Transition

Today, my sister and I are moving our mother into assisted living. She flew up a few days ago to stay with me while we waited for her things to be moved from southern California. My brother and his three kids are visiting from Oregon (not staying with me).

When I told my mother that I’d cleared out my garage to make room to store her extra things, she said, “Oh, I’ve got to clean out my garage. I’ve got so many boxes in there.”

We sold her house. An estate agent is selling what was left behind. There was very little in the garage. Twelve years ago, she cleared out the boxes. I got a stack of my high school newspapers.

In packing her things, I found a notebook she kept for a master’s thesis on children’s literature.

As a first grader, I read The Cat in the Hat and moved on to Buffalo Boy, Sandy and the Balloons, The Little Mermaid Who Could Not Sing, “true” books about pioneers, oceans, animal babies, deserts, cowboys, and freedom and a lot more. The only one I remember is Cat in the Hat — and possibly Buffalo Boy.

My sister, a second grader, read Bambi, Little Women, The Secret Garden, The Jungle Book, Black Beauty, Stuart Little, The Rachel Field Story Book and more. I remember all those vividly.

Our mother read us Black Beauty when we were too young to read to ourselves. We loved it. She thought it was sentimental slop. When she finished, we begged her to read it again. She did. Years later, I reread Black Beauty. It is sentimental slop.

… the stump of a chick he held tight in his teeth …’

In a new version of Clement Clarke Moore’s 1823 Christmas poem, “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” Santa has no pipe in his teeth or encircling wreath of smoke. Canadian independent publisher Pamela McColl disapproves of smoking.

Sanitizing children’s literature is a bad idea, writes Anita N. Voelker, an associate professor of education, in an Ed Week commentary.

. . . one of my student-teachers read The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo, to her 4th graders. As she shared the scene in which a father, cigarette in his clamped mouth, sells his daughter, she looked up to find 24 pairs of horrified eyes upon her. She paused, recognizing this was troubling. Wisely, she created time for conversation.

She assumed that the children were disturbed by the selling of a child. But, in whispered unison, the children warned their young student-teacher that the word “cigarette” is forbidden at their school. They insisted that she replace “cigarette” with “chicken.” Strikingly, a man with a chicken in his mouth made a strange substitution, but the children were surprisingly satisfied and seemingly unfazed that a child was being sold by her father … as long as he was not smoking!

Voelker asks: Why not teach children that people in the past didn’t realize the dangers of smoking?

Newbery goes to ‘The Graveyard Book’

The Graveyard Book, a Jungle Book takeoff about a toddler raised by ghosts and werewolves, has won the Newbery Award for children’s literature.

(Neil) Gaiman’s book opens with a baby boy escaping an assassin who is massacred by his parents and older sister. The boy totters to a decrepit cemetery, where he’s adopted by ghosts, christened Nobody Owens (Bod for short) and given the Freedom of the Graveyard.

On Gaiman’s blog, he writes that “The Graveyard Book” is not a children’s book. It’s “a book for pretty much for all ages, although I’m not sure how far down that actually starts. I think I would have loved it when I was eight, but I don’t think that all eight-year olds were like me.”

The book isn’t meant to be scary, says Gaiman. It’s about growing up.

The award maintains the modern Newbery tradition of honoring books about death and parental absence. But it sounds like more fun than some of the recent honorees, which have been criticized for being inaccessible and dreary. It was a best-seller pre-Newbery.