Can we read? No. 42

An ask

Good morning!

Thanks for being here. One thing before we get started today:

Building a newsletter is a long-term, long-game project. I have loved — do love — doing it. It’s incredibly fun for me. And I am grateful for every single one of you — whether you open this newsletter every week, a few times a month, or once in a blue moon.

Because it’s a passion project, naturally I want it to reach as many people as possible. My goal really is to help children’s books find the right readers. But I don’t know more people than I know, you know?

My ask today is for your help: will you forward this to someone? Many of you have already sent to this parent-friends — thank you! 🙏 — but if you haven’t, would you consider it? (Next week I’ll be sending out a Spotlight On: Makers and Making, so now is a good time to send this to anyone who may be interested, ‘cause they’ll get a big juicy issue right away.)

Some people that might like this newsletter:

  • People you “know” on social media

  • The children’s librarian/s and staff at your local library

  • Grandparents/aunts/uncles/other extended family (helpful for dropping hints about gifts!)

  • Your kid’s teacher, coach, school librarian, or therapist (you can tell how we roll in this house)

  • Your daycare provider/support folks when it comes to looking after your child/ren

  • Anyone in your life that works with children, even if they don’t have them (plenty of your fellow readers don’t have them!)

To those of you who have already done this for me, once or on more than one occasion: I deeply appreciate your support. I have built the foundation and applied the mortar for this newsletter but you have helped me raise it brick by brick.

Thank you so much for your help. And as always, thank you for being here.


Captain Cat by Inga Moore (2013)

If there’s one thing I have to say about Inga Moore, it’s that I wish she would write more books, or at the very least illustrate more — even the ones that are still in print are on the harder side to find, and I can’t fathom why: her books are rich and deeply enjoyable, and never is this more evident than in Captain Cat. My favorite title of hers, it’s the story of a cat-crazy trader — though not a very good trader, since all he ever trades for is cats 🐱 (I like him.) One day he decides to sail for distant, unknown shores, eventually landing upon an island with a problem he alone is equipped to handle: a rat infestation, onto which, at the Queen’s behest, he unleashes his cats. Her Majesty is so grateful for Captain Cat’s help that she rewards him with all the riches of the kingdom, after which the sailor departs for home. When he gets there, his fellow traders see all the gold and jewels he received and set sail at once for the faraway island — the “goods,” as it were, that they receive for their own items of trade are too funny to spoil, let’s just say that the clever outcome of this unique tale will charm nearly every reader. Moore’s talent as an artist — her enchantingly detailed mixed media illustrations offer oodles to look at here — is equalled only by her ability to do that one, always-gratifying thing we humans never get tired of: tell a darn good story.


The Day the Goose Got Loose by Reeve Lindbergh, illustrated by Steven Kellogg (1990)

If you want a book that will amuse any child from ages 2-10, look no further than this one: this rhyming, rollicking barnyard romp is so fun and such a crowd-pleaser it’s one of my top-most recommended titles when people are looking for gifts.

The unnamed narrator, a little girl, tells the reader how it all begins: “When the goose got loose she caused a riot — no one ever thought she’d try it! There wasn’t any more peace and quiet, the day the goose got loose” and things go downhill from there. No one escapes the goose’s uproar: the hens get mad, the sheep get scared, the ram goes wild, the horses run like mad. The riotous behavior touches the humans on the farm as well: the girl’s dad’s morning routine “is completely destroyed,” her mother goes after the goose with a butterfly net, but it takes her brother to figure out the goose’s sudden motivation came from the wild geese flying overhead. Kellogg’s extraordinarily detailed signature pen and watercolor illustrations are particularly lush here — each page is dense with detail and so many things to look at that repeated reading (and this will be a repeated read) is richly rewarded. That’s a good thing, because we can all — grownups especially — benefit from getting free, letting loose, and having fun.


Who Took the Farmer's Hat? by Joan L Nodset, illustrated by Fritz Siebel (1963)

I don’t remember where I got Who Took the Farmer’s Hat? or what made me pick it up in the first place, but I am glad I did: it has been an enduring read for us, beginning when my eldest was a toddler, which means it’s been five years going strong. It’s a simple tale that begins, “The farmer had a hat, an old brown hat. Oh, how he liked that old brown hat!” The wind takes the hat and delivers it elsewhere, and the farmer goes around to a bunch of different animals, asking after it. They each have seen it but have mistaken it for something else — Squirrel saw “a fat round brown bird in the sky,” Mouse saw “a big round brown mousehole in the grass,” Fly saw “a flat round brown hill” and so on, until finally the farmer comes upon Bird, who has not seen the hat but has seen a “nice brown nest,” where it laid an egg. (The farmer ends up getting a new hat.) Siebel’s line drawings are active and expressive, which adds to the delight of the reader, who can clearly see the hat the whole time — this is great fun for littles, who will enthusiastically point out the hat in every picture and laugh at what each animal thinks it is instead. There is an old-fashioned and yet utterly heartwarming charm to this one, and there’s a reason it holds up even after 58 years.


Raising a Reader: A Mother's Tale of Desperation and Delight by Jennie Nash (2003)

“…reading suffers when we turn it into a high-anxiety, competitive activity. The process suffers, our kids suffer, and we suffer along with them. I know this, not because I have any expertise in teaching reading beyond my own experience as a parent, but because during the years in which my two children learned how to read, there were many times when my desire for them to succeed strayed into desperation, my hope morphed into obsession, and instead of helping pass on my passion, my resolve got in the way. The magic moments — the ones in which my own love of reading was naturally passed on — came in their own sweet time, through the blessing of being together in the presence of good books and by the grace needed to see each of my children as individuals separate from me.

Like so many of the things we do as parents, raising readers happens in bursts of delight and desperation, in the push and pull of digging in and letting go, day in and day out, both because of and in spite of our efforts.”

Full disclosure: the night I read these two paragraphs in the introduction on the second page on this book, I cried. I was at the tail end of a year of COVID homeschooling my 7-year-old (so, like, less than a month ago), who in 1st grade was definitely supposed to learn to read, and preferably read well. In anticipation of this grand experiment wherein we unenrolled our child from the school district so she wouldn’t have to sit on Zoom 6+ hours a day and took on the responsibility of her education all by our lonesome, last summer I researched and bought a reading curriculum — an excellent one, an expensive one, one that worked for us insofar as any kind of reading curriculum “works,” which is to say by May my daughter understood phonics to a greater degree than she did in kindergarten, could recognize more sight words, and could hobble her way through several sentences, sort of, most days. But she couldn’t — and, further disclosure — still cannot read with any kind of fluency or comfort, and remains entirely unenthusiastic about learning how.

Why do I tell you this? Well, to recommend this title for one thing, but also to admit that I don’t have it all together. I write a newsletter about children’s books and creating a culture of reading in your home, for god’s sake — you know this because you’re consuming it right now — and yet this is the truth for me: I have built an incredible launchpad for learning to read in all the ways I know how and she has not yet taken off (my desire definitely strayed into desperation). I have gone through every shade of emotion over this: patience, determination, frustration, pretended unconcern, fury, sadness, comparison to my friends whose 1st graders are not only reading but gobbling up chapter books like we dreamed they would (so much comparison and comparison-related pain), despair, and finally, surrender. (If you want the gory details about how deep my worries ran — well, run — read this blog post from writer and homeschooling veteran Patricia Zaballos, who responded with tremendous graciousness, understanding, and guidance after I left her a comment on the low afternoon that I really and truly gave up and let go.)

This is all to say: Nash has written a short, genuine book full of stories about raising her own two readers — including the misadventures, magic moments, small and big wins alike, major mistakes, her own tearful nights, practical tips and even a handful of short booklists — that is so honest and so welcome for anyone in a similar (or even sort of adjacent) situation.

I finished this book in one fell swoop (it’s just a bit over 100 pages) lying there in bed that night because I desperately needed a balm for my sore heart. I needed the reminders that: reading matters to me so much because it’s a way to connect with my kids. And my 7yo is learning to read at her own pace, within absolutely normal developmental range (and my stress over it is just that — mine, not hers). And lastly, this, which Nash writes at the very end:

“The passion a parent feels for something can show up anywhere in the child’s life. It’s not the object of the passion that matters, but the passion itself. My children will know by my example the value inherent in loving something, in believing in it, and in throwing yourself into it whole hog.”

Yes.

If you’ve already navigated, successfully or otherwise, the murky waters (or roiling seas) of teaching a child to read, this probably isn’t the book for you (unless, I don’t know, you want to be reminded of how lucky you are that it was easy, or how you made it through if it was not?) If, on the other hand, you could benefit from the reassurance that “raising readers happens in bursts of delight and desperation,” don’t miss this one. It might save you tears. Or it might help wipe them away.


Thank you in advance for any help you’re willing to give me in passing the word about this newsletter — it really does make a difference! And it really does matter to me.

I’m grateful for you, either way.
Sarah