“Dad, listen to this!”

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Last night I was searching for a particular book that I wanted to share with my college students in class today.  I had been through every room and looked among every bookshelf and was now upstairs in the secret book room, searching through the piles of our children’s books that we have accumulated over the past 20 years together.  Of course, I got lost in the experience…to be around that many good books and illustrations is like getting caught in a really wonderful rainstorm.  The books were falling everywhere and I was happily caught in their flood.

And then, our youngest daughter (age 9) appeared in the little doorway and said, “Dad, listen to this!”  She was holding a newly discovered book from her school library.  A good friend had read this particular book only a few weeks before and they were talking about it that day, so she checked it out and brought it home to read.  She was about 20 pages in when she came across a couple of pages that she wanted to read to me.

It was a wonderful passage that was very poetic and very solemn, and she read it as though she were auditioning for a Shakespeare play.  Her eyes were alive with these words.  Her voice was alive with these words.  Her physical appearance was alive with these words.  Something about them reverberated somewhere within her young heart.

I’m glad she read to me.  What I heard, I needed to hear.  But what I saw, I will never forget.

Book Ears

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We listened to a book on the way to school today.  We have been doing this with the girls since they were all very little and we love it.  I remember the days in which we would visit our local and wonderful library and load up with cassette tapes (and later, CDs) whenever we were starting a long car trip or just needing something to get their minds off of what was expected to be a difficult day (and sometimes a week) at school.

Today it was with my 14 year-old and our selection was the first couple of chapters in C.S. Lewis’ classic, The Screwtape Letters.  If you haven’t yet read this one, it is a fascinating what-if story and this particular audio version stars Andy Serkis, who has played Gollum so well through The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit epics at the movie theater.  He is masterful in this book role, as well.

Looking back, we have listened to such books as Chocolate Fever, Bud Not Buddy, Love Ruby Lavender, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Junie B. Jones, The Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, The Spiderwick Chronicles, Holes, Because of Winn Dixie, A Cricket in Times Square, Charlotte’s Web, The War of the Worlds, and Superfudge.

As the girls moved through a school year, it was so often settling to them on the drive to school to listen to these whimsical and often very funny stories read so well to them.  Many included sound effects and cast members, just like an old radio drama.  Others were a single voice using incredible talent in dialogue and character to bring the words of these wonderful authors to life right inside our car.

Books work their magic as few other things in life are able to do.  Whether by turning the page or turning up the volume, they linger somewhere inside us and they are ours.

P.S. Speaking of audiobooks, I ran across this ad campaign from a couple of years ago that was done by Penguin for classics such as Julia’s favorite, The Wizard of Oz.  There a few more to see when you click on the picture below:

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Yay Stars

Perspective is worth 80 IQ points.” – Alan Kay 

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Our 2-year old niece and I were sitting in the car waiting for my wife the other night when a wonderfully inspiring thing occurred.  This sweet little girl pressed her nose up close against the cold, frosty window and peered out into the darkness and said with great excitement, “Yay stars!”

She continued to stare out and up, as though she were being mesmerized by the clear night sky that lay before her.  And then she repeated to herself, just above a whisper this time, “Yay stars.”

It was beautiful.  A song, a poem, a reminder, a message – in two words from a two year old.  Sometimes, words need not be plentiful to be just what you need.

Yay stars…

Dad Ears

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When in doubt, listen!  That is the lesson I have been learning over these nearly 19 years as I try to figure out how to be a good dad.  The listening comes in many ways, but there were two just this week (in the course of only four days) that need telling, so here we go:

1.  My brother-in-law, Chris, has three children and it was his middle child’s birthday.  Two little boys were at the house celebrating with him in a big Minecraft-themed party and it was time to unwrap all of the cool boy presents in the living room.  As he began to tear through each one, his younger sister became visibly brokenhearted that there were no presents for her to unwrap.  Her father quietly slipped away from the party and into her bedroom, where he grabbed several stuffed animals and a small toy from under her bed, found a box, and wrapped it all up with some extra paper.  As he entered the room and presented his little girl with this surprise gift, her eyes grew wide.  Her father held his breath as she opened the present and peered inside.  Instead of thinking these were just some old toys from her bedroom, she was jumping for joy and couldn’t believe that her father had given her such wonderful gifts!  Great work, dad!

And a good idea – I’m listening…

2.   Laura, a friend of ours whose daughter is in the same grade and school as our youngest, told us about helping her daughter with a school assignment.  The 3rd grade teacher had asked the children to read a biography and write a short essay about it.  Though her daughter is sometimes a reluctant reader and homework fan (as most 3rd graders tend to be at different times of the year), this mom was determined to help her enjoy this particular assignment.  They found a book about Amelia Earhart in the adult section of the library and read it there before heading to Starbucks to write the first draft of the essay.  What surprised this great mom was how, just by taking her daughter out of the daily routine of doing these types of assignments at home and letting her work at the library and then at a place like Starbucks, her daughter was not a bit reluctant to read or write and finished it in record time and with pride.  Great work, mom!

And another good idea – I’m listening…

When my wife and I were young parents, my aunt told us to always remember that we are, every day, raising our kids to leave home.  “Don’t EVER forget that,” she said.  She was reminding us that we are teaching our children what it will be like to live on their own someday, to have friends and family and finances and houses and yards and stress and arguments and love, etc.  We haven’t forget her priceless advice and it has made a world of difference in how we are parenting all three of our children.  An education professor once told me the best advice she ever received about working with young children when they are especially energetic and need some reigning in, “Keep all your wits about you and sit on the floor!”  I have never forgotten that wisdom and it indeed works very well.

These are just a few of the little things families out there are doing as they work hard to encourage and care for their children, things that do pay great dividends in helping them grow up and become thinkers and givers and maybe even parents themselves one day.  In a way, they are very simple things that take no more than a little extra time (if any at all in some cases) but they seem to have truly far-reaching consequences.

And that sounds to me like something worth listening for…

P.S. Below is a picture of Charlie Joe Jackson, an intriguing character by author Tommy Greenwald who could be really helpful at your house too, not in just coping with but celebrating reluctant readers.  The “Tips for Reading (if You Must)” list alone is priceless.  Click on Charlie’s picture to go straight to the website:

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