Books for 5 year olds

Well, those last two posts were kind of a downer. This whole operation is kind of a downer lately, what with the cancer and the crazy, and the general rockiness of life around here. So here’s a crowd-sourced young kids suggested reading list. Objective: find chapter books that my almost six-year-old (HOLY COW you guys) will dig. RR gives graphic novels a thumbs up and Charlotte’s Web and Little House on the Prairie a solid thumbs down. Me too. Seriously, do we need to haul out the axe and drowning dog within the first few chapters? Let’s build up to that shit.

My motivation to try anything is strong here. If I have to read Fairy Tale Comics again, I’ll…well, I’m sure there’s a funny fairy tale joke in here somewhere. So, because I thought you might also like to know what my friends think RR should try, here is the list: (annotated, because.)

Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman – we’ve read this one and I’d say that an imaginative five-year-old would really dig listening to it. It’s not something RR could have undertaken reading on her own. Also, it’s more dinosaurs and aliens and less fairies and mermaids so,  depending on your angle, it might be a winner.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz written by Eric Shanower, illustrated by Skottie Young – RR is a graphic novel aficionado and this read like a chapter book without relying too heavily on pictures alone. Lots of words to follow along with. There are others in the series and we’re taking on Ozma of Oz next.

Zita the Space Girl by Ben Hatke is another graphic novel. We opted to try it last night and while the story-line is great the words are few and far between. I tried sounding out her picture comprehension (did you get what just happened in those panels?) but she wasn’t really with me. I know she’s able to do that with the wordless Fairy Tale comics but perhaps space is just too…alien for her…

My friends are big fans of Beverly Cleary, Roald Dahl (particularly James and the Giant Peach, the BFG, and Matilda), and Geronimo Stilton. For reasons known only to my mother, Ramona (Cleary) books were banned from my childhood but Dahl encouraged. Suffice to say I have no knowledge of Ramona except for a weird sort of apprehension.

Other series that got the thumbs up were:
Pippi Longstocking;
Noisy Village;
The Boxcar Children (with the caveat that this wasn’t too far from the Magic Treehouse series which I didn’t particularly care for);
Junie B. Jones and Captain Underpants (both of which I’m a tad skeptical about with titles like “Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus” and “Captain Underpants and the Preposterous Plight of the Purple Potty People.” On the other hand, they are both huge series so if she loved them there would be plenty of content to devour;
The Mouse and the Motorcycle which has some big name children’s authors associated with it;
Mrs. Piggle Wiggle which was heavily recommended by parents of 7-year-olds as books their kids had been reading two years earlier;
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh;
Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace which just sounds like something my mother would have axed; and,
Nancy Drew, which if she loved them, would keep her reading forever.

Graphic novels that were so special they got a call out by name were Summerland by Michael Chabon, Bone by Jeff Smith, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe illustrated by Robin Lawrie, and Princeless by Jeremy Whitley. The American Library Association also has a graphic novels reading list for K-2. I find it a little daunting, not because there are too many books (which is the case with some compilations) but because I’m not sure where to start. Speaking of huge compilations, A Mighty Girl also got a nod. My favorite Graphic Novels librarian recommends Toon Books, a publisher for getting The Youth These Days into graphic novels (also with reading lists).

Possibly the most awesome book in the children’s universe, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, got a recommendation but I’d been holding off because it seems a little old. Perhaps it’s time for another quick read through. Other single titles which I know very little about but obviously should are:

The Trumpet of the Swan and Stuart Little by E.B. White, who I’m still trying to forgive for Charlotte’s Web;
Judy Blume’s Freckle Juice;
The Cricket in Times Square by George Seldon;
Mr Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater;
Zorgamazoo by Robert Paul Weston; and
Dr. Doolittle by Hugh Lofting

Outside of shouting congratulations for getting married, this is the most my friends have had to say about anything, ever. It helps that I know a lot of librarians, a lot of comic strip artists and illustrators, and a lot of parents. Furthermore, this doesn’t include the lists of picture books with a female focus I’ve got tucked into email folders.

So, if you got this far, feel free to add to my list. And let me know if you also have experience with these books. Are they too old for a five or six-year-old? Are there others? Where to start?

ETA (from comments):
The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye
Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible by Ursula Vernon
Ivy and Bean’s Secret TreasuresLumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson, illustrated by Brooke A Allen
Princess Pink and the Land of Fake Believe
Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo
Fancy Nancy: Nancy Clancy

Hold on…Just a Second

My daughter may have nothing genetically in common with me (although she could pass), but she certainly aquired several traits that support the nurture part of raising a child. Given that I’m Just That Sort Of Person, I’m probably missing the adorable bits of me that she reflects (you could argue that there aren’t any). Two things:

Getting up to pee isn’t something she is willing to do. In fact, I suspect she doesn’t even get that her bladder is paging her repeatedly. As we’ve discussed my peeing habits in depth before, I won’t exhaust you with more detail however it’s fair to say that I will avoid going as long as possible so that I can keep doing what I’m doing. I don’t even know it’s happening until my internal organs are all “GET UP TO PEE DAMMIT WE’RE CROWDED IN HERE.” I once read something, somewhere, about this being a typical kid thing. Just interrupt them, it said, remind your child that it’s time to use the bathroom. You know what? If you came into my office and suggested I take a break, I would look at you as if you were crazy with my dagger eyes of sharp pointiness before I realized you were absolutely right and shouldn’t I be gracious after all? Right. My kid has nailed the first part. Not so much the second.

Also, she torments her poor little fingers. Never a thumb or finger sucker, I can’t figure out why and when she started biting at her cuticles and ending up with red, raggedy fingertips. They look painful and she complains of bits of skin she’s nagged at. Who does this? Me. And I really, really wish I didn’t. I’m so much better than I was when I was a child. In fact, sometimes weeks go by before I’m worrying away at some piece of rough skin or nail. It’s stress, it’s boredom, it’s a relentless wish to have perfectly smooth fingers which is rendered impossible by the very habit. Yes, I know it’s disgusting, bad for us, and related to all sorts of disordered thinking. It’s come up in therapy. Don’t forget I’m six shades of crazy. Debra and I remind her not to pick at her fingers, well, chew really, and she’ll stop for a moment. We moisturize, we trim hangnails before she can get to them, we try to make her fingers lovely. We have yet to break her habit (or mine).

I hope she is picking up something else of mine, though I’m hard-pressed to tell you what that might be. She loves flowers. Does that count? Poor thing. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think my body is going to go on strike if I don’t just go already.

In Which We Pause For a Tantrum

Let me take a minute to indulge in a completely not age-appropriate tantrum.

My sisters (2) were in town this weekend to visit with my parents. They are both mostly lovely people although, in the interest of full disclosure, I am the sort of person who would have been better off as an only child. I’m less close to the one in the middle and see her less often which is to say that I might see her once a year. With my dad’s diagnosis, both sisters have been to visit more frequently which gives my mom a chance to showcase one of her less endearing traits.

She favors my sister. I imagine she’d make no bones about it if I asked her outright, although she would have a list of reasons a mile long, among them that there’s something wrong with me for not recognizing…something. That my sister needs more help than I do? That she has an undisclosed greater life challenge? That she’s disadvantaged in some way? It’s hard to say. I imagine my sister would not like to hear that she’s favored but perhaps thinks she deserves the extra my mom puts out.

Often its money. Despite having had the same opportunities as I’ve had, she makes choices that have left her with less. My mom makes up the difference, not only making the occasional mortgage payment but striving to bring her life to the place that my mother perceives my other sister and I reside.

Let’s be clear. My mother has no idea what financial situation I and my other less-favored sister are in. Because she hangs up the phone or changes the subject the instant the conversation takes a turn for the uncomfortable. She does, apparently, make wild assumptions because my favored sister lives debt free, her children play expensive sports, and she flys here on my parents’ dime. It’s not just money. It’s the way my mother turns the conversation so that my sister is never left out, even when the topic doesn’t concern her. She nags my other sister and I to constantly include her, to welcome her, to help her, to understand her.

At this point, you are probably assuming she needs it, deserves it even, given the overwhelming evidence that I must not be telling you. Let’s remember that my mom isn’t totally sane.

I learned quickly and early that, while this is frustrating, it’s just reality. That doesn’t mean there aren’t occasional moments where I get exasperated. And I do a fair amount of rationalizing why my mother makes these choices. But sometimes? It’s the little things that make we want to shut the door on this ridiculousness (and my sister) altogether. For instance today, upon hearing that Debra (who never, ever gets truly sick) has a stomach virus, my mother gasped (no, seriously) and said, “Well, your sister doesn’t want to be anywhere near that. She’s getting on a plane tomorrow so we really have to think of her.” Not, oh dear, I hope Debra feels better. Not, poor thing can I bring you anything? Not even, I think we’ll stay home instead of coming to supper. Nope. It was, essentially, we need to prioritize keeping your sister germ-free when, and I kid you not, she arrived here on Friday fresh off of a plane and from her home where her son was projectile vomiting. Yes, let’s. Let’s protect my sister.





Meet Fred

Have you had this conversation?

“Your baby is so cute!”
“She’s a lot of fun. Do you have kids?””Oh no, just a dog. But that’s nothing like raising a kid!”

Yes it is. I am fully into the puppies are just as hard as babies camp. In fact, I think there are more than a few weeks when raising a puppy is actually harder.

Both are endlessly cute. Both make charming noises. Both have the softest bodies. Both need constant attention, special food, and sleep completely odd hours. And by odd I mean mainly at odds with your own preferred sleeping hours. There’s an upside to dogs in that puppyhood is over very quickly, relative to babyhood, but it doesn’t erase those weeks when your puppy is acting like a baby while also peeing all over the carpet and running away at light speed to chew a shoe.



Maybe you’re wondering if it was really such a good idea to get a puppy right now. You know, with the impending grief. And then I’ll suggest we discuss why my mother got a puppy and…yeah. That totally happened.

So we’re back in babyhood for a moment. Cleaning the carpets, trying to get some sleep, yanking our hemlines away from his sharp teeth, and teaching him not to grab RR’s ponytail and drag her across the floor. Always winning friends, is Fred*.


*who is a hound mix, not a Beagle.

The Iron Curtain

I mostly have no idea what my child does when she isn’t with me. What happens in her brain is an utter mystery. She goes to school and comes home and there could have been a dinosaur springing out of the playground and Debra and I would remain utterly unaware. Sure, we can ask open-ended questions but we can’t expect a reply. It’s as if she can’t believe we haven’t learned our lesson by now. Sometimes she even shakes her head, as if to say, Really, mama? Still?

But every so often, the Iron Curtain guarding her thoughts drops and she’ll speak in entire sentences and tumbles of words. We’ll hear about something she learned recently and occasionally hear about something she did with her friends (which we don’t actually know if she has or who they might be given the Curtain). I resist probing her teachers for information about her work outside of parent-teacher meetings. I know so much about her life, what her bellybutton looks like when she turns it inside out, the way she likes to floss her teeth, how she feels about chicken nuggets (bad, very very bad) that it seems okay that I don’t know everything.

After she spills forth information she’ll say “that was a long talk, mama” and then we know it’s over. Access denied. Even when it’s still possible to peer into the void, it’s wisest not to ask questions lest she shut down completely. Is this what it’s going to be like in a few years? Should I have ordered a babbling kid? This one keeps her own counsel. I hope it’s nice inside her brain. I certainly wouldn’t know.

Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, and…Roosebelt

You guys, I’m off being an adult by myself in an airport. I spent a lot of time in airports in my 20s – enough that I still have that layover mentality. Where is a window? Where can I stretch my legs? When to seize the outlet opportunity? Fast forward and I’m usually with my charming child who has had explosive diarrhea, licked windows and tile floors, and danced on moving sidewalks perilously close to the end in more than one airport. I’ve been that parent that makes other travelers cringe. It’s okay, I paid my dues back in 1999 on a 14-hour flight to South Africa when a toddler dumped a bottle of lavender oil down my chest.

I do miss my family though, even though I’ve barely left. They are fun, yes, but I admit that I rely too much on my wife to be an anxiety cushion. I let my independence go too much, perhaps, so this is an excellent lesson that I’m actually LESS anxious without them and so I can certainly try harder to be less anxious WITH them. I’m capable, is what I’m saying. At least in the contained environment of an airport where the default is that the unexpected is, well, expected.

So I miss them but I don’t miss the routine of the morning. RR is in a Surprise Me stage (did your children do this?). She’d like every snack to be a surprise. She’d like you to pick out her outfits to surprise her. She’d like you to do something silly, charm her, make-up a new song, do some disco moves while buttering toast. She doesn’t need entertainment. She’s looking for a good time. She IS a good time.

When we aren’t living a life of constant delight and variety, she’s off working by herself. I’ve noticed that she breaks out into vigorous humming every time she hits her groove. You can always tell that she’s immensely satisfied to be focused on a task, whether it’s drawing a new picture or putting away her laundry. She hums when you ask her to help unload the dishwasher. She hums while putting on tights. She hums when she’s dusting. To be fair, she particularly loves to dust. She asked me if she could just dust a little more last week.

Last night, she and my wife investigated pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters. How much is each worth, what do they look like, whose face is on each coin. Once establishing everything there is to know about each coin, they laid one of each on the table and Debra grabbed a little doll from the donate pile (see: Toys My Daughter Has Never Played With Except Now When We’re Giving Them Away) and charged her six cents for it. RR started humming faster than you can say “Roose-belt” (gracing the dime). She produced the other 4 members of the family and paid Debra over and over – 26 cents, ten cents, 15 cents, 30 cents, 11 cents, and so forth.

I assume she has learned this at school (math, Roosebelt, the fact that the dime is “small like Pluto which used to be a planet but they decided it isn’t because it’s so itty bitty”) and I love it when the Iron Curtain drops long enough for me to get a glimpse into her mind. The Iron Curtain is an entirely different post.

Hope (Five Dollar Complaint #9 and Ways Cancer Doesn’t Suck: Dog Edition))


Sort Of.

My parents got a puppy. These are the same people who, upon rescuing a dog, re-homed it with my sister ostensibly because he was impossible to train but mostly because they were too lazy to work at it. Evidence: My sister trained him. This is the same person who sleep-trained her child by letting him sleep in front of the TV all night. But we’re not here to judge.

My father said he might like a puppy and within 24 hours he had a puppy. Named Hope. For obvious cancer-sucks-related reasons. Debra and I had the same thought “How long until this puppy gets handed down to us? Probably after all the fun puppyhood is over and there’s extensive retraining to do. Yep. Probably then.” That’ll be five dollars ma’am.

On the other hand, my father has a puppy. And he’s happy to have a puppy. I think. I mean, it’s hard to tell but he seems happy. And she’s cute. And it’s cute to see him cuddle her. Which makes my mom happy. Which makes him happy and that makes me happy. And so my wife is happy. And the world is good.

If he’d been himself, he would have done as he’s always done and rescued a rottweiler. And let me tell you, in my experience (too painful to link here but if you go searching for Sam you’ll find it), rottweilers rescued by my father have a taste for cats. But instead, cancer crept up on him and sucked out the part that was biased against anything not huge, and guard dog-y, and left him, a man of few words, with even fewer.

I want a puppy.

So thank you Hope, for being the silver lining in this week’s shitty cancer episode.


The Word You’re Looking For Is…

I was at work the other day, as you do, working, and I needed a word. The word I was looking for was inconsistent but my brain was being inconsistent itself and (and this will betray my current work mindset here) all I could come up with was uncontrollable. So I did what any self-respecting procrastinator does and I headed off to the thesaurus.

Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 8.19.21 PM

That wasn’t really what I was looking for though I did appreciate like a loose cannon. I went with undisciplined, since what I was going for was a sense of madness created from an unpredictable few.

Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 8.21.24 PM

Mischievous has that certain something but naughty is something I would not like to picture associated with my co-workers. I missed inconsistent here sadly because YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENS WHEN SHE CLICKS UNGOVERNED!! I can’t stand those links by the way but it’s a good representation of how I felt when I saw this:

Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 8.27.55 PM

Gay is right there east of corrupt, west of shameless and sinful, and north of immoral.Yes, I know. I know the traditional use of gay. I even took a screenshot for you because I looked to see if ungoverned showed up on the gay page. Spoiler: It does not.

Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 8.34.54 PM.png

Given the definition of gay provided from the associated link above where “having or showing a merry, lively mood” is the fifth of nine definitions – clearly in line with the entries above, I’m baffled and irritated that gay appears in a list that also includes the words shameless, unprincipled, and depraved. Come on, man.

Technically, I suppose it’s right. But that doesn’t make it right. So I went with inconsistent even though what I actually meant was dude, we can do better than this.




You guys, I am so selfish. I know this about myself and, because I’m also fairly crazy, I do a fair amount of checking my thoughts, words, actions, and privilege. This results in a lot of personal adjusting. That, in turn, feels like self-criticism. That results in frustration which makes me angry because have a right to be a little frustrated and, I think, to be at least a little selfish. All that makes me unpleasant. Fun for everyone.

And sometimes you just don’t get to be selfish. That’s fine, for awhile. For me, awhile is a about two days. To be clear, I’m not talking about those sometimes miserable days when the kids cry all day, have to be fed all day, aren’t able to be put down for a shower, and so forth. My brand of selfish is pretty much okay with that. Keeping my human alive was always mostly okay, even when it made me cry in frustration. It often felt like a solitary endeavor. One person screaming at another is something that creates a bubble where it’s just the screamer and screamee, no matter how many other people are in the room.

It’s the other people thing. If you want to skip the incredibly boring details of my life (assuming you got this far) come back in a few days.

It started sometime last week. Swimming lessons ran into gymnastics sending my wife and I into an argument about whether there was enough time to shower which left me simultaneously angry that I had to compromise and that she was drawing attention to my frustration. I felt like it was entirely my fault for not getting my timing right, after all, it’s not her fault I didn’t want to spend more than half a day in sweaty gym clothes. Or to have people be quietly noticing I am wearing gym clothes and then thinking things about those clothes. On Sunday, I had to visit my parents and it’s hard. Every time. It was harder this time and involved putting out a lot of energy instead of just hanging on. On Monday, a board meeting featuring not only grown-up decisions but also a whole lot of tiny people who make me feel like a giant on a folding metal chair. On Tuesday, a professional dinner with someone I’d only just met. On Wednesday, an all-day high-energy event followed by staying out of the house entertaining my kid while my wife had band practice in our basement. On Thursday, chatting with the babysitter and going to hear my wife play, smiling at all of her friends, hugging people I barely know. Today, a lovely breakfast with dear friends then two days with my wife’s family. Who make her so happy.

You see, it’s not just the hard time commitments, it’s the really wonderful things, too.

With even one break any one of these things would have been more okay. Four days passed this week when my commitments didn’t allow me to go to the bathroom when I wanted to. You should be able to pee when you have to pee. It’s a terrible cycle because the longer it lasts the more my faults start bursting out. For example, I truly dislike being noticed. I don’t want anyone to comment about anything I am doing, being, saying. And they do. Because people do that and because I’m odd that way and it’s not their fault. It’s a fault. It sucks. I’m sorry. It’s who I am. I am so busy trying to fix all kinds of other things about myself I’m certainly not going to add that in. And so I skip peeing, eating, moving, because I don’t want to hear a goddamn thing about what I’m doing.

“Oh, are you working today?”
“What are you having for lunch?”
“Are you still [doing/being whatever in a non judgmental way]?”

The longer the pressure to be on lasts, I’m even more unwilling to hear the good things.

“It’s great to see you!”
“You smell so good!”
“I’m happy you’re here!”

I’m lucky I hear those things. Most of the time I either don’t notice or am just slightly uncomfortable. This week, I’d rather be invisible. Please, please don’t notice me.

I didn’t claim to be sane and, as I said, I’m totally selfish. But you know what? My three hours off (spent working) are up and I’m due to take my child to the trampoline park and to have dinner with my in-laws. And I have to pee.



It feels like we’re so very far away from the days of wondering whether or not she’s sitting up on schedule, or when teething would begin (or end already for god’s sake); waiting for her to talk, to eat solid food, or for her hair to grow in (and we waited, and waited); checking off the first steps*, first somersault, first swim. Now one milestone bleeds into the next with far less anticipation or comment.

Oh look, honey, she’s showering alone!
Did you hear? She just sang that whole song and she only heard it once!
Shh, listen, she’s telling a story to herself!

I suppose I could feel guilty that we don’t chronicle milestones anymore. We notice. We even marvel. But the accomplishments come so quickly and we’re self-conscious about making her self-conscious so we mostly keep our amazement and wonder to ourselves. But I can tell you guys, because come on, it’s either that or cancer.

We recently finished Marvel’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the original Oz story told in graphic novel form. I wasn’t sure she was up for the grown-up language but she paid rapt attention. Emboldened, I decided to take on a book without many pictures – Neil Gaiman’s Fortunately, The Milk. She got through it, but wasn’t bowled over. Which she should have been. BECAUSE IT’S AWESOME. I decided to dare Alice in Wonderland. Our version, which was my mother’s, is falling apart, is daunting to look at since it includes Through the Looking Glass, and has only a few line drawings. Surprisingly, she has stuck with it even though Alice is kind of a pain in the ass.

I read Alice in Wonderland to her while Debra was still pregnant. I rested my head on Debra’s belly and RR kicked me each time I repeated “Who are you?” My baby is old enough to understand Alice in Wonderland. My baby!

Tonight she hit two more milestones. She stormed away from the dinner table shouting, “AND I’M NEVER HAVING SUPPER WITH YOU AGAIN!” and, while we did take it seriously, it was a teensy bit amusing to hear her try to leverage her delightful presence at the table in order to get a popsicle instead of pot roast. She also took a scissors to her own hair. Fortunately, she’s so proud of herself when she does something new independently, that she cut one piece and immediately went to find Debra and show off her new skills. Even more fortunately, she cut a lovely face-framing piece rather than shearing a clump off at the scalp.

Tonight she read Where is the Green Sheep to me. She got it. She gets the concept of the silent e and how it changes the vowel before it. She’s reading. And this milestone, like so many of the others, sidled up on me and slid right past. She has been reading, hasn’t she?

I remember sending her to daycare and thinking (okay, sobbing) that I was going to miss her first rolling over, first crawl, first everything. But the milestones are so fast and furious that all I’ve ever been able to do is hold on tight and watch. It turns out, I haven’t missed a thing.


*how on earth did I not write about first steps? Oh that’s right because 2011 kicked my ass.