Charli Mills, Bobo, and “The Poet’s Dog”

Charli Mills over at Carrot Ranch Literary Community posted her new flash fiction challenge.  She always starts with an incredible prologue, a personal writing that paints a deeper picture of the challenge.  I love what she writes. Charli makes me feel ‘there’.

I was drawn to this photo of Bobo.  She was a dog.  She was searching.  I love dogs.

Starting with a story of two owls, Charli wrote:

I remarked how much they reminded me of our two dogs, brother, and sister, and the way they loped together, her with a limp and him with cocky stride, but both in unison the way connected spirits can be. The next day, Grenny fell violently ill and was gone by the second day after the owls visited. Worse, his sister Bobo, not understanding where her brother went, sought him everywhere and stopped eating. She wasn’t well — the vet said her kidneys were failing on top of an old spinal injury that decreased her mobility, sporadic seizures, and a congestive heart. We had been surprised by Grenny’s undetected prostate tumor that shut down his organs because we thought he was the healthy dog of the pair.

Somehow, the two owls made me think that Bobo would soon follow Grenny. She didn’t. She pulled through with her joyful determination.

There has always been something amazing about that dog. She was born the day after Christmas in 2006, into our hands. We all watched the miracle of birth that day, me, my husband and our three kids. She was the runt with the bow-marking on her head. Her brother was the only male and a big brute of a pup. We all fell in love with her that moment and although the Hub intended to keep the male, we all insisted we keep Bo(w)detta Bosephine — Bobo. Yet she enamored him, too. She would become his “snort,” his beloved dog.

No matter what life dished out to her, Bobo overcame with little fuss. At age five, a rough but accidental tumble from two of her pack on a hot summer day left her back legs paralyzed. We did what we could at the time, and our vet said she’d get better or not. We walked the dogs every morning, and she was pined to go. So, we lifted her into the car, propped her up in the back seat, and she learned that rides were much better than walks. Despite the odds, she did get better and walked with the drive of a wounded warrior (she had much in common with the Hub).

When we moved to Idaho, the seizures came next. They remained intermittent enough that we never had to medicate her but they left us all shakey after she’d have one. Her needs challenged both my strengths and my weaknesses. Yet, no matter what, she grabbed life with joy. I wrote about how writers could learn from her joyful determination and I still live by those teachings. She died exactly six years to the date that I wrote that post. Yes, our amazing Bobo, our sweet girl has walked on.

Bobo did not succumb to the call of an owl, but when we rushed her to the vet on Tuesday afternoon, I saw a lone pigeon sitting on the eave of the office, with markings like the ones we helped fledge. Always looking for meaningful connections, it’s part of what drives me as a fiction writer and gives me purpose as a human. Connections make us not feel alone. Our eldest left work and met us at the vet’s office, and our Arctic daughter called us and stayed with us while we sat and cried and told Bobo what a good dog she was. Our son called later that night. The pup that was born into our family’s hands passed in our arms.

In the end, I realized that she was determined to have joy. Another lesson. Joy is something we cultivate, persevere to grab hold of and choose. Not all the time. Not every moment. But we get up and notice the beauty, the preciousness of life, the good that exists, the purpose we can find. I grieve, but I’m determined to keep joy in my life.

That’s about all I can muster for now. What I’d really like is for us to tell stories about the “dog in the daisies.” It’s my absolute favorite photo of Bobo and it captures her essence. She was poised in a field of daisies as if looking right at that joy she chased. Maybe it was deer, but whatever she saw filled her being with mindful purpose. In that moment she was a happy critter in a mountain meadow.


Charli and Bobo

We don’t have our pets for the duration of our lifetimes, but we are better off for the time we do have them. I am content that a dog named Bodetta Bosephine had me from her first until her last breath. One day, I’ll hear a hoot owl calling for me, and on Wildfire I’m going to ride, Bobo greeting me with a woof — there you are!

Bobo was determined, overcame her obstacles with little fuss, and found joy in her life.

I want to be Bobo.

Dogs are our constant companions.  They love us no matter what, and so do we in return.  When they shine through thick and thin, like Bobo, it adds pride and a fierce sense of loyalty to our feelings.  Dogs must feel the same way.  Charli’s words describe that beautifully.

When I read Charli’s post, I immediately thought of Teddy, the dog in The Poet’s Dog.  Of course!  Teddy and Bobo were cut from the same cloth.  I wanted Charli to know Teddy.  Perhaps that would bring her some comfort.  Well, she knew Teddy.  Better yet, Charli read The Poet’s Dog aloud to Bobo just before she died.  She sent me this photo:

I know Bobo heard the words.  Dogs know these things.  I know she loved Teddy, and Sylvan.  What a gift to Bobo.  Thank you, Charli.

Jennie

Posted in behavior, books, children's books, Death and dying, Dogs, Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, Giving thanks, Inspiration, joy, Kindness, Particia MacLachlan, self esteem, wonder | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 70 Comments

Children’s Book Trilogy – Highly Recommended

At long last, the third book in this trilogy, written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Scott Magoon, was published this week.

The first book is Spoon, published in 2009.  I was immediately captivated by the clever story of a spoon who feels that he misses out on everything.  Knife gets to spread, and fork goes practically everywhere.  Chopsticks are cool and exotic.  He’s just a plain old spoon.  His mother tells him what his friends say, that he can measure, and dive into a bowl of ice cream head first.  He learns to see himself in a whole new way.

This is the perfect book to read to a child who might have some self esteem or self confidence issues.  And, doesn’t every child feel that way at times?

The second book, Chopsticks, was written in 2012.  Chopsticks have never been apart and are best friends.  While learning some fancy new culinary tricks, SNAP!  A chopstick breaks his leg.  “Chopstick was quickly whisked away” (to the doctor.)  This subtle humor is carried throughout the book.  Everyone waited.  “No one stirred, not even spoon.”  As chopstick heals, the other chopstick tells him to venture off and try new things.  “Go.  Chop, chop.”  He learns there is much he can do alone, like pole vault and play Pick Up Sticks.  Once his leg healed, the two could stand alone or stick together.

This is the perfect book to read to a child who is worried, or afraid to take a risk, or try something new.

In 2017, author Amy Krause Rosenthal passed away from cancer.  She had written the third book in the trilogy before she died.  This past weekend, illustrator Scott Magoon introduced the new book, Straw, at a local bookstore.  He was terrific!  Everyone laughed at the clever humor and play on words in the story.  Besides reading, he drew illustrations, and included children in drawing.

               

Straw lives up to the reputation of the other two books.  Straw has a big family and many friends, but “He has a great thirst for being first.”  He zips through drinking and is ‘bent’ on always being first… until he races through a very cold drink and gets BRAIN FREEZE!  He was feeling low until a friend came along and showed him not everything is a race. ” You gotta stop and smell the milk shake.”  He learned to blow bubbles and see their rainbows (that was the illustration he drew, with children helping to draw the bubbles.)  He shared all he had seen with his friends.  “What you’re feeling is called awe, Straw.”

This is the perfect book to read to a child who always wants to be first or be the boss.

As he drew an amazing illustration of Straw and the bubbles, he suddenly stopped and said to the audience,

“Let’s help bend the world a little bit and blow bubbles in our glasses.”

Everyone knew what he meant.  Take the time to pay attention and see beautiful things.

Straw has a sideways page.  I remember vividly one from the (one and only) book my grandmother read to me, The Five Chinese Brothers.  I’m glad to say a sideways page still holds the same awe for children.

I told Scott that his books were being read to hundreds and thousands of children.  I told him he made a difference.  Authors and illustrators need to hear this from the messenger, the one who reads their story aloud.  That’s me.  They need to know children connect and ‘get it’.  They need to know their book has made a difference.

Okay, the book signing line was long, and my fellow teachers were giving me the hairy eyeball as I talked to Scott.  Yet, Scott’s eyes said it all.  He was deeply grateful and happy.

Jennie

Posted in Author interview, Book Review, books, children's books, Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, picture books, reading, reading aloud, reading aloud, Teaching young children | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 67 Comments

“You”

Sophia stopped by school to say hello.  It’s always a treat to see children I have taught.  I made a fuss, told her how big and grown up and beautiful she was. Making a fuss is my favorite thing to do.  The child beams.  It’s another chance to say all those things I said years ago.  Those words make a big difference.  Like ‘The Hundred Little Things’, the words pile up, a quiver of arrows.

I asked Sophia, “What do you remember about the Aqua Room?”
“You”, she replied.

My goodness, I never expected that.  Sophia was a book lover.  I thought she might talk about chapter reading.  Here she is years ago, organizing children in chairs to read books.

But it wasn’t books she remembered.  It was her teacher who introduced her to the books.  Never estimate the power of your words and actions, especially with children, because they can make all the difference in their world.

“Children make your life important”
-Erma Bombeck-

Jennie

Posted in Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, Giving thanks, preschool, Quotes, Student alumni, Teaching young children | Tagged , , , , | 75 Comments

The Hundred Little Things

I have a handwritten list of posts I want to write, things that are important.  There is one that has been screaming at me for a long time, with yellow highlighter and a post-it note: “The Hundred Little Things.”  It is the source of all that’s important, why everything we do is meaningful, whether we know it or not.  It is the most important thing I learned in teaching.  Oh boy, did I learn this.

A past parent visited me at school this week.  Her boys are beyond college and doing well.  She wanted to stop by, give me a Peter Rabbit cookie jar, and say thank you.  Like the student alumni who stop by and cannot pinpoint what it is they remember, she was the same way.  And I know why.  It’s the hundred little things.

Do I remember everything I did with Adam?  No.  Does his Mom?  No.  But, we remember moments and feelings.  It isn’t the big things, it’s the little things that matter most.  Her note is lovely.

Andrea’s visit was the catalyst that prompted me to post my “Hundred Little Things.”  I wrote this some years ago, so much has been added since then.  Bottom line: It’s the little things, over and over again, that are the big things.

The Hundred Little Things

As a teacher, I have a way with children; sometimes I feel like the Pied Piper, young children seem to naturally gravitate to me. I can ‘read’ a young child; watching their eyes, listening to their words; the subtleties that children project are very honest. When I tell a story or read a book at school, children are often captivated, although spellbound is probably more accurate. “Jennie, tell the bat story!” You can see the anticipation in eager little eyes and transfixed bodies. Preschoolers move and wiggle, but not when I tell or read a story. Lunchtime at school is full of fifteen excited children, and that is when the stories flow. Children know that if a story starts with, “Once Upon a Time”, it is pretend. The Little Red Hen and Goldilocks and the Three Bears are ever popular. On the other hand, if a story starts with, “It Happened Like This”, they know the story is real, and something that happened with Jennie, their teacher. Oh boy! Those stories are beloved. Children beg to hear them, because they portray their teacher when she was a child, in the same situations that they can understand; being scared over a bat in her room, hating vegetables, going Trick-or-Treating at the scary next door neighbor’s house, and a birthday cake with the wrong frosting.

Believe me, it wasn’t always this way.

Early on in my preschool teaching, I interacted with children with the best of intentions, yet often struggled to feel that I had made a connection, much less a difference. Even though I was always a caring and kind teacher, there was a self imposed ‘you and me wall’. I was the teacher, and you were the student. Teaching meant teaching information, in a caring environment.

Yes, I was a good teacher, but I didn’t fully understand how important love was until that day, twenty years ago. It was naptime at school, late in the fall, the time of year when children and teachers were comfortable with each other. There I was, lying on my back, looking across the classroom. All the children were asleep, except Andrew, a child who was often distant and sometimes challenging. He was the boy I had not really connected with. He saw me, and I saw him. We both smiled, simultaneously, knowing everybody else was asleep.

At that moment, there was nobody else on the whole earth. It was just Andrew and me. He knew it and I knew it. This was deep, and forgiving, and enlightening. I understood; love has no preconceived agenda. It is ‘there’, regardless of circumstances. Most importantly, love usually isn’t met with a lot of fanfare. In fact, it is the little things that often express love. The intensity of that moment is still with me. It changed me, and I understood that love, on the purest and simplest level, is most important.

In education, I learned that if love comes first, then teaching becomes deeper, better, more focused, and more energized. The children learn because I have put them first. I had it backwards, carefully planning a curriculum and activities, and then fitting the children into those plans. Not that it was bad or didn’t work; it just was…well, lacking the passion that comes with love.

Oh, children know how a teacher really feels. So, thanks to Andrew, I started to change. First, lunchtime became a forum to learn about the children and really listen to them. I learned so many little things, like the names of pets and grandparents, what a big brother does, the color of a bike. These were little things, yet they became the building blocks. We often debated deep subjects, such as if a girl can marry a girl, or if people go to heaven when they die. Everyone’s opinion was valued.

The day that Kelly told us her dog, Bruno, had died; the class did not know what to say. I told her that my dog had died years ago, and I was very sad. Then, a child asked Kelly if she was sad. The following thirty minutes was spent with heartfelt children telling each other about grandparents and pets who had died, and all the feelings and questions that naturally follow. At that moment, lunch was far less important than what was happening, and could wait. The building blocks were working.

I started to use a tape recorder to “interview” children, as this not only helped me to get to know them, but also was a good tool for language development (and it was fun). Our curriculum at that time was France and learning about the old masters in art. Young children love to paint, and they were practicing being artists with real palettes. I was learning so much about them, why not have the children do an autobiography to accompany their work of art? And, why not have the children name their work of art, and call it a masterpiece?

The result was so profound that we had an art show at school, and then moved the art show to our local post office for the community to enjoy. What a success, and what a wonderful experience for the children. Our art show has since become a yearly event in the community. Again, the building blocks were growing, but now I began to realize that each block in itself was little. Did using a palette or holding a microphone make a difference? No. So, where did the passion and love (and there was passion and love!) come from? It was each block, over and over again, often hundreds of them, which made the difference. I started to call this phenomenon “The Hundred Little Things.”

Now, my teaching and curriculum had become child centered. From this point forward, I put the cart before the horse. Smart thing! That same year my husband asked me, out of the blue, why our children wanted to hear ‘I love you’ all the time. “It’s the hundred little things”, I told him. “It takes at least a hundred times for each little ‘I love you’ to really become meaningful”.

The next year my class went to the circus. Of course we decided to have our own circus performance at school for our families, and I let the children decide what they wanted to do. Again, a child-centered event eclipsed anything I could have planned. Over the next few years, music, math games, and science exploration exploded. Every child’s interest was a spark, and became a tool for learning. I had learned so much and transferred the children’s love into a great preschool experience. Little did I know that the best was yet to come.

I love museums. In Philadelphia I visited the National Liberty Museum and was thunderstruck by their Peace Portal. Instantly I knew this magnificent structure was something my classroom could recreate. My years of following the love of the children had allowed me to embrace my own love, and give it back to the children. Now the tables were turned, yet again. I brought the idea back to school, and the children loved it! They spent a large part of the school year designing a Peace Portal. Then, they wrote a Peace Poetry Book, and designed a Peace Quilt, which is in the Museum.

Suddenly, the power of love had gone beyond the classroom. The depth of this project was not only children’s building blocks, but my building blocks as well. Yes, I could give the same passion and love as well. Wow! A combination of the two means a deep understanding and enthusiasm on all parts. As such, the process and the product were wonderful. The following year, the children really wanted to sing “God Bless America”. Watching them sing amongst themselves, over and over, was a true ‘hundred little things’. Again, we worked together, under the umbrella of love, to bring the song to soldiers, to making a book, and to designing a quilt that hangs at the Fisher House in Boston.

Being a preschool teacher for many years has been a wonderful roller coaster of every emotion and of learning. When I first became a preschool teacher, teaching happened first. Thanks to Andrew, I know that love happens first, and then becomes the catalyst to develop deep relationships with children, and therefore a rich curriculum. The ‘hundred little things’ proves that to be true.

Pay attention, as love is there. You just need to see it. It can change your life. It changed mine.

Jennie

Posted in Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, Inspiration, preschool, reading aloud, Student alumni, Teaching young children | Tagged , , , , , , , | 99 Comments

Michael Bond, creator of Paddington Bear, 1926-2017 #inmemoriam #MichaelBond #Paddingtonbear

My apologies for neglecting to include “A Bear Called Paddington”, or frankly any of Michael Bond’s delightful Paddington Bear books in my favorite bear books blog posts. While this was a serious error, it prompted Geoff Le Pard to forward me the blog post he wrote about Paddington Bear after author Michael Bond died. My goodness, this is a treasure!

First let me say that I read Paddington Bear books to my children. Here are their two favorites, which have probably been read fifty times each.

I had the good fortune to see the Paddington Bear and Michael Bond exhibit in 2018 at the Eric Carle Museum. The collection of bears was charming. And, so was the original artwork.

   

Can a single book change the life of a person? You bet it can. Geoff is living proof, and he tells the story beautifully, with deep appreciation to Paddington Bear. Here is his story:

TanGental

I don’t struggle for posts, not usually and mostly I know from a way out what I’ll write about. But today my plans were thrown when the news came through that Michael Bond, creator of Paddington Bear had died. Regular readers will know of my love for that little Peruvian Ursus. But, at the risk of trying your patience, dear readers, I have to repeat this post as I have a lot for which  to thank Mr Bond and his clever creation. My life would have taken a  very different course, of that I am certain but for Paddington, and Mr Bond.

***

If I look back up the bannister of my life there have been very few splinters to discombobulate me during my smooth progress to the present day. And that is in large part because of a little Peruvian, marmalade guzzling, antique shop frequenting bear called Paddington. He is, after all…

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My Favorite Bear Books, Part 2

In Part 1 yesterday, I talked about half of these wonderful bear books.  Here is the second half:

Blueberries For Sal, by Robert McCloskey

The year was 1948.  Sal and her mother go blueberry picking.  On the other side of the hill, a bear cub and his mother also go searching for blueberries.  Sal and the bear cub are much the same, gobbling up blueberries and looking for adventure.  When each crosses over to the other side of the hill, Sal is following mama bear, and the cub is following Sal’s mama.  The story is captivating for children.

Teddy Bears Cure a Cold, by Susanna Gretz and Alison Sage

The family of five bears help take care of William when he gets the flu.  The bears know just what to do, from manning the temperature chart, to feeding William, to giving him a bell to ring if he needs anything.  William begins to recover and constantly rings the bell while the bears are making something special.  The text is witty and depicts the bears every feeling from worry to annoyance.  I love the illustrations.  They capture it all.  Children can relate to  becoming sick and recovering.  They love this book.

Mother Bruce, by Ryan T. Higgins

This book is hilarious.  Children laugh hard.  Adults laugh harder.  Bruce is a grumpy old bear who is trying to cook goose eggs.  Unfortunately for him, the eggs hatch, and the goslings immediately “know” Bruce is their mama.  Despite his many efforts to send the goslings on their way and prove he is not their mother, he is unsuccessful.  The trials and tribulations Bruce goes through rate a 10 on the laugh-o-meter.

Every Autumn Comes the Bear, by Jim Arnosky

The glorious illustrations pull in the reader to the ritual of the bear’s  hibernation.  From autumn through winter, the changes of the season are perfectly illustrated, along with a simple, predictable, and well written text.  I love this book!

Honey, by David Stein

Bear wakes up from hibernation and is ready to find honey.  It is not yet summer, so bear learns the hard way about searching for honey too early, sticking his nose into a tree of busy working bees.  He finds many delightful adventures while waiting for honey season.  When he finally hears the buzz of bees, he knows it’s time for honey.  The book reflects on the second season after hibernation for the bear, just as good as he remembered.

Happy reading.  Bears are the best.

Jennie

Posted in Book Review, books, children's books, Early Education, picture books, preschool, reading, reading aloud, reading aloud | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 62 Comments

My Favorite Bear Books, Part 1

Winter is here, and it is time to feel cozy, just like bears.  I love bears and bear stories. Children do too.  While stories about animals are always popular, bear stories are favorites, year after year.

Here are my favorite bear books:
There are old ones and new ones, stories to make you laugh, stories of history, books with rhyming, holiday messages, and adventure.  There are books that are just good.  They make me want to read them again, and I do.

Finding Winnie, by Lindsay Mattick

This is the true story of Winnie the Pooh, the bear that became famous in WWI before he went to the London zoo.  It is captivating, with real photos and beautiful illustrations.  The reader is immediately drawn to the soldier Harry Colebourn on the train in Canada to fight in the war, and finding a bear cub.

Those Pesky Rabbits, by Ciara Flood

The bear lives alone, and suddenly a family of rabbits move in next door.  He is annoyed at his unwanted new neighbors, despite their many efforts to be friendly.  Humor and persistence win over a grumpy old bear who finally finds friends.

Iver & Ellsworth, by Casey W. Robinson

This book has the same wonderful feel and text as A Sick Day For Amos McGee.  Iver takes care of his good friend Ellsworth, a factory rooftop bear.  When Iver retires and moves, the bear must go in search of Iver.  The text is full of love, hope, and adventure, written in soft ways that draw in the reader.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, by Bill Martin Jr.

The rhythm and verse of the text, combined with the excitement of what animal and color will appear next, has made this book a classic.  Children never tire of this book.  They look forward to page after page with anticipation. It was Eric Carle’s debut as an illustrator of children’s books.

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, by Michael Rosen

The repeated chant of “We’re going on a bear hunt” follows five children and their dog as they travel through grass, river, mud, a snowstorm, and a forest before arriving at the bear’s cave.  And then, they have to go back through the same obstacles, with the bear chasing them.  Repetition, excitement, and of course a bear, make this book a winner.

Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow.

Jennie

Posted in Book Review, books, children's books, Early Education, Imagination, Inspiration, picture books, reading, reading aloud | Tagged , , , , , , , | 56 Comments