Two Children’s Books on Friendship

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If you don’t have school-aged kids, you might think all kids get along; they just want to play together. Maybe it takes some common interest, but once kids “connect,” they’re cool.

If you have school-aged kids, you know there’s more drama in grade school than on all the streaming services combined.

While you can’t force kids to be “nice,” to each other, you can teach them friendship is a choice, not an obligation. The earlier you teach them, the better, in my humble opinion.

We were once in the “everyone should be friends” camp. This might have been okay when the kids were closely supervised in a three-hour preschool program (even though sh*t still happened). Once in elementary school, however, they quickly had to learn to fend for themselves. Often, there are kids who know how to be “good” around adults and sheer evil when nobody’s looking.

That’s why I recommend two books, both classics by established authors, available in most public libraries: A Bargain for Frances by Russell Hoban and Timothy Goes to School by Rosemary Wells.

A Bargain for Frances is an “easy reader” book, but it’s worth reading to your child, especially if they’re having a bout of friendship trouble. Frances’s friend, Thelma, has a history of mistreating Frances. Despite her mother’s disapproval (hello!), Frances continues to play with her until Thelma plays a mean trick. Frances finally snaps and gets her revenge with the kind of calculation I wish I had as an adult!

The two of them come to a very evolved understanding. “We can be careful [continue to distrust each other], or we can be friends,” is the proposal Frances finally makes to Thelma, who chooses to be friends. Yes, it’s idealistic, but it’s true: two people can stay friends only if both friends treat each other with respect. Frances gives Thelma an ultimatum, Thelma agrees to change.

(This actually happened with my daughter who had a “bad” friend in kindergarten. She told the girl she noticed she was only mean to her, and not to the other girls, and she didn’t want to be friends anymore. Time has passed, and they now get along with no meanness or disrespect.)

The second book I like (moving a little closer to Defcon 1), is Rosemary Wells’s Timothy Goes to School. This is for the friendship that’s not going to happen, or needs to end immediately.

Timothy is a sweet, good-natured racoon. His teacher encourages him to befriend another racoon (*cough* profiling!), Claude, who turns out to be an arrogant SOB. Claude snubs Timothy, all the while playing the rest of the class (including the teacher) like a saxophone.

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Manipulative raccoons play people like saxophones.

Timothy is miserable, feels hopeless, and wants to give up on school. He even wishes bad things would happen to Claude. Now, before you go all “terrible message!” on me, this is a very astute book. Meanness hurts!! Who doesn’t want the a-hole in traffic to get pulled over by the cop? Who doesn’t want the co-worker who hates your ideas and then presents them in the meeting as his own to suffocate in his skinny pants?

But what’s this? Timothy finds another tormented soul in his class. They get together after school over cupcakes and snark about their tormentors. The end.

Wells’s lessons aren’t very “nice,” but they are realistic. First, your child is not alone. Finding someone who is going through the same thing can be an enormous relief. Second, there are some kids who will hurt your child no matter how well he or she treats them. Those kids aren’t worth it. Why not laugh about it, and move on?

Kids are always hearing; to have a friend you’ve got to be a friend, and kids who are mean to you just need patience and understanding – they’re actually suffering!, and once we all learn to get along, we can be happy ever after. That’s bull.

Do not teach them to placate and pacify people for the honor of a conditional friendship. They can and should wait for friends who are kind, loyal, and respectful.

These books alone won’t protect your child from bad friends (unless you roll them up into tight little batons…), but they’re a subtler starting point than parental outrage and disapproval. I hope our kids are blessed with the good friends they deserve.

Happy reading!

My books are available here.

 

The Pooh Corner Office

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You know that dream you have when you’re at work, only it’s a job you had a long time ago, and it’s still the same old bullsh*t? Well, if you want to have it while you’re awake, just read your kids a bunch of Winnie the Pooh.

A.A. Milne must’ve worked in an office. Or in retail. Or at a sandwich shop with P.G. Wodehouse. Nobody could nail the workplace dynamic like that without some sort of trauma experience.

Winnie’s the boss, of course. The others are always doing things for him, and he’s likeable yet resigned to his own incompetence. Not too hard to piece together…

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Looks like we gotta stay late again to save the boss’s ass.

Rabbit’s the know-it-all jerkface, but you respect him because he WORKS. The guy is in charge of the garden, and he does his f’ing JOB. (And he’s the party planner.)

Piglet is the up-and-comer: completely non-threatening, flattering to have around. You wouldn’t mind seeing Piglet succeed, yet you can’t actually imagine it.

Kanga has been with the company forever. She’s so loyal, they let her kid work there, even though he’s a screw up. But you’d never say anything because Kanga’s a sweetheart.

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You’ll never have to stand on your own two giant feet.

Christopher Robin’s the guy you could see hanging out with outside of work, except he’s almost never AT work. What’s up with that?

Tigger – alcoholic.

And finally, we have Eeyore. When you walk in in the morning and say, “How’s it going, Eeyore?” you know he’ll heave a deep sigh, and say, “Hanging in there, you know. Between the sciatica and the root canal my dentist botched…” You nod sympathetically and pray for a hundred acre forest fire.

Eeyore never actually DOES anything, but he always wants to put his cheap two cents in. He’s the first to point out when things are going south, even if they’re not, just to “play devil’s advocate.” If someone has great personal news, you can count on Eeyore to deflate it, saying things like, “Weddings are a leading cause of personal bankruptcy,” and “My sister was mugged in Jamaica the minute she stepped off the cruise ship.”

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Someone left a cloud in the break room… AGAIN.

And WHOO are you in all this? Owl, of course. You’re the only smart one!

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No one apter than a raptor, beaches!

Without you, that whole place would grind to a halt. You’re the ideas person. The problem-solver. Pooh may own the place, but you run it…

Lucky you’re so humble, or everyone would think you were one smug SOB.

Go ahead, introduce your kids to the real world of workplace politics! There’s no sweeter, more charming way than Winnie & friends. And by friends, I mean employees.

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Are we standing around, or are we working, folks?

E-books Only?

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I have several e-book titles available on amazon.com, and have not published any in print. This has been deliberate for the following reasons:

  1. I write short books, mostly how-to. They’re the kind of book you can just open on your PC, e-reader, or phone and peruse. It seems wasteful to me to publish them in print: they’d be more expensive, take up space in your house (for more on that see this), and, frankly, I find thin, soft-cover books a real pain.
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    as good as it freaking gets

     

  2. I could offer a print-on-demand version on amazon.com just to make my e-book look like a bargain (a strategy recommended by many book-marketers), but I don’t want to go through the bother of formatting the whole dang thing for that reason alone.
  3. If ever I want to make changes, I can upload a new version. Anyone who bought the book will get a notification of these updates. To me, that’s pretty cool. There’s nothing worse than holding a beautiful paper copy of your baby and seeing a tiny flaw. Nothing worse. Genocide? No. Grizzly accident? Not worse.
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    Worse than someone saying “yous” for plural “you”? … Maybe not.

     

What if someone wants a print copy of one of my books? In five years, it’s never happened, so I don’t know. People have been giddy with the bookmarks I’ve had made up, and if that’s enough for them, it’s enough for me.

I’ve lived long enough to “never say never,” but I’ve also lived long enough to know that some things just don’t make any sense. Things like preschool yearbooks, anything from the Franklin Mint, and commemorative cereal boxes (sorry, mice!)

Lest you think I undervalue my work, I do not. I’m proud of my books and happy to share them, but I also consider myself a reasonable person. If you’d like to believe you’re saving seven bucks by buying an e-book instead of a print copy, go ahead! I would rather have a few more healthy trees on the planet.

I’m humble like that. ; )

 

Put It ALL On!

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Here at Chez van Lier, we’re working our way through the long winter, and because it’s cold – really cold – I am obliged by state law to comment on it.

I know my friends in warmer climes wonder, “If they hate the cold so much, why don’t they just move?”

We tried, but there was nothing to complain about, so we came back.

We’re also (coincidentally) reading The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which starts out with a chapter called “Indian Warning.”  Pa is in the general store and an old Native American man bursts through the door and tells the menfolk they’re dumber than a bag of doorknobs if they stay through the coming winter, because it’s going to be the worst they’ve ever seen.

The men in the store are more surprised than warned.

“Where did he come from?” they remark, “Why, I thought they had all been escorted off the premises.”

(I’m paraphrasing, but not by much.)

It turns out they ARE mental midgets, because for the next many chapters, it’s a non-stop blizzard They have to keep warm with nothing but swamp grass and moral superiority!

Don’t spoil it for me, I haven’t read to the end, but something amazing must save them because there are 3 more books after this one, and Laura lives to be 90 years old.

Wisconsin has been my home for 3/4 of my life, and yesterday I found myself wearing 2 sweaters over long underwear and Googling “How To Stay Warm.”

One article recommended increasing your body temperature by taking a Zumba™ break.

Hello?! I’m Polish.

If I’m going to break for anything, it is coffee and crullers, but I will remember to do snake arms while I am eating.

So what are my favorite ways to stay warm during winter?

Well, I move around the house checking the weather on various devices, and counting the hours until it reaches double-digits.

I also peek in the refrigerator. The cold air makes my house feel warm by comparison.

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My stainless steel therapist

Finally, I eat. It’s not healthy, but there you are. Consider it layering on the inside. Food tastes better when you’re chilly and terrified to drive anywhere.

How do you stay warm during the winter?

Write your answer on the back of a boarding pass to Aruba, and tape it to a squirrel. It will find me! (Or just comment, if that’s easier. Either way.)

 

 

Why Did He Get Elected?!

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Driving home from school, listening to the radio, we hear a story about the ways in which one presidential hopeful doesn’t play nicely with his peers.

Despite our choice of news outlet, we still hear about this person more than the other candidates, more than international news, … just MORE.

My daughter wants to know why he was elected.

“He wasn’t elected, he wants to be elected.”

“So we still have the same president?”

“Yes.”

“Well, they hardly ever talk about the president anymore, and everyone talks about this guy.”

Yup. This guy. He certainly has a talent for being talked about.

(I’m not saying that. A lot of people are asking me, and I’m just repeating what a lot of people are saying. It’s not me that’s saying it.)

Lo and behold, in the New Children’s Nonfiction Section of my local library, I found this gem:

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Written by Edward Keenan, author, journalist, talk-show host, and (sigh) Canadian, the book explores politics in its many forms beginning with children around the world who created widespread change, to dictatorship and revolution, to the power of the free press.

I learned (or, ahem, remembered) more reading this book than my kids did – it’s intended for grades 5-8, so it ended up being more of a discussion with me asking questions like, “What would happen if the city wanted to tear down our house to build a highway?”

I also love the Canadian-ness of it: “Does this proposed solution seem likely to work?” (with “work” understood as; for a logical reason that meets the will and needs of the nation at large, lol.) Basically, The Art of the Possible removes all the cynicism and divisiveness from the political process, and leaves a good, clean, thorough civics lesson behind.

Something better than winning

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Image from Mummenschanz.com

 

The kernel they did take away from the book, even though they were tired of my pedagogy after a while, was that digging down in your own argument short-changes both sides, and that making your fellow citizens, classmates, or – yes! – even siblings your enemy can lead to gridlock and poor outcomes (like the loss of the Wii.)

They’re not activists yet, but I feel better-equipped when questions arise. And from now until November, there are bound to be more questions.

If you’re looking for middle-grade activities now that the iciness has set in, look no further than my book, After School – on amazon for only $0.99!

 

 

 

My Favorite Ghost Story

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Ghost Selfie

Ghost Selfie. Did I scare you?

Woo…WOOOO…

It’s Halloween and we’re reading ghost stories in my house. And HEEREE’S the best one of ALL:

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

I found this lovely illustrated copy on Amazon (and another series called “Christmas Carol” that was less suitable for children – I’ll save that for another post.)

cute little Dickens

cute little Dickens

When I bought it, I thought it would be a nice holiday read. Then I read it and I couldn’t wait to share it with the kids. (It’s condensed – short enough for bedtime.)

“This is an old ghost story, and it’s really good. It’s by Charles Dickens,” I said.

“It can’t be that good,” my daughter said, “it doesn’t have a Caldecott Medal.”

“This story’s older than the Caldecott Medal. It’s probably older than Caldecott.”

(Love when I’m right: published in 1843, 3 years before Randolph Caldecott was born!)

“These ghosts aren’t scary ghosts, though,” said my son. “Christmas ghosts aren’t as scary as Halloween ghosts.”

So, I had to sell them. We read the story. I got to the part about the sound of rattling chains in the cellar.

They were scared.

I got to the part about the dead man’s bed curtains being sold in the rag-shop. (Did you forget that part? I had, too.)

They were wigged out by Tiny Tim’s empty chair.

I got to the part about Christmas morning…

They loved it. “Okay, that was really good,” she agreed.

I asked them which part they liked best:

My daughter liked that Scrooge’s nephew made a toast to him, wherever he was, and hoped he had a merry Christmas.

Maybe she died with it, maybe it's Maybelline

Maybe she died with it, maybe it’s Maybelline

My son liked the chains rattling in the cellar. And the Ghost of Christmas Past (she’s not scary – she’s drawn like a babe.)

So, there you have it. Why would I read them a Christmas book on Halloween?

Because it’s a damn good story.

Have a happy Halloween!