House of Pages

“Every day, the story of your home is etching itself into the spirit and memory of your children.” – R. Dobson

House of Pages

When the girls were little, they loved to wrestle. Eventually, we turned that unbridled energy and fun into a game called Monster Trap. We would take turns being the monster, whose job it was to stretch out on the floor and pretend to be asleep (a dad’s perfect after-work toddler game, believe me), while everyone else huddled together to plan the best course of action for getting out of the room without “waking up the monster.” If the monster awoke and tagged one of them before they could get out of the room, they in turn became the monster and took their spot on the floor and the whole silly thing would begin again. It was always crazy and funny and loud and interesting to see not only how they planned their course to success, but also what would and would not wake up the monster. And, because they were young, they loved to change the rules on me nearly every week.

Since the kids are older now, we hadn’t played it in a year or more, but that changed just last night at dinner. Our youngest (age 8) was in an unusually somber mood. She described to us a disappointing day in which: her closest friend and cousin was returning home to another state after a month-long stay with us, it was too hot outside to ride bikes, it was bath night, we were eating something new and unusual for dinner, the first chapter of her new book was too boring, her scraped-up knee hurt…among other things.

I can honestly say that I have never heard this sweet kid look more downcast or share such disappointment, so later I mentioned something about our old wrestling days and she immediately got up from her chair at the other end of the table and came to my side. “Dad,” she whispered. “Let’s play Monster Trap tonight. I get to be the monster.”

When they were little, I learned quite a bit about my kids’ personalities during such games. One was quick to jump in and play pretty rough, another held back and chose her moves with great deliberation, while another often got her feelings hurt or feigned some mysterious pain so her sisters would feel badly for her and maybe let her win.

Though we are all a little older and a little wiser now, last night’s monster trap was just as much fun and just as interesting to me. I see again that we are writing and reading and living a new chapter in our lives, a new page of games and words and ways among us.
Looking back and looking ahead, I realize that our children have written themselves so profoundly into this home’s storybook. And they rise and fall, play and plan, laugh and cry, fail and succeed, hope and worry, pray and wonder on every single page of it.


Fathers Knows Five – 7.19.13

*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. Luis Soriano has a novel way of getting books to children in rural Colombia – a mobile library on the back of a donkey! Watch the power of bringing books and children together. I am amazed…

2. The Quiz! – Fans of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory unite and let the competition begin.

3. Generations of Readers – an interesting story about how Scholastic has connected with readers since 1920.

4. The Story Coaster – this is a wonderful illustration of the details that go into writing a story. Great for your budding authors. It is by illustrator and cartoonist Grant Snider.Illustrating the Construction of a Story

5. Marc Simont – the award-winning children’s book illustrator and author (1915-2013) has passed away. He created illustrations for more than one hundred books with several of our daughters’ favorite authors including Margaret Wise Brown and Charlotte Zolotow. Our favorites include A Tree is Nice (1956) and The Happy Day (1949). He said of his work, “I go by the fact that I used to be a child myself, and there’s something always left, and if I like what I’m doing, the kids will like it, too.”

Marc Simont Books

Thursday Stories with Baby Frederico “Bad Dreams”

*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 astronauts; but he does not like bad dreams. Here is his story:

BF Bad Dream

Baby Frederico woke with a start from another bad dream. His bedroom, though perfectly quiet, seemed to make more noise in the silence of nighttime than it ever did in the light of day. He felt under the pillow for his tiger flashlight that roared into the darkness every time he turned it on, then quickly remembered that the batteries were dead. It always seemed to work in the daytime when he was at his bravest, but in the middle of the night…nothing. Now all he knew to do was wriggle down beneath his favorite Star Wars sheets and hope for morning.

As he lay there in his bed, Baby Frederico wondered about all of this trouble. Bad dreams just seemed to come out of nowhere, with no warning, no help, and no emergency telephone call to alert the family that this would be the night for a bad dream so, “Get your flashlights working and have your bravest stuffed animals standing by.” If only he could plan for it.

Now if there is one good thing about night time that Baby Frederico liked, it had to be that it was the perfect time to think and wonder. And wonder he did…

Then, out of the blue, it hit him! Since there was no real way to know when a bad dream would strike, he would keep something nearby to remind him to not be afraid when he woke up. But what should that something be? Suddenly, he knew just what to do. He couldn’t wait to tell his family about his plan and soon drifted back to sleep.

The sun winked through the curtains of his room as Baby Frederico awoke to the sweet smell of Momma’s famous Italian sausage cooking in the kitchen. When the Frederico family had finally gathered around the table for breakfast, Baby Frederico told them about the bad dream and his big idea. They said, “You are such a good wonderer Baby Frederico! We like the way you think!”

After breakfast, Baby Frederico found an extra large shoebox that once housed his Papá’s old hiking boots – it would be the perfect “Bad Dream Box.” He carefully decorated it with pictures of light sabers, fireworks, the Great Wall of China, bowling balls, Saturn, and monster trucks.  On either end of the box, he drew two longhorn steers he once remembered seeing at a nearby farm and carefully scribbled his favorite word “THINK” along its top. Inside the box, he placed two packs of batteries, three flashlights, his Han Solo figure (“Empire Strikes Back” version of course), and an Incredible Hulk keychain. It was the toughest looking box, inside and out, that he had ever seen.

That night, long after Papá had read him a bedtime story, Momma had given him the last snuggle of the day and Baby Frederico had drifted off into the sleepy night…he woke with a start from another bad dream, grabbed his box and exclaimed, “Bad dreams beware!”  And they did…

Storytellers in the Making

My 8 year-old nephew is here with his sisters enjoying a summer vacation with their grandparents, who live near us on the other side of the farm, and we sat and talked for awhile last evening. He has been having bad dreams…well, one bad dream that recurs time and again, and his description of this dream is something like the great classic pieces of literature that have survived the ages! Now, don’t get me wrong about him. He knows exactly how to act his age and he is boy through and through (just ask us about the time he decided to hook one end of a bungee cord to his electric scooter and the other end to our swingset and then took off), but when he began to tell me about this dream he sat up straight and tall in his chair; even his voice went an octave lower than normal. His eyes were focused straight as an arrow, though not looking right at me, but somewhere off in the distance as he shared his story.

It is a simple dream really, no people other than himself and no elaborate sets – just a very deep and very dark lake, a seemingly endless wooden bridge, and a large circle that turns around in the middle of the lake. The bridge leads to the circle, always to the circle, no matter which way you are walking on the bridge. He says, “I just want to get somewhere else and find people, but the bridge keeps bringing me right back to the middle of this big lake and I end up sitting on this circle…thinking and thinking.”

Read his quote there one more time. Do you see it? That is a STORY my friends. He is a writer, a storyteller, a master at describing what he knows…and he doesn’t even realize it yet. My kids and yours are the same. They have stories to tell, things they know and understand that rest rumbling somewhere inside them just waiting to make their debut, to share with someone, anyone, who acts like they want to listen.

Something in the telling of his bad dream has helped my nephew, at least for now. We ended up deciding the stuff going on in his dream could really be quite an adventure after all, so he is making himself a boat out of different objects lying around the house and is going to sleep with it. I imagine you too can see the logic in creating such a boat. If you can’t, ask your kids and I bet they can tell you…all they’ll need is a moment of your time.

Books and Dreams

Look at this Book! A Chocolate Moose for Dinner

Tuesday is our time to highlight a favorite book from our secret book room, and give you a unique recipe over on our Book Cook page that you and your kids can make to celebrate your reading of the week’s particular book.
The books we’ll tell you about could be old or new and we’ll list the author, illustrator, publisher, and year of first publication so you can find them. They will also range in age from birth to teen and we’ll give you an idea of how long they take to read (short, medium, long) and why we love them.

Chocolate Moose Book Reading
Today’s great book: A Chocolate Moose for Dinner (Windmill Books, 1976). Written and illustrated by: Fred Gwynne (1926-1993); you might remember him as Herman Munster from the 1960s television series “The Munsters” or as the cranky judge in the 1992 movie “My Cousin Vinny.” Time to read: short. Summary: A child tries to picture the things her parents talk about. My kids like this book for the illustrations, while I like it for the clever wordplay. One compliments the other in a way that is rare in children’s literature, especially for younger kids. Toddlers love the large, colorful illustrations, while teens and adults love the absolute genius play on words. Here’s an example from the book:

Chocolate Moose Book Page It seamlessly brings words and illustrations to life, while at the same time giving us a short but sweet opportunity to laugh right along with our children and then make up some idioms of our own. We also like big books and this one is hardback with nice, large pages for the perfect read-aloud selection. It’s been a favorite of ours for many years and continues to be one of our top books to read out loud, especially during those times when the whole family needs a book-induced smile! Remember to visit our Book Cook page for a “MOOSE/MOUSSE” recipe created by the kids to accompany this particular book.

Stories at an Auction

We are at an auction in a cool old barn off historic Route 66 on a clear and warm Saturday morning, just one daughter and me. The other two have decided sleeping in is way too enticing, so my grandparents, who my kids say love auctions like we love breathing, are joining us.


As my daughter and I settle into some chairs, it is still early so the cadence of the auctioneer lulls us with repeated pleas to buy it all. And that’s when our conversations begin. We think we might want a few well-worn fishing poles that remind us of Tom Sawyer’s need for such things; there’s a mystical old trunk lined with early 20th century newspaper scraps that remind us of all the stories we’ve read about secret compartments and long-lost treasure maps; and then a tiny yellowed photo of a sophisticated looking man with a gargantuan handlebar moustache, wearing a tuxedo while he holds a top hat and cane, who reminds us of a young Willy Wonka; we nudge each other at the sight of a cast iron motorcycle with sidecar that reminds us of my grandfather’s death-defying crash as a leather jacketed teen with cool black hair; and finally a rusty old west lantern that would have to accompany us on a really dark and foreboding walk through the “big woods” of Laura Ingall’s childhood.

We didn’t buy any one of these treasures, but we did find a great place to talk and tell stories. I say find these places wherever you can, especially with your kids, but be careful not to raise your hands too high in the air or nod your head at just the right moment as you talk…unless you have room in the trunk for some very long fishing poles.

Father Knows Five

Every Friday we serve you an “a la carte” style list of 5 unique videos, articles, ideas, etc. from all kinds of locations. See you next week…

1. A Patch of Black by Rachel Rooney and Deborah Allwright (Macmillian Children’s Books, 2012) – What a great video version of this book to share with your young ones! My 2-year old niece watched it with me and thought it had all been written for and about her. I was really afraid of the dark as a boy so a book like this just makes sense of it all…

2. The Amazing Skills of Brass Vevo – how great would it be to see this group read a book to kids!

3. “Biografias,” by Alicia Martin at Casa de America, Madrid. “5,000 Books Pour Out of a Building in Spain”. Details and more at

book spill

4. A Classic Literally Rises From the Deep – the scene in the TV adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in which Colin Firth as Mr Darcy emerges from a lake has been reconstructed in the Serpentine in central London’s Hyde Park.

5. Any website with the words “Barbaric Archipelago” and “Learn to Write Dragonese” is worth a visit. It’s from the author of the series, How to Train Your Dragon. My nephews are all over it! Here’s the link: