I Am Just as Surprised as You.

1. In which I attempt, rather pathetically, to return the favor

I am still going through your excellent comments, and feeling absolutely gluttonous. So many books I want to read, and I want to read them all at once! This is a marked improvement over the anxious what-on-earth-will-I-read-next-oh-no-two-chapters-left!? feeling of scarcity I had before, so thank you.

You have all been so generous with your recommendations that it seems only right that I share a few of my own. Unfortunately, I tend to recommend the same things over and over, so I’m pretty sure that if you have been reading here for a while you have heard most of my old standbys. But, because we were discussing mysteries I feel I must once again strenuously suggest Sarah Caudwell (brilliantly witty, only wrote four books so I reread them again and again). And certainly Rex Stout is new to no one, but just in case, I will remind you all that he is marvelous.

Oh! Yes! Not a mystery, but: Diary of a Provincial Lady, by E.M. Delafield. I recommend this to lots of people in real life, however a quick search tells me I have never mentioned it here. It is the first in a series–there is A Provincial Lady in London, A Provincial Lady in Wartime, and a few others, and they are absolutely marvelous and I just reread them for the zillionth time during my pregnancy with Twyla (are you sensing that I do a lot of REreading? I do). Whenever I hear someone talking at length about how REVOLUTIONARY it is to blog about everyday life as a mother, I think of these books, which are essentially a precursor to this whole enterprise. They are British, written in the 1930s, and the humor is exquisitely dry. I am sure those of you who are familiar will back me up in comments.

2. A perception problem

All of the reading I have been doing on my phone has brought up an issue I hadn’t foreseen: when Simone sees me curled on the couch, engrossed in a book, she doesn’t KNOW I am curled on the couch, engrossed in a book. I realized this a few weeks ago, and it alarmed me, so I called her over to show her that I was reading! See, it’s a BOOK!

No it’s NOT, she said, scornful. It’s a PHONE.

(No, but look! See! It’s a story! It’s a book ON my phone!) (It’s not a BOOK.) (And so on.)

Maybe this shouldn’t bother me, but it does. I saw my parents reading all the time, and I grew up surrounded–quite literally, surrounded–by books, and I honestly think I owe much of the good in my life to my love of reading. I could go on (and on) (and ON) about how important I think reading is, and how much joy books have brought me, and another day, when I have the time, I will, but for now, it is enough to say that I think that nothing has been more useful in my life as a human. I thanked MY BOOKS in the acknowledgements of my own book, for pete’s sake.

The point is, a love of reading is one of the gifts I most want to give Simone and Twyla, and now that Simone is getting older, I am starting to worry that I am failing. She probably watches more TV than she should. I haven’t taught her to read yet, because I can’t seem to figure out how one even does such a thing. We read a lot, and she knows all her letters and the sounds they make, but it seems like such a leap from there to actual reading, and I honestly am not even sure how it happens, and I don’t want to push it because I want reading to be fun, not work. But I feel like I am not doing enough, and if anyone knows how you make a child into a reader, not just a person who can read, but a READER, well, I would love for you to tell me.

3. I really can’t add anything to these pictures.





  1. Anne says:

    Another splendid post! Your daughters are perfect! Simone does look weary of the strange man.

    I’m anxiously hopeful that a “google search-word” post may be in the works as a holiday season surprise.

    Sadly (or happily, depending on your point of view), to this day I chuckle to myself over the posts you wrote discussing google searches that led to your website. The frightening Christmas puppet-man would want you to, no?

  2. Karishma says:

    I hear you on the books thing. My Dad was a crazy reader, and here’s how he got me hooked – if I loved a book, he would show up at home with the whole series. It started with the Berenstein Bears, and then magic tree house and boxcar children and nancy drew and little house on the prairie…. I don’t know how he did it, but oh, how I appreciated it, because I became *obsessed* with reading these books when he brought them home. It drove my mom nuts, because why buy all these books when you can to the library? But this was the one thing my dad would absolutely not compromise on. We could cut corners on having nice cars and meals out and gas money, but if we ever wanted books, there were no questions asked. It’s one of those things that’s impossible to appreciate except in retrospect a couple decades later.

  3. Jen says:

    What lovely children, and what beautiful pictures!

    Thank you for the recommendations. My library sadly doesn’t have the first Caudwell book or apparently any of the Provincial Ladies books (quel scandale!) so I will have to put them on my Christmas list.

    In looking at the reviews of the Provincial Ladies books, I am reminded of two books by Raffaella Barker which I have read and re-read with great delight: Hens Dancing and Summertime. I think you would very much enjoy these, too. (Aha–vindication! From an Amazon review of Hens Dancing: “Rafaella Barker was greatly influenced by the classic ‘Diary of a Provincial Lady’ (EM Delafield) in writing ‘Hens Dancing’, and I think she really has evoked the life of the same type of woman today.”)

  4. Davida says:

    On the teaching a child to read: my husband and I went around and around about this for a long time, especially about flashcards (I was against).

    I recommend continuing to read out loud to her, show her the pages, let her look at them with you. When she is ready to read, she will. And then I am sure she will take off. Also, maybe try the Reading Rainbow app?

  5. Cupcakekarate says:

    Reading research is my thang, so I can help you here. You don’t need to “teach” Simone to read- you are doing exactly the right things. Read to her- a lot. Let her “read” by herself. Have her read to you ( she probably has some books memorized- have her read them while you point out the words on the page). Point out print anywhere you are. Grocery shopping? Read her the list. Read her the labels on packaging. Signs in the produce aisle. Reading research overwhelmingly shows that time spent engaging with print before school begins is strongly related to reading success in school. You have all of the right things going on!

  6. Liz says:

    Ah! I already put “Diary of a Provincial Lady” on hold, hoping it’s as snarky as “Elizabeth and her German Garden” by Elizabeth von Arnim. Have you read? If not: MUST. So much snark! Published in 1898! Also the author of “Enchanted April”,which is fabulous, though this might not be the *best* time of year to read about a castle on the sun-drenched coast of Italy.

  7. Swistle says:

    Oh!! What a GREAT Santa! He makes tears spring to my eyes, like he’s REAL SANTA.

    Added several books to my library list!

    I have something similar where I will say to the children that I am WRITING. They’re used to computers for PLAYING, and I DO play on the computer, but sometimes I like to clarify to them that I am WRITING.

  8. Shavahn says:

    If you want a few suggestions for making the leap into reading, I taught my daughter to read using the distar method. (http://donnayoung.org/penmanship/using-100ez-lessons.htm) This method is highly successful and really helps them tie everything together and learn how to figure out a word that they don’t immediately recognize. My biggest complaint about it is that it goes VERY fast – they sometimes get frustrated and it can be prudent to go back and re-do the last 10 chapters or so (or switch to beginner readers like the “BOB books” – another very good resource).

    If you are like me, I don’t want to leave something as important as reading to a school system which often has one teacher trying to teach 18-22 children at once. It really helps them all around if they can go into kindergarten with a strong foundation in reading.

    • Melanie says:

      Shavahn I agree, my son had such a head start already knowing how to read when he started Kindergarten and he is still over a grade level ahead every year despite the fact that I have to force him to read because he sadly, just isnt the lover of books that I am.

  9. Melanie says:

    I am teaching my 4 year old to read simple books from the library (Red Rocket Readers) but my son learned on bob book series. The red rocket readers Allie is “reading” right now are all themed, like “things in a garden” and then each page is B is for bumble bee, F is for flowers, H is for hose, and of course my daughter is using the picture clue for the last word but hey she feels so triumphant that she is reading that even though its “cheating” we call it a success. The red rocket books will get tougher the higher in the series we go, but I think its a genius way to get the kids excited and feeling good about reading. My son however refused to read for me when he was 4-5…oh no that was reserved only for Granny, and therefore, she taught him to read. I think thats why I am so involved with this kiddo lol!

  10. heidi says:

    After managing to birth 4 boys who have all learned to read I have decided it is magic. Magic is how they learn. We read to them. We read ourselves. And magically one day they could read. Also, for one boy who struggled a bit, some nice easy books like the Brand New Readers series or Green Light Readers were awesome at not overwhelming him. Of course this is kindergarten age. But, do not worry. You don’t need to do any but provide the reading materials. Then the magic will happen.

  11. jen says:

    Mine is the same way…has known all of his letters and the sounds they make for quite some time. I think reading to them is most important? I hope? I read chapter books to him as well (the first few Harry Potters…he knows the stories generally so we just do little snippets of them and his attention span is quite limited right now but I think it is a start and he asks for them). He sometimes will also ask me to read slowly and point to the words so I always oblige him with that request. I think you are probably doing just fine and she’ll pick it up when she’s ready.

  12. MJ says:

    I’m with Cupcakekarate on how to get your children to be readers: you read to them. Have books around that you can read and reread with them. Keep up the reading out loud as long as they’ll put up with it; having Twyla will help since Simone will listen in. And don’t fret about how quickly they catch on – some kids figure it out early, some later, but as long as you’re helping them love reading it will happen. (Unless, of course, they’re dealing with something like dyslexia, in which case they may end up needing help getting there.) Our older son was slow in learning to read and as part of his rebellion against us didn’t want to read as he got to be an adolescent, yet as an adult he loves reading history.
    And thank you for the recommendations – I haven’t read any of them and am looking forward to them.

  13. Deborah says:

    So glad you are blogging again!

    My son is a few months younger than Simone, and I also find that he’s known the letters for ages, but hasn’t made the leap to sounding out full words. My sense is that someday it’ll just “click” and in the meantime, we’ll keep reviewing letters – identify when we see them, practicing writing them, etc. As far as teaching a love of reading, I know my son sees me reading all the time (I am not as high-tech as you!), and we read before bed. I hope that’ll be enough; I don’t know what else there is to do.

  14. Gaby says:

    Regarding #2, I have a similar yet different worry: I only have the chance to read while pumping at work or (full disclosure ahoy!) in the bathroom, and I have worried that that means my boys never see me reading. I am a book lover, and one of my biggest hopes for my children is that they also love to read. Seeing as how my husband is NOT a reader, this task falls to me, and I feel that I really need to step up my game, and soon.

    On the topic of your pictures, oh my goodness, those are treasured photos! Your little girls are so adorable. I love how Simone is looking adoringly at Santa in the first picture while Twyla is looking equally adoringly at Simone.And Twyla’s dress? Adorable! And how she’s gazing at Santa? And that last shot, where by some Christmas miracle you were able to have both girls looking at the camera and smiling? Gah! SO CUTE. Thank you for sharing.

  15. Rachel says:

    So, we also felt like my daughter was technically ready to read last year, but we just didn’t know how to go about teaching her. Honestly, so we just didn’t do anything about it. Pointed out words, read books together all the time, etc. She knew some sight words, but nothing formal. She started K in Sept and she is practically reading at this point. I agree, it is sort of magic. She was so close to the edge of reading, all she really needed was full days of learning and being immersed in a school setting. She knows at least 20 sight words and her ability to sound things out is leaps and bounds ahead of where she was just 6 months ago. I expect full on reading by january. It will just happen even if you do nothing!! Honestly, i would worry a little if she was already a proficient reader that she would be a little bored in K where i can already tell from the stuff she brings home and tells me she is ahead of in the writing/math areas (because she has always been interested and motivated, not that we pushed her!).

  16. MomQueenBee says:

    That first picture of Simone and Santa may be the purest distillation of Christmas joy I’ve seen in years. The twisting hands, the one-footed stance, the adoring smile–ahhhhh! Oh, and as a mother whose four grown children are readers, the best thing you can do to make her a reader is not to teach her to read, it’s to read to her. Plus, is there anything in the world more wonderful than reading to a child? No.No, there is not.

  17. Auntie G says:

    One very simple thing we did with our four-year old was when one of us read to him, he was responsible for one word at a time: if we were reading a Toy Story book, he had to read the word “Buzz” every time it appeared. Then we added “Woody,” etc.

    As long as Simone and Twyla have books around them and parents who read and talk about reading, they won’t have any problem learning to do it themselves. :)

  18. electriclady says:

    We thought a lot about the reading thing–my husband and I were both reading by age 4 so we were worried (I know, so obnoxious) when BG hit 5 and still wasn’t reading. Thought about trying to push it, as she, like Simone, clearly knew letters and sounds and loved to be read to. Then one day, the summer before she started kindergarten (so, um, this past summer) she just up and started reading by herself as if by magic. Less than 6 months later and she curls up in bed with the first Harry Potter book reading it to herself. (Granted, she misses a lot of the words, but still!) So I wouldn’t worry about it. Simone will surprise you one day soon by glancing at your laptop screen and trying to sound out Schmutzli.

  19. ccr in MA says:

    Love the pictures! And I’ve requested the Caudwell and Delafield books from the library. Thanks for the recommendations; I too am a big re-reader, and sometimes I think of reading new books as looking for ones I want to re-read.

  20. Karen Jane says:

    That Santa has the most glorious silver hair, so shiny and wintery. Gorgeous photo of your girls.
    About the reading thing; as a parent, I think you’re already doing everything to help Simone become a reader. It’s important to offer a wide variety of books, read every day and lead by example, and it sounds like you’re providing that environment in spades. My son learned to read this year (he’s 6) and he won an award for being the child who read the most books in his prep year. I feel like having it printed on a t-shirt or something.

  21. I think the most important part of making a child into a Reader is giving them a solid foundation in phonics. To that end we went the Hooked on Phonics route with my son. I know it seems old-fashioned, but it honest-to-god worked. We did the Pre-K program and he was doing so well we skipped right to 1st grade and now my 4.5 year old reads at a 3rd grade level and I am constantly finding him laying on his bedroom floor surrounded by books. Part of it is certainly that he sees us reading and that he has always been read to, but I think really what made the difference was that methodical, phonics-based approach that gave him such a solid foundation to work from. There are a lot of good beginning readers now that aren’t all boring and sight word based and I sought out all the rebus books I could find when he was first learning. There are also some called, I think, “You Read To Me, I’ll Read To You” that alternate a parent page and a kid page that are fun for early readers too.

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