewhere in the otherwise blue skies overhead.

BF Bike 2

What worried him was how far the front door of his family’s house seemed from where he was on the dirt road. If he didn’t make it home before the storm hit, he was certain that he was doomed.

Baby Frederico had always been afraid of storms, in particular the sounds of thunder that boomed and sometimes shook the walls of the house and the flashes of lightning that stole into its rooms and worried his imagination. If the family’s radio was on, it would crackle and hiss and an alert would sound that a storm was brewing. The noise of it all was more than enough to worry him.

Another clap of thunder rattled through the air as Baby Frederico slid his bike across the lawn in front of the house and dropped it square in the middle of his mama’s favorite flowerbed.

As he raced up the steps, he could feel his heart beating and head sweating. His Papá was just opening the front door to call him in and the two slammed into each other.

“Whoa mi hijo, are you alright?” said Papá.

“Yes. I mean, sorry. I…” Baby Frederico couldn’t bring himself to say it, but his eyes told his father exactly what was wrong. He was scared and his dad knew it.

“Stay out here with me for a bit” said Papa. “That way we can keep an eye on this noisy storm together.”

Baby Frederico was reluctant, but since the storm had not yet fully exploded over the house he agreed to sit. They chose the porch swing, one of their favorite places to read and think and wonder together. By now, the wind had picked up and the old swing began to sway out of control. Baby Frederico laughed as it reminded him of a wild bull at the rodeo.

“Weather like this always gets me thinking about how I used to be scared of storms,” said his father. “Then, one day, I noticed something unique about them. Have you ever heard a really good piece of music and, because you loved it, you listened to it over and over again?”

“Yes, of course.” Baby Frederico loved music and enjoyed all kinds. He knew his favorites by heart.

“Well,” his father continued. “Storms remind me of music. The more you listen to them, the more you can pick out the different instruments, the different rhythms, the song. Listen with me to (dramatic pause) la tormenta…”

Baby Frederico took a deep breath, just like his dad always did in these moments, and listened. What happened next was the biggest surprise of all…

The rain was heavier now and the tin roof above them met it with the sounds of a thousand drummers beating the life out of their snares, the thunder crashed with the sounds of a million cymbals meeting each other for the very first time, and the wind rushed around them as though all the world’s violinists were playing an entire song in unison. It was stunning – a free concert in Baby Frederico’s own front yard.

And Baby Frederico noticed something else, he wasn’t so scared anymore.

He looked at his father, “Papá, let’s sit here awhile. I’m beginning to like this song.”

The Book of People

Book of People

Monday’s blog has got me thinking more about the analogies between books (which I love) and people (which aren’t so bad either). It happened again the other day…

My brother-in-law and I met up for lunch in a hospital cafeteria. A family member was having surgery and it proved to be a good time for two busy dads to catch up while he was captive for a few hours in such a place.

The interesting thing about this hospital is its profound personal relationship with our family. This was the place where he and his sister’s (my wife) mother worked as a nurse before her untimely death more than twenty years ago. She gave her heart and soul to the place and worked the long and many times heartwrenching hours that nurses like her have given in places like this for centuries before and since. It had been her dream to do such things as far as back as her teenage years, and it fulfilled a place inside her that few other things ever did. I never knew this complicated, devoted lady and she has no other living relatives nearby, so her story for me and all of our children lies with my wife and her brother.

And now, here we are in this hospital, in the very place where she had written much of her life’s story. The moment we finished lunch and began to walk the winding hallways back to the small waiting area, my brother-in-law pointed out some favorite spots of childhood visits here, of seeing his mom do this or that…just remembering and reliving a page or two of the connections they made together inside these walls. Her memory, and his, still lingered in the shadows of an otherwise unassuming hospital hallway.

If you are in the book business, it is surprising how many people will tell you that they want to write a book, that they have a story to tell. For one reason or another most never take pen or keyboard in hand and begin the process. But let me tell you a secret that I recognized in that’ve already started. As long as you are breathing, the story is being written. And when you are no longer here, bestseller status and wide distribution, even a publishing deal, won’t matter at all because this unprinted story will only be read by the very people who mattered to you most in the first place.

My brother-in-law simply opened one of those books that he knew and loved and read and lived…and began to read it to me. And the story of a life came to life once again.

Look at this Book! Contrary Mary

* Every Tuesday we introduce you to a favorite book from our secret book room, and give you a unique recipe over on our Book Cook page…

 Contrary Mary Cover

Today’s great book: Contrary Mary by Anita Jeram (1995, Candlewick Press), illustrator of Guess How Much I Love You and many others.
Time to Read: short, great for bedtime after a long day at work
Summary: Mary Mouse decides one day to do the opposite of what she is supposed to do.
Best Quote: “Are you awake, Mary?” her mom called. “No!” Said Contrary Mary.

Our View: Everyone has felt frustrated at some point in life, whether at age 4 or 40. I think that’s why this week’s book has remained so easy to find in our book room since its first publication in 1995. The book introduces us to young Mary Mouse as she awakens with that contrary feeling that we all recognize so well.
It is a bit like Opposite Day for Mary as she progresses through the day with her parents, who ultimately play along with her and end the day on a high note. The rich illustrations and the rhythmic cadence of the words make for a simply understated yet important story that helped give a name (“contrary”) to this very normal feeling that my kids and I have certainly experienced ourselves and seen in others.
When someone is now described as “contrary,” we know exactly what that means because of this wonderful book. We also enjoy the follow-up book Birthday Happy, Contrary Mary (1998)!

Remember to visit our Book Cook page for a “Contrary PB&J” recipe created by the kids to accompany this particular book.