Wednesday, August 07, 2013
Bedtime stories worth staying up for
Laura's note: This is cross-posted at my personal blog, LauraVanderkam.com Like many parents, I try to read to my kids most nights before they go to bed. I find that I enjoy this ritual much more if the stories I’m reading are interesting -- with good art as a bonus -- than if they’re pedantic, as too many kids’ stories are. Here are some books I’m really enjoying right now: Bedtime Math. When I first heard of Laura Overdeck’s Bedtime Math daily email a little over a year ago, I knew it was a great idea. Too many people consider math this scary, difficult thing, as opposed to a neat way of making sense of the world. But what if math was presented to us in the same way bedtime stories are, with cuddles and introduced by a caregiver you love? Overdeck’s email blast has now evolved into a series of books, the first of which came out this summer. My 2 boys (ages 3 and 6) are loving this first installment. Each page has a silly little introduction to a subject (cooking spaghetti, the size of whales, etc), and then 3 levels of story problems: wee ones, little kids, big kids. My 3-year-old can do the wee ones problems counting on his and my fingers, and my 6-year-old does the little kids and (usually) the big kids ones. They’re finding this so fun that I have to tell them “Boys, we can only do 2 more math problems -- you have to go to bed!” The Boy Who Loved Math. Artist LeUyen Pham was working on this book when I interviewed her for What the Most Successful People Do at Work. It’s a story about the life of Paul Erdős, the legendarily prolific (if eccentric) mathematician. My boys love that as a kid, Paul used to calculate how many seconds someone had been alive. The illustrations, needless to say, are a stunning mix of pictures and numbers. Night of the Moonjellies. There are lot of books about kids at the seashore, but this is one of my favorites. Little Mark, age 7, works 2 days a week at his grandma’s hot dog stand that serves the best lobster rolls in New England. This story tells of his busy day filling the ketchup jars and grabbing straws, and then at night taking a boat ride to where all the moonjellies live in the water. Mark Shasha (the author -- and the main character) does a wonderful job recreating the seashore not just as a place where people relax, but where people live and make a living, too. One Morning in Maine. This classic is a bit lengthy for a bedtime story, but worth it if the kids have somehow finished up their baths 10 minutes early. A little girl named Sal lives on an island in Maine, and wakes up one morning with a loose tooth. While the plot is about losing the tooth, and misplacing it, but getting her wish anyway, Robert McCloskey’s tale is more memorable for how it paints a picture of rural Maine, with people who need to take a boat to buy groceries, and who go dig clams in the morning to eat for lunch. That's a sort of locavore eating that’s now hip but used to be life. For 50 pages, you’re transported to a completely different world. The Magic Tree House series. My 6-year-old is utterly obsessed with the stories of Jack and Annie, siblings who discover a magic tree house in the woods near their home in Frog Creek, Pennsylvania. The tree house belongs to Morgan le Fey, the librarian of King Arthur’s Court, and she sends the children on missions through time and space to solve riddles, save books, and the like. We’ve gone to visit pandas in China, to a Civil War battlefield, to the first Thanksgiving, to 15th century Florence, etc. Each 70-page story (a few special Merlin Missions go to about 110 pages) is fast-paced and the prose is simple enough to allow a new reader the thrill of making it through a chapter book, whether he does this alone or with a parent. I’ve probably read at least 20 of these books aloud now, and have found myself actually thinking I’d read -- of my own volition! -- through one of the installments my 6-year-old brought home from the library and finished without me. That’s saying a lot for early chapter books. What’s on your list of bedtime story greatest hits?