Being A Dad

Jackson has been doing a lot of independent reading lately, which is great, but it does limit my exposure to books for kids.

Every once in a while, however, he does prefer that I take the reading reigns and one of our recent selections was Slumpbuster from The Super Sluggers series by Kevin Markey.

I picked this up around the holidays when Jackson started to show an interest in chapter books and since he's a walking encyclopedia of baseball knowledge (the other day he was talking about Juan Uribe's home run totals from last year), I figured the subject matter was a slam dunk (look at me mixing sports metaphors).

The Super Sluggers series follows the exploits of the Rambletown Ramblers, a little league baseball team. The lead character of Slumpbuster is the Ramblers third baseman, Banjo H. Bishbash aka The Walloper. As you might have guessed from the title, the story involves Banjo's first ever batting slump. To make matters worse, the slump is a visible, tangible black cloud that follows him wherever he goes.

The book is set in the modern day but is written in a Runyon-esque style with colorful character names and expressions that sound like they were plucked from the Great Depression. Some might find this is over the top, or even cheesy, but Jackson really appreciated it. 

A nice touch by the author is at the end of the book where he lists the full Rambletown Ramblers roster (say that three times fast) along with their stats for the season. Jackson ate that up with a spoon (and a kid-sized bag of chewing tobacco). 

So far there are two other books in The Super Sluggers series and we'll be picking up the next selection shortly. If I'm lucky, Jackson might even let me read it with him.  

Yesterday was library day at Jackson's school.  It's always an interesting proposition for a number of reasons - will he remember to bring home the book, will it be a book he already owns, will it be a copy of Finnegans Wake again, etc.  

I was quite pleased to see John, Paul, George & Ben make a return visit to our house.  The book is written and illustrated by Lane Smith and features a humorous take on the lives of John Hancock, Paul Revere, George Washington and Ben Franklin.  And lest you be concerned that Smith took too many liberties (pun intended) with their stories, there's an entertaining true or false section at the end to help readers separate fact from fiction.  

Jackson & Griffin's favorite passage involves (somewhat predictably) Paul Revere and a search for a pair of extra large underwear but there's lots of fun stuff throughout for readers of all ages.  

Smith is perhaps best known as the illustrator of The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales and his artwork here serves as a perfect complement to the text.  

So if you say you want a revolution, you could do a lot worse than spending some time with this fun book.  

Watching your kids grow up can be a strange experience.  There are certain things you look forward to (becoming toilet trained) and other things you don't (discovering iCarly).  

And while you admire their growing independence you also know you're witnessing the march towards "I don't need you anymore".  We're heavily into "Dad is God" mode around these parts and I have to admit I'm not emotionally ready to give up my deity status just yet.  

This summer has been particularly landmark-filled for Jackson from unleashing his inner Evel Knievel at local carnivals to getting his groove on at camp dance parties. So I guess it should not have surprised me that he wanted to take our bedtime readings and kick them up a notch.  

Up until this point, Jackson's choice of bedtime books has been the equivalent of comfort food.  We've been sticking primarily to the classics even though he probably has grown out of the majority of them.  So when he told me he wanted to switch to chapter books, the timing was probably right.  After all, you can only read The Very Hungry Caterpillar so many times before the magic starts to wear off.  

His first selection was the first book in a very popular series - Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  I must admit I was totally ignorant of this worldwide phenomenon and while there has already been a movie made of the first book, we've yet to see it.  

For those who are not familiar with the books, they star Greg Heffley along with his family, his friends and his enemies.  In the first book, Greg is in middle school and he's not very happy about it.  As you might have gathered by the title, the book is written in the style of a diary (printed on lined paper with a font that resembles a boy's handwriting) and features Greg's illustrations (the artwork is reminiscent of Matt Groening's Life in Hell).  

The stories include Greg's Halloween adventures, his quest to become more popular and his ill-fated career as a cartoonist for the school newspaper.  The book doesn't follow the standard pattern of conflict, resolution and a moral thrown in for good measure.  It's more realistic this way, but still caught me by surprise.  For example, Greg's best friend gets blamed for something Greg actually did and while Greg considers stepping up to admit his wrong-doing he quickly realizes it's far easier not to.  

From a practical standpoint, it's a fairly quick read and there are just enough illustrations to break up the text.  

There are four books in the series with the fifth coming out this fall.  Both Jackson and I look forward to starting book two soon.  

You can have your Grapes of Wrath... The Iliad... Oprah: The Biography... for my money, one of the greatest books ever written is The Monster at the End of this Book starring lovable, furry old Grover.  

It was always one of my favorites when I was growing up in the early 70s - the heyday for Sesame Street and Sesame Street merchandise.  The plot is pretty simple - Grover is convinced there's a monster at the end of the book (hence the title) and he is trying to convince the reader not to get to the end.  The more pages you turn, the more frantic he gets.  This is a spoiler free post, so you're going to have to discover the ending for yourself.  

I bought a new copy before Jackson was born and it has remained in heavy bedtime rotation ever since.  

Bonus tip: to take the reading experience to a whole other level, you have to read it in Grover's voice.  I find a build up of phlegm helps but of course, your results may vary.  

We have our good friend Shari to thank for this one. I was woefully ignorant of the wonders of Willems until Shari started giving Jackson some selections from his Pigeon series for special occasions.  

The stories are deceptively simple but extremely entertaining - the Pigeon wants to eat a hot dog, the Pigeon doesn't want to go to sleep, the Pigeon wants a puppy, etc. 

Mo was a writer and animator for Sesame Street so there's a nice mix of humor for the kids and adults alike.  

We haven't sampled any of his Elephant and Piggie books yet but both boys have birthdays coming up, so Shari if you're reading this - hint, hint.  

Can Little Red keep up the pace? Can the slowest car win the race?

I think it's safe to say both Jackson and Griffin inherited the obsessive gene from me. Both discover something they love and forsake everything else until they find their next interest. Currently for Jackson, it's baseball and for Griffin it's the unlikely trio of Max & Ruby, Dinosaurs and Bruce Springsteen (case in point - as I type this he's watching a Max & Ruby DVD, flipping through his favorite dinosaur books and serenading the neighborhood with his rendition of Radio Nowhere).  

The first book Jackson started to read/memorize was The Berenstain Bears and the Big Road Race. He was between 2 and 3 and it was during his cars and trucks phase. The book is basically a retelling of the tortoise and the hare story except it's got bears driving race cars through the countryside. What could be better?

The other night I found his coverless copy of the book and read it to him at bedtime. It was a little hard to tell how much he remembered it but his dear old dad remembered it fondly.   

Every night, before he goes to sleep, I read a book to Jackson.  Groundbreaking stuff, I know.  Anyway, Jackson is almost 7 so do the math - that's a lot of books. And not all of them are great.  Books based on Lego playsets, for example, aren't exactly ripping yarns.  So I'm always happy when something good gets added to the rotation.  

A few years back, my brother and his family gave Jackson a collection of Frog and Toad stories and as the title suggests, they're about two friends - a Frog and a Toad. One has a sunnier disposition than the other, but to be honest with you, I always get them confused.  They're kind of like the amphibious Odd Couple.  

The stories cover a number of topics like being alone, procrastinating, waiting for a letter, wearing a silly swimsuit, etc, and are accompanied by wonderful illustrations.  

If you're looking for a bedtime, or really anytime, read you can't go wrong with Frog and Toad

Have you ever wanted to see a worm driving a pencil car while wearing a jaunty European style fedora?  What about the inner workings of a firehouse populated by firefighting rabbits?  Or perhaps you'd like to see every item of a fruit stand illustrated in meticulous detail.  If so, Richard Scarry is the guy for you.  

I've been a sucker for his work since I was a wee lad - Richard Scarry's Best Storybook Ever! was a personal favorite. I read it until the cover came off.  As a matter of fact, I just pulled Jackson and Griffin's copy off the shelf and it too was missing its cover. That's either a sign of devotion or poor binding, not sure which. Either way, it's a great read.  

When Jackson went through his cars and trucks phase/obsession, he read through 3 copies of Scarry's Cars and Trucks and Things That Go.  

Each and every page of a Scarry book is chock full of entertaining details and repeat readings usually uncover something new.  Oh, and kids will like them too.  

By the way, according to Amazon, I ordered Jackson a copy of Richard Scarry's Best Storybook Ever! 8 months before he was born.  Guess I was a little anxious.  

I'll admit it, at first I was very skeptical.  Like the song says, "overexposed, commercialized..." 

But then I started to read these little board book wonders and you know what? Pretty, pretty good as Mr. David says.  I guess if I had to pick two household favorites it would be Hey, Wake Up and The Going To Bed Book.  But you really can't go wrong with Pajama Time!, Birthday Monsters! or But Not The Hippopotamus either.  

So pick one up, read it to your kids and enjoy. Then top it off with a heaping bowl of broccoli stew - for the bunny, not for you.  

There's this comedian with a bit of cult following named Jerry Seinfeld.  You should look him up on YouTube - funny guy.  I'm pretty sure he was on The Mike Douglas Show once or twice.  Might have been Merv Griffin.  

Anyway, he wrote a book for kids called Halloween and it's very good.  It's written in his voice, so when you're reading it out loud you can't help but sound like him.  And while the title of the book might conjure up images of ghosts and goblins, it's really about a boy's obsession with candy (along with a nostalgic look back at those costumes in a box with the plastic masks held up by rubber bands.)

Add in a few bonus Superman references and you've got a book that stands up to multiple bedtime readings.