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The other things that belong to us all? Books
Can we read? No. 93
Hello, hello! Good morning.
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Yesterday afternoon my 8yo got on the bus that she normally takes every day, forgetting that our daycare is closed and I was picking her up from school. I didn’t know this was happening, only that she was supposed to come out and she wasn’t coming out, and didn’t. The capable staff located her immediately, radioed the bus driver, and said someone would get her and deliver her to the front office shortly. And a small, smiling person was delivered to the front office shortly — but it wasn’t my small, smiling person. My child has a fairly uncommon name, but there is another girl with the same name on her bus (small odds), and they got the wrong one.
Heightened confusion ensued. My 6yo started climbing a troll installation — yes, I mean an installation of trolls, don’t even ask — while more people got on the radio. And then, when the bus diverted from its usual route to swing back to the parking lot to pick up the child who should have been on it and got pulled off and drop off the child who shouldn’t have been on it but remained, the superintendent himself made the switch and saw my (weeping, scared, embarrassed) kiddo safely into my arms.
All the trolls survived, as well.
Later, I went to our local senior center to pick up what in our small town is called Community Supper — a joint effort by all the local churches to provide a meal, every month, for anyone and everyone. You can go inside and eat at long tables, shoulder to shoulder, neighbor to neighbor, or carry food out. Pre-pandemic we did this a lot — went and sat with folks, who are absolutely folks because this is Wisconsin, many of whom are older and relished an hour spent in the company of our babies. Last night I picked up the food because my husband was on his way to take care of my 101yo grandmother for the night and maybe it was the 3rd-grade pickup that went a little sideways, maybe it was my enormous gratitude for a person so good and strong he can do things I can’t, like stay awake until 11pm on a Tuesday night and then get up at 4:30am the next day to go to work, all because it takes a village, he says — but I didn’t make it very far into the senior center before I started crying.
A toddler spilled a cup of lukewarm coffee on himself and five white-haired women instantaneously rushed to his aid, stripping him of his shirt and wrapping him in a blanket that suddenly came from nowhere and I just couldn’t bear the benevolence of it all, the blessing.
I finished The Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gunty yesterday — an extraordinarily strange book, brutal and often actively unpleasant and not something I’d recommend to anyone but written so well I was genuinely astonished — and the part I keep thinking about, really cannot stop thinking about, is a single paragraph where she writes, and I’m paraphrasing, that human tenderness is the one real thing left.
Human tenderness is the one real thing left.
This is why I emailed the superintendent last night and thanked him for his kindness (what sort of superintendent personally handles a no-big-deal incident that, the secretaries assured me, happens literally every day?) This is why I teared up standing in front of a table of iceberg lettuce and ranch and generosity and lasagna. This is why I could get down on my knees — and truly might — in recognition of the weird, inexplicable miracle of my husband, who has not always been a miracle to me, let me tell you, but has become one, slowly, over the years, now.
Wherever you are, whatever is happening to you, however you’re feeling, I hope that somewhere inside of it all you experience some human tenderness and have the eyes to see it — that the gift of this, and the awareness of it, reaches you this week, some way, somehow. I don’t know if I believe it’s the last real thing but I do know that it’s absolutely a real thing, and it means something that it still exists and that we are all still here together, trying so hard, in community and otherwise, to show up for and be kind to and take care of each other.
My wish is that you receive some of that. Thanks for being here.
Fortune Cookie Fortunes by Grace Lin (2004)
I am a huge fan of Grace Lin’s and will bring home absolutely anything she writes for my children (and myself, cough cough). This book — a short and sweet story about a family’s fortune cookie fortunes — is yet another testament to her immense talent and skill.
When this loving family receives their fortunes while dining at a Chinese restaurant, the unnamed little girl’s sister scoffs, “It won’t come true. They never come true.” But the little girl isn’t so sure. And on every page thereafter, she sees how her family member’s fortunes play out in their lives, until she comes to her own.
Can a fortune help you see the world in a different way?
Lin’s vibrant, painted illustrations bring a lot of life and color to this charming story that offers readers an invitation to shift their own perspectives, if they choose.
Parts by Tedd Arnold (1997)
I have admitted before that I used to disdain what I called “Tedd Arnold’s goofy colored pencil and watercolor wash illustrations,” but I’m glad I got over it, because they are a large part of what makes his super-silly, entertaining work so appealing.
Never are these characteristics on greater display than in Parts, arguably his masterpiece, which tells a very loose story about a little boy who thinks he’s falling apart — when the boy finds hair in his comb, he determines he’s going bald; when he discovers lint in his belly button, he’s convinced his “stuffing is coming out.” The list goes on, and, from the perspective of a small child, doesn’t this make sense?
If this all sounds quite funny, it definitely is — which is why I often suggest it for toddlers all the way up through elementary-aged students. Different ages will take something different from it, but it’s pure, hilarious pleasure whether you’re old enough to worry about your parts or not.
No Dragons for Tea: Fire Safety for Kids (and Dragons) by Jean E. Pendziwol, illustrated by Martine Gourbault (1999)
Talking about what to do in emergencies — including if a fire starts in your home — isn’t always one of the more fun or glamourous parts of parenting (wait, are there any glamourous parts of parenting?), but it’s necessary.
Enter No Dragons for Tea, which presents this situation to children — through Pendziwol’s romping end-rhymes and Gourbault’s expressive colored-pencil illustrations — in a way that’s easy for them to understand. Though the circumstance is rather silly — a dragon comes to tea, sneezes, and lights the kitchen tablecloth on fire — the premise is not. Every child should understand what to do in case of a fire, and it’s helpful to have visual images to make this clear (the little girl drops to the floor, crawls out the door, and then meets her mother by a tree outside).
This book has prompted beginning — and continued — discussions about fire safety in our home, and our family plan for where to meet if, god forbid, we ever found ourselves in such a situation. You may not like addressing this topic, but as long as you have to (and you really do have to), here is a book that’s both helpful and fun.
Once There Was a Tree by Natalia Romanova, illustrated by Gennady Spirin (1985)
This quiet, beautiful book about who owns a tree is, on the face of things, a simple meditation on nature and our interconnectedness, as beings, to all living things. But don’t let its seeming simplicity belie the much deeper messages underneath: that the earth belongs to us all.
A woodsman sets off a chain of events that begins the story, by cutting down an old tree. Rather than ending the tree’s life and its place in the cycle, the reader sees — through Spirin’s stunning, sensual oil paint illustrations — all the insects and animals that come to make the stump their home or otherwise benefit from its presence: a beetle, some maggots, ants, a bear, a titmouse, a frog, an earwig, and finally, another man.
The question remains: “Who really owns the tree stump?”
The wisdom contained in this luminous book is hard to describe adequately, but it’s gorgeous from beginning to end and holds an entire philosophy of life — a song of the earth — within its lovely pages. Highly recommend.
Beastly Verse by JooHee Yoon (2015)
I pretty much consider it my mission to get as many different, diverse, and excellent poetry books into your hands and homes as possible, so let this one join the long list of those titles I’ve already reviewed.
Here not only has Yoon assembled 16 animal poems from various authors — some very well-known, some entirely new to me — she has brought each animal itself to spectacular, vivid life with her hand-drawn and then digitally finished illustrations. Specially printed with three overlapping Pantone spot inks, the results, which are very close to printmaking, feel as vibrant if the book had been made by hand, and just as exciting as if it had.
This is a great choice to read if you have little ones with short attention spans, or you’ll still new to poetry and haven’t quite figured out how to enjoy it. Each page is a tiny party you’ll want to attend again and again.
Take good care of yourselves, lovely people. Happy holidays to you and yours, whatever you celebrate.