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“Spring forward, fall back” — changing times October 31, 2008

The time change is this weekend, and I just realized how fuzzy I am about the origin of daylight savings. I’m always proud to remember “Spring Forward, Fall Back.” Josh and I talked it over the other day and I said I always thought it was so we could simply enjoy longer summer days, and so the schoolchildren didn’t have to stand in the dark at 7 a.m. waiting for the schoolbus in wintertime. Josh — who is from the part of Indiana that doesn’t observe time change, and is baffled by it — thought it had to do with conserving electricity.

(He refers to the time change as “changing time zones.” I tell him over and over it’s not changing time zones — if it were, then our favorite TV show House might come on at 7 p.m. like in Central Standard Time, which would be even more family-inappropriate than its current time slot of 8 p.m. [at our Eastern Standard].)

I know the boys will inevitably raise the question of what Daylight Savings Time is all about, so I thought we needed to be ready. Here’s the answer, in case you wind up in the same fix.

Fact is, the hours in a day are pretty much even nearest the equator; but the farther you get away, the less daylight you will get in the winter. So we turn the clocks back an hour to gain an extra hour of daylight. But it took lots of tinkering and political maneuvering to reach this seemingly simple solution. (My source is an article from Associated Content.)

It turns out Josh, who hadn’t even had benefit of Daylight Savings Time or stayed late at the pool enjoying the longer day his whole life, was closer to the real reasons behind it: proponents wanted it to conserve artificial electricity (which was in its infancy back then — and which, incidentally, bore you-know-who’s inventor’s stamp as well).

Benjamin Franklin invented many things. Has there been a visionary like him since? Turns out, he’s also behind Daylight Savings Time. But though it was originally Franklin’s idea (what wasn’t?), it was a man named William Willett who began pushing it with his pamphlet “Waste of Daylight” in 1907. The first proposal was to advance the clock 20 minutes once a week in spring, and push it back 20 minutes in the fall.

But those of us who could barely master “Spring Forward, Fall Back” twice a year would be in a tizzy over that, don’t you agree? So in 1925, it was decided that Daylight Savings Time should begin on the day following the third Saturday in April (or one week earlier if that day was Easter Day). The end date for Daylight Savings Time was set for the day after the first Saturday in October (tomorrow). It means we get an extra hour of sleep on Sunday morning.

There are many other, more complicated factors involved. If you want to delve deeper, check out David Prerau’s very well reviewed book Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time.

And for those whose children, like my husband Josh, are hung up on “time zones,” here’s an excellent juvenile title that offers a colorful world tour of time zones: Stacey Schuett’s Somewhere in the World Right Now (Reading Rainbow Book), which happens to be featured in my book The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever.

Happy Time Change, and if you are in participating territory, enjoy that extra hour of sleep this weekend! 

posted by Janie McQueen, author of The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever

visit www.magicbookshelfonline.com

 

What do Shel Silverstein and Johnny Cash have in common? October 29, 2008

Well, one’s a late, beloved story-spinner, songwriter, musician and poet (heavy on the children’s fare, with Where the Sidewalk Ends 30th Anniversary Edition: Poems and Drawings and A Light in the Attic (20th Anniversary Edition Book & CD)) and the other is a late, beloved country-western singer, songwriter and entertainer.

What they have in common is the smash-hit novelty song A Boy Named Sue, the most popular version of which Johnny Cash recorded live for his acclaimed 1969 At San Quentin (Legacy Edition) album. Back in the days when there was much country/pop/folk cross-over and we didn’t have satellite radio to whittle down our music into narrow, super-specialized categories, we all knew A Boy Named Sue. I remember an early elementary classmate’s family had an organ that fascinated me (a then-fledgling pianist) with the color-coded sheet music to the song.

Now that I hear the song not infrequently — my husband listens to The Legend of Johnny Cash
quite a bit — I wonder how they managed to set that mostly-spoken ditty to music, but that’s another matter. What I really marvel at is my very recent learning that Silverstein was much more than the writer of witty, often nonsensical verse — that he also penned A Boy Named Sue (and co-performs it in a rowdy duet with Cash in the YouTube video above).

When my younger son tripped off to school just this morning with Silverstein’s Lafcadio, The Lion Who Shot Back, I decided this fascinating bit needed to be the blog topic today.

Here’s another dash of trivia: the song A Boy Named Sue was reportedly inspired by late humorist Jean Shepherd, a close friend of Silverstein who himself took his share of ribbing from having a feminine-sounding name. (Are you familiar with the neo-Christmas classic, 1983 TV movie A Christmas Story [HD DVD]? That’s based on a Shepherd story, with his own voice narrating.)

Wikipedia  further suggests the title A Boy Named Sue might have been inspired by male lawyer Sue K. Hicks, a prosecutor in the historic Scopes Trial. He was reportedly named Sue after his mother, who is said to have died in childbirth.

But if you’ve read any of Silverstein’s work at all, you know his amazing, crazy imagination didn’t necessarily need outside inspiration. I hope you enjoy the video above for a rare glimpse into the wild persona who was Shel Silverstein.

posted by Janie McQueen, author of The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever

Visit www.magicbookshelfonline.com

 

Coffee for a cause October 27, 2008

Eight O’Clock Coffee, that good budget standby in the coffee/tea aisle at the grocery store, is sweetening the old coffee pot by donating a percentage of sales to First Book, a program that gives new books to children from low-income families.

According to the official press release, “Through November 30th, for every household that registers and every qualifying product code recorded for their new Accumul8 Rewards Program, Eight O’Clock Coffee will make a donation to First Book on behalf of that household.  To double the impact, Candlewick Press will match Eight O’Clock Coffee’s donation book-for-book to bring a total of 8,000 new books to children in need nationwide. “

Candlewick is an often innovative juvenile book publisher that recently released the impressive children’s nonfiction tome Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out in September, just in time for the spicy election season. We reviewed it here.

So click here to register for the Accumul8 Rewards Program. (You can also navigate to the Eight O’Clock icon at the left of the First Book home page.) And you won’t be cutting corners on your home-brew coffee taste either. I’ll vouch for that. Though I typically turn to Eight O’Clock brand in a tight budget week, and choose more colorfully packaged good-cause-looking coffees, I always wonder why I don’t stick with Eight O’Clock more, given its good taste.

Although I will say this is the best cause I’ve seen coffee uphold, to date.

posted by Janie McQueen, author of The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever

visit www.magicbookshelfonline.com

 

Are we standing between our children and nature? October 21, 2008

Yesterday’s blog centered on ways children can help free themselves from constant electronic stupor and get started doing real things again, with the help of a few good kids’ how-to books like The Dangerous Book for Boys and The Daring Book for Girls.

Almost as soon as I pressed the “publish” button, it occurred to me that many parents these days also come from the home computer generation, and might struggle themselves to “get back to nature.” I know I’m one to have trouble disengaging myself from my laptop — I can find almost any reason to log on.

Yesterday my older son Riley and I researched and quickly came up with a homespun Halloween costume, an old-fashioned white-sheet ghost with some professional finessing thanks to a video series from eHow. So yes, even and sometimes especially where children are concerned, electronics like Ye Olde Internet can be a prime resource.

In fact, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv is mentioned in the bibliography of my book The New Magic Bookshelf, but as my book doesn’t center on this subject, I don’t say much more about it there except that it’s a wonderful tool packed with practical ideas on enriching our children’s lives with nature.

But as Publisher’s Weekly so cannily points out in its review of Louv’s guide: “Indeed, a 2002 British study reported that eight-year-olds could identify Pokémon characters far more easily than they could name ‘otter, beetle, and oak tree.'” Hear, hear! I can definitely relate to this.

Quite aside from our lip-service about wanting our children to have some appreciation for the “simpler things” is the seldom recognized craving children have for contact with the natural world. I doubt many of us witness true joy when we watch our children engrossed in a video game or TV show. A robotic focus is what I see. Compare this with the too rare, healthy pleasure that radiates from the faces of barefoot children pink-cheeked from chasing fireflies, gathering dandelions, splashing in a stream or even just playing with the dog in the backyard.

The “simpler things” do seem to require more effort from us. It’s hard to push ourselves away from our home offices, and pull the plug on a child clutching a handheld, ever-so-close to “beating the game.” And Louv also acknowledges that sometimes our keeping children securely behind closed doors is a safety measure — children can’t run around at will anymore, as some of us lucky souls were able to do.

However, in Louv’s words: “Although we have plenty of reasons to worry about our children, a case can be made that we endanger our children by separating them too much from nature, and that the reverse is also true — that we make them safer, now and in the future, by exposing them to nature.”

posted by Janie McQueen, author of The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever

Visit www.magicbookshelf.com

 

Kids need REAL real-world experience October 20, 2008

My sons’ entries into a library-sponsored Wii tennis tournament on a recent teacher workday off from school only reinforced my decision to continue to limit electronic gaming in our household.

We don’t have a Wii, so I thought getting to play it outside a friend’s house would be novel. Well, competition was stiff. I mean, cutthroat. You could immediately see the lay of the land in that fluorescent-lit library multi-purpose room amid the gray metal folding chairs.

There were the jocks — the winners — those who had their own Wii’s at home and played so much they knew they were good. In typical self-satisfied A-team jock-style, they punched each other’s shoulders and snickered at the frightened little kids dotting the rest of the room. Then there were the in-betweens — those who had some experience, weren’t great, maybe, but comfortable with the game. They were OK.

Then there were the perceived losers, the Wii “have-nots” — excitedly yet nervously warming the little row of chairs in the very back. My boys, ages 9 and 11, fell into this group.

My younger, athletic and competitive son made friends quickly with the middle-level kids, trying to reassure himself. My older one, more sensitive, hung back with the other bench-warmers and, sadly, cried bitterly after two losses in the double-elimination format. (It was the pressure that got to him, I think. He’d actually done pretty well — he was a leftie playing with a right-handed setting, and he won one game in a set.)

I did question myself later if we should have even entered this little exercise, which had seemed harmless and fun the day I signed them up. I did tell them I’d have been more impressed with the hoody-wearing tournament winner if he hadn’t been such a braggart. I told them I’d have been a whole lot more impressed by him if he’d won a real tennis tournament, not a virtual game he obviously invested so much of his free time into to get that good.

But in the real world, the cliche is really true: you win some, you lose some.

Here’s the question: is a Wii tournament the “real world”?

I’m not really knocking Wii. I realize we that have no Wii are kind of rare, and this blog entry really isn’t about Wii anyway — it’s about making sure kids get real-world experience. We have Nintendo DS handhelds and lots of games, the boys’ dad has a Game Cube for them — heck, my mom has a Game Cube. We’re already nervous about the (engineered?) Bokugan “shortage” this close to Christmas.

But I don’t want every minute of my boys’ days wrapped up in electonic, or otherwise faddish, pursuit. I think some of the virtual games are super clever — my older son loves Guitar Hero — but I’m sorry, they’re just not real. So after homework every day and every chance I get on the weekends, I shoo the boys out in the yard or wave them off on their bikes, or insist they walk the dog they begged for several Christmases ago.

Reading books instead? Well, I’ve never seen more so-called “reluctant readers” created so fast as with the advent of the ever-intensifying gaming that takes up increasing amounts of time. But as long as parents insist time is made for reading, I believe they’ll read. The bulk of my book The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever is devoted to helping parents find exciting, challenging, meaningful books their children will devour, whatever their reading level, age, or interest.

For today’s purposes I have some book suggestions for kids who don’t quite know what to do with themselves in this “real” world. Scouting, state park Junior Ranger programs, and other groups devoted to exploring the natural world can be great in this area. Family activities like camping that force an electronic break (which is why I love it) help reel the family back to earth.

Check out these favorites from my own kids’ shelf (and, where desired, alternatives for girls):

The Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn and Hal Iggulden is a gorgeous hardback volume with nostalgic-style illustrations, and just crammed with the ever-elusive Things to Do. This is cool stuff, like building a fort, cracking a code, and, if in a particular pinch, escaping quicksand. Maybe there’s no quicksand in your backyard but boys (just like their adventure-deprived dads) eat this up!

The Daring Book for Girls by Andrea J. Buchanan, in the same style and vein, contains not only projects and practical applications (how to play hopscotch, tie a sari, build a swing) but also snippets on influential women and literary characters like tomboy Jo from Little Women (Unabridged Classics). And for those who find the suggestions too sterotypical (although I think the average girl would like them — I would have), there’s no reason not to buy the boys’ edition for girls.

Then there’s How To Be The Best At Everything (The Girls’ Book) by Juliana Foster, and How To Be The Best At Everything (The Boys’ Book) by Dominique Enright. Both are self-explanatory and have lots of fun stuff for kids to master, like juggling with one hand, analyzing handwriting, making a boomerang — and maybe challenging an indoor-type bully some day.

If your children’s eyes are becoming a little glazed, or you’re always peppered with the “what can I do?” question, do check these out, and their counterparts in the recommended book titles that pop up (like The American Boy’s Handy Book: What to Do and How to Do It (Nonpareil Book, 29) and American Girls Handy Book: How to Amuse Yourself and Others (Nonpareil Books)).

Maybe your kids, like mine, get whipped at virtual golf, but they’ll know how to do the important stuff: like fend off a crocodile and spot poison ivy.

posted by Janie McQueen, author of The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever

visit www.magicbookshelfonline.com

 

Beating a Bully — With a Book October 15, 2008

Juvenile author Nancy Wilcox-Richards, whose publisher Scholastic Canada doesn’t seem to be currently distributing here in the U.S., reportedly has released her second children’s chapter book in the bully series called How to Outplay a Bully.  Her first book on the subject, How to Tame a Bully, apparently hit such a nerve that it sold 40,000 copies in the first six months.

I wish my kids, and others, could get their hands on Wilcox-Richard’s reportedly resonant books, for obvious reasons. And the subject of Therapy By Children’s Novel seems to be a trend (as per my blog from just the other day, about how novels that feature healthy eating messages can help encourage weight loss).

But there’s still lots of good bullying help stateside. Master juvenile novelist Jerry Spinelli’s Crash is riveting in its exploration of the bullying issue from the bully’s point of view. Spinelli loves sports, and here he weaves into his middle school football hero character John “Crash” Coogan’s own problems and insights into his taunting of classmate Penn Webb — a gawky, modest, and more awkward boy who would seem to have nothing — and yet possesses everything Crash really wants — at the same time. Does Crash get his comeuppance? You bet.  Is there a tidy resolution? Yes, but in a realistic and even humorous way. That’s why this book gets my top vote, for its naturalness and good writing that still drive its point without taking a didactic tone.

Trudy Ludwig is an established star in the bullying novel genre, more in didactic vein (with back-of-the-book tips), in her titles Just Kidding, My Secret Bully, Sorry!, and others.

Meanwhile, younger kids can take solace — and take notes — with the delectable Bootsie Barker Bites by Barbara Bottner, and popular Kevin Henkes’ A Weekend with Wendell.

If we didn’t know any better from our personal experiences, one would almost think from our parents’ blinders that bullying was a new phenomenon, or somehow getting worse. It seems worse to me, because my heart is walking around in the bodies of my two little boys, who encounter it seemingly more frequently than I did. Or do we just have “double the trouble” with two in the house?

But just a quick think takes me back to some Great Bullies of Literature. Remember Nellie Olsen of Little House fame? I’d have hated to be on her list. I was short, with red hair, glasses, crooked teeth, you name it.  I wouldn’t have had a prayer. Or how about Wendy — and narrator Jill — from Judy Blume’s Blubber, which takes both a female and bully’s point of view?

Unfortunately, bullying is human nature and undoubtedly here to stay… forever. But we can try to beat it, one book at a time.

Posed by Janie McQueen, author of The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever

visit www.magicbookshelfonline.com

 

Need an audience? Read to the dog! October 14, 2008

 

I’m always interested in new read-aloud exercises to help improve children’s confidence and reading skills, and believe wholeheartedly in the ideas of school reading buddies, and reading to siblings at home (which is a relationship booster too).

But here’s a new one on me: reading to the dog?

OK, I’m listening…

Starting this evening, the Great Falls, Montana Public Library and the Great Falls Animal Shelter are slated to begin their “Read to an Orphan” program, which promotes reading and pet adoption in tandem.

What does reading have to do with pet adoption, you may ask? Well, say organizers, the “Read to an Orphan” program “aims to reduce the number of dog bites through education and interaction, while also promoting reading and pet adoption.”

Reports Montana’s KRTV station, a CBS affiliate, an animal control officer will bring one orphaned dog from the animal shelter to the library, featuring a new dog each month. “Children will then be able to read to the dog – and other attendees – to foster better reading skills and promote healthy interaction with both people and pets.”

Organizers hope people will come to the library to see the dogs, and afterward visit the shelter to see who else may need a home.

I think this is a great idea — but reading to a dog (or cat, for that matter) need not be just a novelty. You can try it at home. Can’t you picture your young budding reader eager to share some skills with a quiet and ever-attentive listener?

My two older children read mostly to themselves these days. But with our twins on the way, and my clamping onto this novel idea, our dog Gypsy may be able to look forward to more literary exposure than the average dog experiences. And I think she’ll love it.

posted by Janie McQueen, author of The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever

visit www.magicbookshelfonline.com