‘A Chair for My Mother’ – Tuesday’s Look at THIS Book!

* Every Tuesday we introduce you to a favorite book from our secret book room.


Today’s great book: A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams (1982, HarperCollins)

About the Author: http://www.kidsreads.com/authors/vera-b-williams

Teacher Resource:  http://www.teachingbooks.net/tb.cgi?tid=1264&a=1

Time to Read: 32-pages, a touching family story; we read it before bed

Summary:  from the publisher…”The jar of coins is full. The day has come to buy the chair – the big, fat, comforable, wonderful chair they have been saving for. The chair that will replace the one that was burned up – along with everything else – in the terrible fire.  A book of love and tenderness filled with the affirmation of life.”

Best Quote from the Book:  “When we can’t get a single other coin into the jar, we are going to take out all the money and go and buy a chair.”

Our View:  Written and illustrated by Vera B. Williams and named a Caldecott Honor Book by the American Library Association, A Chair for My Mother has been a longtime favorite of mine and I read it every semester to my college students who are aspiring to become teachers of young children and their families.  The story places itself firmly in the lives of a little girl and her mother and grandmother, deep in the heart of the city, among a close knit group of family and friends that surround them.  Taking care of each other, hard work, saving, financial issues, fire and the loss of a home – each topic weaves itself through the plot and brings to life the courage and dedication of a family to keep going and do great things…together.  

Just Like That…

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We spent some time with my grandmother this past week.  Our 9-year old also spent some time writing her first book.  It is a creative and very mysterious story she has titled “The Unplayed Piano.”

For the past couple of years, there are really just two types of books that our daughter loves to read most – poetry and mysteries.  As she completes a chapter of this story she is writing right now, she reads it to her mother and sister and me after dinner and makes changes here and there as she reads it.  There are elements of humor and anxiety and excitement, but they all revolve around the sound of this mysterious piano music that only certain people in this family’s house are able to hear.  We don’t yet know how it will end, but the suspense is killing us!

Here is what I wanted to share with you about my grandmother and my 9-year old and this story.  I was in the kitchen working on a puzzle with my grandfather last evening when I heard the following conversation in the other room.  It went like this:

Grandmother:  “Honey, I have been meaning to ask you all week…how is your book coming along?  I was just thinking that when we finish dinner, you and I should sit together so you can read more of it to me.   I want to hear what happens with that piano.”

Julia:  “Really?”

Grandmother:  “Yes, I can’t wait.”

Julia:  “Then I can’t wait to read it to you.”

Just like that, no more than a 30 second conversation and a little girl is so encouraged, so surprised, and so happy.  And just like that, a little girl becomes an author.

The Family That Scrabbles Together…


I had one of those snapshot-style, great moment-in-time experiences last night with our 14-year old and my 83-year old grandparents. Our teenager had convinced the three of us to play a board game, Scrabble, with her and we were gathered around the table for the big event.

Scrabble was the idea of an architect, Alfred Mosher Butts, and was trademarked in 1948.  Today, one hundred million sets have been sold worldwide (between one and two million are sold each year in North America alone); it is estimated that one in every three American homes owns the game in some form; and there are more than 120,000 words “that may be used in their scoring arsenal.”

The funny thing about it, however, is that my grandparents, in all their 83 years, had never, ever played it! This was to be their very first run at such a venerable old game of wordplay…and boy was I lucky to be there for it. It was beyond hilarious. Here are just a few things that were said during the game:

– (said my grandfather to no one in particular) This game will eat your lunch.

– (said my grandmother to my grandfather) Do you want to do that one? (said my grandfather to my grandmother) Yes ma’am!

– (said by my grandfather about my grandmother) She took so long I can’t remember the great word I was going to play!

– (said to my grandmother and teenager) If you’d let me choose 7 letters, I could whip this game.

– (said to all of us, several times) Whose turn is it?

– (said to my grandmother, several times) You are taking entirely too long.

– (said to no one in particular) Wish I could win.

– (said to himself) Let’s make the rules up as we go.

– (said to all of us, just once) I threw the blank ones back because I thought they were duds.

– (said to me nearly every time) Is it my turn already?

– (said to my teenager several times about the letter m) You can’t see it, but that’s a w!

Tears of laughter reigned through most of the game, which lasted just about an hour.  The memory, however?  That will last much longer.  Therefore, thank you Scrabble.

Grandma & Gene Autry

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It is the day after Thanksgiving and the kids are everywhere. There are cousins and hide-and-go-seek and stories of our childhoods and food galore and more noise than any of us could handle on a normal day.

If anything, it is a family week around the house.  My Grandma Ber is sitting beside me here in the living room. She is 86 and, always being cold, perpetually covered in a big blanket as we talk together about “the old days.” I have heard most of these stories before, but as we talk she tells me a brand new story. We are discussing an old western comic book that my nephew has opened here on the coffee table in front of us. Something about it reminds her of what she refers to as her “first hearthrob.” She tells me that when she was young she wanted to marry the famous cowboy singer and actor Gene Autry. There was just something “about the way he wore that hat,” she said.

I know I have said it before, but just a reminder here on this Monday morning that stories are everywhere.  My grandma has a history, a life, a brain filled to overflowing with 80-something years of memories…80-something years of stories and loves and passions and anxieties and prayers and questions and wonders.  I bet your family does, too.  There are people sitting right there next to you on the couch with something to remember, a memory that will not leave them, a moment in time that continues to nestle itself somewhere deep inside their heart and soul.  When it decides to live again, it is something to see.

And who knows, you might even have a grandma who once dreamed of a famous cowboy crooner who stole her heart from the silver screen itself.


Look at this Book! Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon

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

Julia and Mom Molly Lou Review

Today’s great books: Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon & Have Fun, Molly Lou Melon, both by Patty Lovell and illustrated by David Catrow (2001, G.P. Putnam’s Sons).
Time to Read: short and sweet, great for bedtime
Summary: Grandma’s wise and funny advice helps a little girl learn to take pride in herself.
Best Quote: “Dear Grandma, I wanted to tell you that everything you told me was exactly right!”

Our View: Wow! These are two of the most well-written and happily illustrated books for children in recent memory. In the book Stand Tall, Molly Lou doesn’t always like herself or her big teeth or her small stature or her frog-like singing voice…but her wonderful grandmother always tells her why each item is just right for her and to ‘stand tall.’ The school bully can’t even make her angry or embarrassed! In the book Have Fun, the ingenious narrative follows Molly Lou as her grandmother describes how she played in the old days as compared to all the prefab toys of today. Molly Lou is so inspired that she does the same thing with her toys of today and then inspires her new next door neighbor friend to do the same. Molly Lou, through her grandmother’s wise advice, is a hero to the child that’s just not sure how and where to fit in in the world today. A great book that will help you show your children how and why they can just be themselves.

Remember to visit our Book Cook page for the recipe – “Grandma’s Pie Apples” – created by the kids to accompany this particular book.

Third Grade is for Third Graders

Though I try to write with a greater focus on the role of books throughout this website, sometimes there are stories, mini-books if you will, happening right in my backyard that are so important to me to write down and remember that I just can’t help but tell you about them. This is one:

Third Grade

Our 8-year old broke down in tears just a couple of days into this new school year. She had spent the night with my wonderfully accessible mom, who speaks and listens to her grandchildren with a focus and presence that is unlike most anything I have ever seen between an adult and a child. And I think her grandchildren know this about her and so save up at least some of their worries and fears and concerns and anxieties just for her.

My mother is a notoriously early riser and can make breakfast for one or one-hundred at the drop of a hat, and one grandchild in her home is all the encouragement she needs to be up and going and cooking and reading and talking and listening on any given morning. On this particular morning, she and our youngest had just ended the perfect grandchild meal and were talking about school. All seemed well and my mother left the room to put on her makeup. Then, without a bit of warning, she heard the unmistakable sound of tears. She ran into the kitchen and there was this child, this third-grader, this creative, curly-headed, smart, funny, energetic little person bawling her eyes out.

When my mom asked what was wrong, the words from her granddaughter came fast and furious and with such a pained expression that the world simply had to stop for a minute…and, of course, that’s when a world-class conversation between an adult and a child ensued:

“I’ll never be able to do third grade work,” she said. “I just know it…”

“What makes you say that honey?”

“There are just so many things that are different about this year. There’s math and spelling words and vocabulary definitions and and and…,” she was crying too hard to continue her list of worries.

“Well,” said grandma, “third grade has only just begun. This first week is just giving you a roadmap for the year ahead. But more importantly, if you already knew how to do third grade work, you would be in the fourth grade.”

That was it, the one sentence my daughter needed to hear. My mother knew her granddaughter, for she recognized the simple and clear logic that was needed in that discussion. She also knows this little girl very well and so knew it fit her personality. That 60-second conversation nearly immediately stopped her tears and squashed her anxieties. She was so relieved to hear that third grade is for third graders!

Her tears stopped and her smile returned and they were off to school and a new teacher and a new classroom and third grade – just the place she was meant to be.


Bored = Imagination

In a recent Time Magazine interview the creator of the wildly popular online game Minecraft, Markus Persson, talked about how “his lack of artistic ability turned into one of the game’s defining traits, ‘A tree doesn’t look like a tree, but you know it’s a tree. It makes it feel more real, because a larger part of it takes place in your imagination.’ ” I can’t tell you how many times I heard that word ‘imagination’ or how many times I was told to “use your imagination” when I was growing up; and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told my own daughters to “use your imagination.”

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I was just one of those kids who loved to complain about there being nothing to do – and I grew up on 400 acres of farm and wheat land, which included two old creepy houses (with cellars!) that had been abandoned decades before I came along; there was a creek that wound its way through the farm and a couple of old, rusty windmills and big, red wooden barns near my grandparent’s farmhouse. There was not one thing about this place that could really be described as ‘boring.’ Not one thing but me…

Yet my grandmother, who lived not far from us on the other side of the farm, loved to here me say that I was ‘bored.’ No sooner had I proclaimed that magic word than she would spring into action and send me off on outdoor adventures to gather this or that somewhere among those 400 acres and then return to her home later that day with what I had found; and then to have her ask me to help her make these amazing mini cherry cheesecakes, play games like Payday or Concentration, or rearrange her bookshelves and the long row of cabinets beneath them.

Ah, those cabinets beneath the bookshelves. I loved them, these little hidden spaces behind closed doors, stacked completely to the brim with books of all kinds and shapes and sizes. It was a space so full of books that you had to shut the door quickly to keep them from spilling out onto the living room floor. Honestly, it was amazing and it was a treasure to me. There were all kinds of books in there, but the ones that stand out in my mind today are mostly children’s books from my dad’s childhood and comic books and baseball cards used as bookmarks and handwritten notes scrawled inside the book covers from people I had never heard of or only heard about. I would lose myself in these cabinets and the boredom would lose itself there, too.

I’m grateful for my grandmother and that old farm and the books that she drew me into and taught me to cherish simply because she cherished them and had no intentions of ever having too many or relegating even one to be put away in a box or attic somewhere. Though she now lives in a house in the city, she still has most of those books in nearly every room of it…and I still get lost in the shelves and their cabinets when I visit her, some 30 years later.

My 80-year old grandmother and the 20 or 30-year old creator of Minecraft have something in common – they understand the value of imagination. And imagination often comes because of good old-fashioned boredom. Both are valuable for us all. So next time your kids tell you they’re bored, applaud them and tell them what my grandma told me – “use your imagination” – then smile and walk away. 30 years later, they will be glad you did.