Monthly Archives: June 2007

On Reading

I picked up a fantastic book at my library’s recent booksale for a dime. It’s called “The Read-Aloud Handbook” by Jim Trelease (5th Edition).

I’ve always had my nose buried in a book, for as long as I could remember. Grandma used to pick up Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books for me at yard sales, and I would read them almost as fast as she could get them for me. My favorite was a huge, old encyclopedia that had at least 1000 pages. I could just flip open to any page and start reading.

So it was natural to me to read to George as soon as he was born. Same with Ethan, and both boys have demonstrated a marked interest in books.

Here’s an excerpt from “The Read-Aloud Handbook” that really grabbed my attention:

One case offers a dramatic example of learning by simply reading — and maybe the Guinness world record for SSR (sustained silent reading): that of Robert Allen. Fatherless at birth in 1949 and abandoned by his mother at age six, Allen was raised by his grandfather, three great-aunts, and a great-uncle living in a farmhouse without plumbing in the hills of West Tennessee. There Robert Allen stayed for the next twenty-six years, never attending school, or riding a bicycle or going to a movie theater or having a single playmate his own age.

When he was seven, one of his aunts began reading to him — especially Donald Duck comic books — and soon taught him to write. He began reading the Bible to his blind aunt. Since his relatives were so elderly, one of them was always bedridden, and young Robert’s duty was to take care of them. Looking to fill the vacant hours, at age twelve he picked up an old copy of Shakespeare’s plays and read through it in one sitting. Soon he was scavenging yard sales for old books, magazines, and comics. Books became his playmates, his escape from the loving but grim reality of where he was.

He read anything and everything until he discovered the county library. There the world’s classics awaited him and he waded into them, even teaching himself to read Greek and French until he had read every book in the library. Not surprisingly, the librarian encouraged him to pursue a college education, and in 1981, at thirty-two years of age, he showed up at Bethel College, a small Presbyterian college just fifteen miles from his farmhouse. His placement test showed he knew more than almost every faculty member, and they had him skip freshman year.

Graduating summa cum laude in three years (only typing kept him from straight A’s in his senior year), he went on to Vanderbilt University, where he earned master’s and doctoral degrees in English. Today he teaches at the University of Tennessee-Martin. For a guy who cam efrom the Tennessee backwoods, where they weren’t exactly speaking the King’s English, who missed all those childhoood vocabulary tests and book reports, who did no seat work except SSR (sustained silent reading) for twenty-five straight years, and, by my calcuations, missed at least 8,000 worksheets, he certainly did all right for himself.

Among the things Dr. Robert Allen’s situation might prove, none is stronger than the case it makes for pure, unadulterated, uninterrupted, random, and purposeful reading.

This book confirms the importance of reading aloud to your children, and encouraging them to read as much as they want. I signed George up for the summer reading program that started June 5 at the county library, and he’s already read a total of 4.5 hours over the past 17 days! I’ve also started reading aloud from chapter books — right now, we’re about 1/3 of the way through “Charlotte’s Web,” and his attention span is excellent — he’ll sit for 20 minutes while I read to him, and he interrupts only to ask questions about Wilbur or Charlotte or other various characters. Sometimes when the 20 minutes are up, he wants to read longer. I’m amazed at his interest level.

Breaking the Black Thumb Curse

I have always failed at making plants grow. Houseplants, outdoor plants, herbs, vegetables — most things seem to wither when when I walk by them in the nursery, silently begging me to not take them home, as it is a death sentence.

I have found the cure for my black thumb: books. Seriously, reading about different types of plants, what they need, what they don’t need, where to plant them, paying attention to how much sun and shade really does make a difference.

Back in January, I bought three little primroses for $5 at Giant Eagle. Perfect to brighten up the dining room table in the dead of winter, I kept them mostly alive, although they were looking pretty forlorn by March.

My sister-in-law came over for dinner, and explained about deadheading (which I have never heard of) and told me that I should be able to keep them alive until the weather breaks, if I want to plant them outside.

April brought a week of abnormally beautiful weather, so in the midst of my yard cleanup, I cleared a patch of ivy away from the north side of the front porch that gets some nice light, if not direct morning sun. I planted the primroses, and here it is end of June, and this is what they look like.

So, I’m taking heart in my success and branching out (so to speak). I’m planning on transplanting a spirea growing on the south side of the house (too shaded by the huge pine tree and Japanese wisteria that’s taking over) to the south front corner of the house — it should get a lot more sun there.

Garden-wise I only did two container tomato plants, some basil, lemonbalm, mint, and a nice, big parsley. With the baby due early September, I am not going to be in any condition to harvest a full garden. I really want to put up at least a dozen quarts of tomatoes, so I figure I’ll have enough work on my hands with just the tomato plants.

George cleared away some tree branches that were shading our compost pile, and it looks like that’s exactly what it needed! With a little water and our additions of kitchen scraps every other day or so, we should have an excellent pile ready for spring. I look forward to having a good-sized garden next year.

One thing that may prove difficult is that our neighbor sprays herbicides and pesticides like crazy on his garden. I’m concerned about pesticide drift and the affect that it can have on our organically-grown vegetables — more importantly, how much of it the kids are being exposed to.

Captain Ahab (ahem, George)

So last night we took the boys fishing for the first time. Yeah, they’re both a little too young, but Georgie has been obsessed with fishing lately. He even watches Bill Dance on TV. No kidding.

His favorite part is when Bill pats the fish and says, “See you ’round, ol’ boy” before he releases him back into the lake.

We went to the Ranger Lake, which was a perfect spot — lots of little panfish. Within the first minute of dropping the bait in the water, Georgie had caught his first fish. Here it is.

And another of Georgie and Daddy.

Even though they were out late, and confined to a small area, and our patience was severely tested, I think they both had fun. I hope so, since I want them to enjoy themselves.

eau de toilette

So the other day I was upstairs putting away some laundry, and I heard Georgie laughing. And then laughing more. And then laughing that little three-year-old “I can’t believe I’m getting away with this!” laugh.

So I came downstairs and this is what I found.