Friday, March 4, 2016

Spring is in the Air!

A cardinal enjoys my "make-shift" bird feeder
Today, as I sit at my computer watching the birds flitting around the bird feeder outside my window, I am excited about life. Spring does that to me. I get this urge to dig in the dirt and hang out on the porch with a good book and a frosty glass of mint-flavored ice tea. I am dreaming now of having a porch swing to relax on, but that is a different story. Today, I want to focus on spring and the books I have loved that remind me of this wonderful season.

No girl could experience springtime without thinking of The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It may be one of the reasons I love roses so much, that, and the fact that when I was six my neighbor, Mrs. King, gave me a Tropicana rose bush for my very own little garden.

I am also reminded of a very special day in the spring when my kids were small. Geoff was in fourth grade that year. I had discovered, to my horror, that he hated reading! I soon uncovered the root cause--his image of reading consisted of having to complete piles of phonics worksheets, courtesy of his previous school experience. To erase that image, I tried every creative way I could think of to encourage him to read. One day a miracle happened--and I could not have manufactured it if I had tried. My parents had come for a visit, and my dad asked us to take a walk with him. Our plan was to go to Target, which was about a half mile from our house. We would eat at the lunch counter and then come back home. Everyone started down the sidewalk, when suddenly Geoff raced back to the house and returned with his skateboard--and a book. I nearly fainted. He rode his skateboard about two houses in front of us and sat down on the curb and began reading. Just before we caught up with him he got back on his skateboard and raced ahead of us, then sat down and read again. He did this all the way to Target--and all the way back home. I didn't say anything to him, for fear I would embarrass him and he'd stop reading. Later, we had a great discussion. He was reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which would have been a challenging read for a sixth grader, let alone a fourth grader. He finished that book in two days--and went on to read Huckleberry Finn. From that day forward, he was a reader. Books did what I could not do--made him fall in love with reading, although I have to think that my reading aloud to my sons every night before they went to bed might have had a little bit to do with it. :)

Another thing we enjoyed that spring was bowling. It became our passion. Every Thursday, we would finish our school work early and head for the local bowling alley to meet our home school group. It was sort of like having an organized physical education class. For two whole hours we would bowl. The day Geoff beat me was a red-letter day for him! We celebrated with a homemade pepperoni pizza. Those were fun, fun, fun days. Pizza and bowling are still favorites in our family.
My boys are grown now, with children of their own. Here are a few family photos for you to enjoy.

Mickey, Chris and Geoff - circa 1987

Aidan, Geoff's son, is a basketball star.

Chris has twins, Dylan and Elody,

Aidan and Olivia (Geoff's children)

Most readers have a favorite book from childhood. Mine was Misty of Chincoteague. I found it in May in my school's library when I was a fifth grader. It changed my life! I couldn't get enough of Marguerite Henry's writing after that book. More recently, Chris surprised me one day by digging through our attic and pulling out a book his grandmother and I read to him at least a thousand times when he was in kindergarten. He mailed The Digging-est Dog in a Christmas box to his twins in Colorado. Whether it became a favorite of theirs or not is unknown, but his heart was in the right place (and that's another story!).

Time has passed. Our reading lists have changed. I'm more likely to read a mystery, although I still love horses and horse stories. My grandchildren are getting old enough to read for themselves, so I am always on the lookout for books they will enjoy. Geoff's son Aidan is going to celebrate his eighth birthday on the 31st of this month. Because he is at an age where he can enjoy spending time with his father, I'm currently looking for an easy-reader about a boy, his dad, and bowling to send to him, (along with some spending money). NOTE: If you have any suggestions about books with this theme for a second grade reader, let me know! I want Aidan and his dad to go bowling together. 

Geoff and Aidan at a Cowboy's game.

Now, if Aidan were in middle school, I know exactly what book I would get him. My friend, Crystal Allen, wrote a great book entitled, How Lamar's Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy in 2012.

I first met Crystal Allen at a writers' conference in Houston a few years back. She had just won a publishing contract on her first book. It was a smash hit--and I know why. How Lamar's Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy is about a boy and bowling--a great combination! 
If you have a middle grade boy, this book would be terrific.

How Lamar's Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy

Think about it...what boy wouldn't love this story? Thirteen-year-old Lamar is a whiz at bowling, but strikes out with girls. When he listens to bad boy Billy, trouble follows. It's a modern day hit!

Crystal has gone on to write more books, another of which I absolutely love: The Laura Line. Once again, although this time it's a girl, the main character has a major problem--she's overweight. The kids torment her and call her "Fat Larda". Things look bleak for Laura, until one day her teacher announces a field trip--to the slave shack located on her grandmother's land. Will this heap disaster on Laura's hope to one day fit in and be accepted by her classmates? It's a great book to pair with a history lesson on the Civil War and with a discussion of what makes a person beautiful. Girls can relate to Laura and her fears and feelings.

If you would like to learn more about these and other books written by Crystal, check out her website.

So, if you (like me) have a touch of spring fever, grab a few books from your local bookstore or library, pour yourself a refreshing glass of ice tea and head out to the porch swing with your kiddos to enjoy a good read. And while you're there, make a list of fun things to do in your garden with the kids. My dad and I planted radishes when I was around five. I have loved these red firebombs ever since.

Even if you don't have a plot of ground in your yard, a nice flower pot with a few flowers or herbs from your garden store are a great way to get kids involved with nature. Add a bird feeder and/or bird bath, grab a book on native America birds, and start a new hobby--bird watching. 

Spring is as much a feeling as a time of year, so grab hold and enjoy it! And while you are hanging out, reading a book together, think about things you can do to make spring a practical educational experience. For instance, make math graphs to identify the birds that stop by your feeder, or design a growth chart to measure the growth of your plants. And, of course, take some time and head for the bowling alley. Believe me, your kids will have a blast--and so will you!

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