Father Knows Five 1-24-14

*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.  One Amazing Set of Encyclopedias! – “What happens when an artist comes to face-to-face with an old, 24-volume Encyclopedia Britannica set? In the case of Montreal-based Guy Laramée, the answer would be to turn the vintage books into a medium for sculpture.”

2.  Good Night, Gorilla – the interesting story behind this children’s classic.


3.  21 Reason to Quit Your Job and Become a Teacher – my favorite is #11.



5.  A “Read Every Day” poster that reminds me of our family’s favorite summer beach on Jekyll Island in Georgia.  The poster was created by ‘Lucky Ducklings’ illustrator Nancy Carpenter:3a789b006fec133d3f07cbf79f729f4f


451 degrees of Reading

 Claire 451

Fahrenheit 451 – do you remember it?  When Ray Bradbury wrote this stark view of a world in which books are illegal and firemen are sent to burn them and the homes they are found in, I wonder if he could realize the impact his book would have upon teenagers in 2013.

Both of my older daughters (whose English teachers have been the cream of the crop) read it as part of their 8th grade reading lists. It was an interesting book and its subject was immediately interesting to them because they are avid readers and lovers of books, but both of them began to realize with this famous work that reading some of these classics are a bit like riding a roller coaster. There are interesting parts and great paragraphs and eerie scenes, but also slow parts and confusing moments and difficult passages.

Because of the ups and downs in this particular book and sometimes feeling like they were having to force themselves to keep reading, I often found myself trying to encourage them to keep reading until the story could capture their attention again.

And then something great happened last evening! We were at a school event and our middle daughter’s wonderful 7th grade English teacher, Mrs. Adam, stopped to say hello. We were talking about the common struggle of reading these classic works of literature and our daughter told her about the difficult and sometime-drudgery of reading Fahrenheit 451.

Mrs. Adam said, “The reason to keep reading such things is so you can be ready for literary allusions in the future. The cultural impact of these books will always find some place in an interesting conversation. By reading them now, you will be ready for such things and you can think right along with the best of them.”

No wonder this is a person we define as a great teacher.  She could see beyond the day-to-day (or page-to-page) and into the bigger picture.  She was reminding us that there are important aspects of being a reader that only time will tell.  She was teaching.

‘No More Worksheets!’ Thursday Stories with Baby Frederico

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

 BF 2

Baby Frederico loves his Momma Mia and Papá Frita, his buddy Grenelda the Grasshopper, blue crayons, popcorn, and…microscopes; but he did not like to do worksheets.  Here is his story:

Baby Frederico loved his microscope more than any gift he had ever received in his life.  It was painted entirely in black, except for the small yellow dial that brought things into clear focus under the lighted lens that opened up a whole new world of tiny objects to him.

He used it to investigate all kinds of things, from locust legs to butterfly larvae to tadpoles, water, sand, marshmallows, and leaves.  The microscope included long plastic beakers with bright red caps and small clear plastic boxes with magnifying lenses for covers.  There was a pair of tweezers for extracting pieces too small to hold with human fingers and a long metal probe that helped him move things around on the microscope lens.  It was everything he needed with which to experiment and investigate and wonder. He loved this microscope.

What he did not love was worksheets.  In his estimation, these pieces of paper were among the most horrible things ever to be invented; they held such massive power and, if not completed by the end of the class period, could wreck a kid’s evening or ruin his entire weekend.  Worksheets were just asking too much of him – to work on them all day at school was bad and boring enough, but then to come home to toys and comic books and snacks and video games and a microscope and have to do more homework – what were they trying to do him?

This particular month at school had also presented him with a brand new teacher.  She was soft-spoken and calm with long red hair and lots of very bright white teeth set inside a smile that seemed nearly permanent.  But Baby Frederico knew those kids of teachers well, all happy and grinning those first few weeks and then barking out orders and frowning for the rest of the year.  He wasn’t about to be tricked this time, so he kept his distance and waited and wondered when the worksheets and frowning would begin.

As the classroom clock ticked down to the final minutes of Friday’s math lesson and the end of another week at school, the teacher reminded them that their science lesson on observations was due Monday.  Baby Frederico had completely forgotten about the assignment.  And homework, on a weekend.  He let out a frustrated and sorrowful sigh.

When he arrived home, he sat at the kitchen table and looked through the mail that his Mama Mia had left for him.  Baby Frederico didn’t often receive much mail, but on this day there was Cricket, his favorite magazine of interesting stories, and a letter from….his teacher! The postage stamp was of a big, colorful commemorative illustration and inside was a long list of the most interesting objects that included things like marshmallows, roofing nails, hair, postage stamps, fingernail clippers, socks, ladybugs, water, bread, apple skins, dirt, leaves, and lipstick.  At the bottom of the list was a note from the teacher.  It read, “Hi wonderful student!  I love being your teacher and I thought it might be fun to send you this note about your homework assignment for the weekend.  We are learning how to get better about using a great science skill – observation.  On this list are just some of the ideas I want you to observe and write down some interesting things about.  Tell me their shape and size and color and texture.  What do they smell like?  Are they soft or hard, cold or hot, wet or dry, stinky or wonderful?  And if you have a magnifying lens or even a microscope – tell me even more about what you see!”

Baby Frederico was nearly speechless.  Here was a teacher who was asking him to use his favorite toy in the whole house, his microscope, for homework!  No worksheets or fill-in-the-blanks or questions at the end of the chapter…but real live THINKING to do!  He immediately got to work and would soon discover a tiny world he had never known.

That night as he was brushing his teeth and getting ready for bed, Baby Frederico looked in the mirror and noticed that he was smiling.  He was content with the day and his hard work.  Maybe this year, with this great teacher, would turn out alright.  Maybe he would get to think again, and again, and again, and again.

He said to himself, “No wonder that teacher smiles so much!”

BF 1

The Physics of Childhood

Hot Wheels 3

“If you want your children to turn out well, spend twice as much time with them and half as much money.” – Abigail Van Buren

How do things move?  It is one of the most basic questions that can be asked in regard to the science of physics.  In early childhood, movement is everywhere and is itself such a normal part of a child’s life that getting them to think in a developmentally appropriate and imaginative way about such things  and how they move is not hard at all.

When I was young, the physics of childhood flourished in me through an assortment of toy cars and later bicycles and go-carts and trying to build just the right ramps to turn each of them into the General Lee – the starring car of my favorite television show when I was a boy.  I remember the way it felt to get my bike just inches off the ground as it lifted its front wheel into the air from my makeshift ramp.  I was in heaven and imagined myself flying across rivers flanked by “Bridge Out” signs all along the way.  Some 30 years later, I can still remember the thrill of all that playing and working and experimenting!

Hot Wheels 2

So tonight the girls and I decided to take a walk down the toy aisle at our local Target.  I was especially intrigued with their Hot Wheels assortment and the girls and I soon picked out the coolest 3-lane racetrack that I had ever seen.  The girls each chose two Hot Wheels (at only .97 cents, this must still be the cheapest toy in the store!) and we headed home to do some racing.

In my mind, the best part about Hot Wheels tracks are their interchangeable styles, which gives way to some of the most interesting configurations and layouts you’ve ever seen.  I dared the girls (ages 8 and 13) to find a way to bring every set of tracks (we have six separate playsets, four of which we inherited from my gracious nephew Zachary!)  together to create one colossal PHYSICS event!

After more than two hours of thinking and talking and hypothesizing and experimenting and failing and succeeding (and a little Motown music in the background to keep the mood up) – and some very funny debates between the two of them that ended at one point when my 8-year old said, “It will never work,” to which my 13-year old responded, “Don’t say another word” – it was time to bring it all together and see the domino effect that would start with 3 cars colliding into 3 more cars and so on until the final car hit the finish line.

30 Hot Wheels and 22 feet of track later the physics of childhood keeps moving along – right before my eyes and among my kids “the scientists!”

Hot Wheels 1


‘Bullies’ Thursday Stories with Baby Frederico (and Claire!)

This is a special day, for my wonderfully creative 8th grader decided to write this week’s Baby Frederico story for you.  Claire knows him well and is especially interested in this week’s story topic.  She is encouraging those who bully to stop; those who are bullied to tell someone about it; and those who are neither to take a stand and help the one who has been bullied.

Bullies BF

Baby Frederico loves his Momma Mia and Papá Frita, his buddy Grenelda the Grasshopper, blue crayons, popcorn…and Incredible Hulk comic books from 1982; but he does not like to see anyone being bullied. For from the time they are very young, all iguanas are taught to practice respect. Baby Frederico, being an iguana, learned this  important lesson quite well. Here is his story:

It was around the middle of the year when Baby Frederico`s new teacher came to his school. Mr. McHiss was a very intelligent and kind snake. But everyone in his class overlooked those nice qualities as soon as he said, “Hello classs! My name isss Mr. McHisss!” The class erupted with quiet giggles as he told them how he “decsssided to ssstart teaching and how excsssited he wasss to be teaching them.”

Baby Frederico let out a small giggle when Mr. McHiss said the first few words because he didn`t expect it. But as his classmates` giggles continued right along with their teacher`s speech, he knew it wasn`t right. Turning to his best friend Grenelda the grasshopper he said,” Our class is being very disrespectful. Shouldn`t we do something?” With a nod of her head, Grenelda began hushing her classmates. This worked for a few minutes, but after a while silent laughs became visible on each student`s face once more.

Later at lunch, Grenelda and Baby Frederico decided that they must do something about the giggling. But just as they had begun to talk, the two meanest boys in class came over to the table where the two friends were sitting.

“Hey!” they said, “We`re going to write a note with all the ‘s’ words we can think of and pass it around in class. Mr. McHiss will be so embarrassed!”

Baby Frederico looked up at the boys, “What`s so bad about talking different anyway? I think it`s kind of cool actually.”

Grenelda spoke up too, “Yeah! What`s so bad about it?”

The two boys looked at each other, trying to find an answer. They really didn`t know why talking different would make somebody be labeled as weird.

One boy said, “Well… I mean… I guess…. maybe it`s not so bad. Actually, we might sound kinda funny to him because we don`t hiss!”

“That`s right,” replied Baby Frederico.  “But he would never make fun of us for it because he knows it would make us sad. I think that is really what is meant by practicing respect – what we say can make a difference, for good or bad.”

Later, each of Mr. McHiss’ students returned to his classroom and apologized for making fun of him.  Mr. McHiss was very proud of them and even told them a story from his own childhood:  One day, a cricket named Michael visited his school, which in those days was a school entirely for snakes like Mr. McHiss. Everyone made fun of Michael because he DIDN’T make the “s” sound at all! It was there and then that Mr. McHiss learned a wonderful lesson about practicing respect.  He decided to be the one person who would be kind to Michael and not make fun of him for being different.

“After that, I decided that no one was going to bully Michael, or anyone, ever again.”

The students began to applaud as Mr. McHiss finished his story.  And it was then and there that a classroom full of students of all shapes and color and sizes and sounds learned to practice respect for each other and for all time.

Books and Candy

We were talking with a friend last week when the subject turned to, of all things, Turkish Delight. Have you heard of it? My introduction to the candy came when I read C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (first published in 1950) as a boy – but it gained wider popularity when the sugary confection was used so well in the movie of that book that debuted in 2005. Our friend insisted that we try some, so we ordered the variety box – rose, mint, hazelnut, pistachio, lime, and lemon – and it’s really pretty good.

Turkish Delight and a great book!

I remember when our daughter was in elementary school and one of her outstanding teachers read the book to the class and then masterminded the coolest Narnia party I had ever seen. Turkish Delight was THE dessert at that party and my daughter and her friends were so intrigued by it, especially because of the way Lewis used it in his book as the sweet element that would lure the boy Edmund into the White Witch’s sour world.

During that time, our daughter would come home from school and relate nearly every detail of the book to us – her teacher was reading it to them every day, a few pages at a time. The only way I know to describe what I saw in her eyes and heard in her voice then was just how it struck her young imagination with such force. The book represented to her mind such a different kind of adventure, a literary work of importance in which the characters were so well-developed and thoroughly interesting that, to her, it didn’t feel like the “normal” children’s book. It was as though the author thought she was smart enough to get it..a chapter book with many unusual and descriptive words, just a few well-placed illustrations, intriguing locations such as Cair Paravel and the Castle of the Four Thrones, and…Turkish Delight.

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest,” and, “No book is really worth reading at age ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty – except, of course, books of information. The only imaginative works we ought to grow out of are those which it would have been better not to have read at all.”

I couldn’t agree more, especially after reading so many children’s stories (picture books, novels, and series) with my daughters over the past 18 years. Choosing a book to read with your kids is a special undertaking, so as another great adventure movie character once taught us, “Choose, but choose wisely.” A variety box of Turkish Delight (choose wisely here too) doesn’t hurt either.

Look for the recipe for Turkish Delight on our Book Cook page!