Thursday, February 09, 2017

Why I Had a Book Party for My 1st Grade Son

We just had a little party for my first grade son. It wasn’t a birthday party or a welcome home party or any other type of party with which you might be familiar.

It was a book party.

I’m not sure where I first heard this idea, but I assume that I didn’t just come up with it myself. When each of my early-readers finished his first real book all by himself, we threw him a party. My youngest guy started reading this year and about a month ago he picked up a 50-60 page book and declared that he was going to get through it himself. We watched him meticulously sound out word after word, and we watched as the reading became smoother and more decipherable.

Then he finished the book.

And we were so excited for him. To convey our excitement, we invited six friends from his first grade class to his book party. They came to our house, just for an hour, and made bookmarks, had lunch, and played a game about books to celebrate with my son.

There is a tradition that many Jewish schools have kept for generations: to give honey to children on the first day that they are introduced to the Aleph-Bet, the Hebrew alphabet. My boys have all experienced this tradition and have dipped their spoons (or their fingers) into that honey, mingling the sweet taste with the sweet sound of their first letters. I’ve always loved this idea.

I want to cultivate this type of love for reading, this thirst for knowledge, and this understanding of the sweet taste of literacy in my children. It’s not always easy to convey a love for reading. I’ve tried to implement ideas like the book party to try to impart this love and this feeling of the celebration of literacy to my boys.

I did find it interesting that I was hesitant this time when I called the parents of the kids we were inviting. In the back of my mind was the worry that some would see competition in the invite. Oh, they might think looking down on my son’s progress, MY son has been reading for ages. Or, on the other end of the spectrum, they might think, Well, my son hasn’t read a full book yet. They are bragging about their son’s accomplishments. But I quickly disregarded this fear, reminding myself that parenting isn’t a competitive sport. My son is reaching this milestone now, in his own time and in his own way. And that’s cause for celebration.

This is just one of the many ways that I can convey to my children that reading, literacy, and the thirst for knowledge are so important. They are important enough that they get their own party—their own celebration. In the digital age, when we are so quickly losing our footing in the face of electronic temptations, we need all the reinforcement and celebration of education that we can get.

This article first appeared on Kveller.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Romi's Reading Round-Up: January 2017

This year, I’m going to try to write a book review at the end of each month. That’s assuming, of course, that I’ve read enough books in the month to make it worthwhile. I’ve noticed a pattern in my reading. I’ve developed quite an affinity for the older-man-who-struggles-and-overcomes-odds type of book. Is that a genre? It seems to be one since all of these delightful and touching books fit into the category: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Frye, A Man Called Ove and The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper. I recently stumbled upon another similarly-themed book, Norwegian By Night by Derek Miller, and I was sure, before I even started it, that I would love it.
My, oh my. Love it I did. I can’t tell you how beautiful this book was. It’s the unlikely journey of an older, Jewish man and the way that he grapples with his life’s regrets and tries to put them right. It was incredible. And I found myself laughing out loud while rooting for him and the boy he helps.

Another go-to favorite of mine is Catherine Ryan Hyde. This woman can do no wrong. Her books are also about the struggles of broken souls and the ways that their friendships and loves help to patch their wounds. Her latest is called Say Goodbye for Now and it is full of grace and love, hardship and racism.

This month I read Gold by Chris Cleave. (Cleave wrote the incredible book Everyone Brave is Forgiven about London during World War II.) Gold was about three Olympic gold medal contenders and their pursuit of excellence. It was powerful and I felt like the characters stuck with me even after I finished the book. The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan was another surprisingly good book. It started a bit cliché, with the unhappy girl picking up to find a new life for herself. But it was done quite well and I found myself rooting for Nina until the very end.

Burying the Honeysuckle Girls by Emily Carpenter was a nice mystery. Nothing earth-shattering, but a well-drawn story (well, until the end when the author appeared to get tired and wrapped everything up before you could blink!). The Mothers by Brit Bennett dragged at times, and I wish it had given more play to the voice of the mothers. In general, it was well written and an interesting look at the choices we make.

In a very different vein, I read An Exaltation of Larks by Suanne Laqueur.  This was a real surprise read and very different from the types of books I usually read. I loved it and couldn’t put it down, but speak with me privately if you’re thinking of reading it. There are certain themes you’ll want to know about beforehand so that I don’t steer you wrong in your book selections!

This leaves the books I hated. There have to be a few of these each month, don’t there? First of all, I have to admit that I put down A Gentleman in Moscow after reading about 10% of it. This book has received some of the highest ratings I’ve ever seen on Goodreads and I think I’m embarrassed that I abandoned it. I found the book very dry and I don’t know enough Russian history to enjoy it. But everyone else in the world seems to be loving it – so please let me know if you have enjoyed it!

The two worst books on my list this month were Faultlines by Barbara Taylor Sissel and Life After Coffee by Virginia Franken. Faultlines' characters were as flat as pancakes and its conflicts were never-ending and begged for me to care about them. I raced through the pages just because I was curious about how she would wrap it up and put me out of my misery. And so she did. And Life After Coffee is hysterically pathetic. It had a nice premise of the workaholic mom who works in the coffee industry (which I thought would be fun to learn about) who finds herself unemployed and in charge of her children. But how impossibly pathetic can you be in raising your kids and how ridiculously implausible a story line can you create?
Enjoy your coffee. Forget about this book!

I’m currently reading The Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian (who can do no wrong in my eyes) and Back When We Were Grown-Ups by Anne Tyler (because I found it in Amy’s lending library). I also bought myself a gift and ordered three books from Better World Books that should be here soon. They are: Love in the Present Tense, The Healing and The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns. If you’ve never ordered from Better World Books, you should just to get their email. The email was written "by my books" and was all about how they can’t wait to meet me. I’d like to meet their marketing manager. Adorable.

Happy Reading!!