Purpose of this Blog...

You may have noticed that not all books are equal in capturing children's imaginations and in cultivating those innocent, tender souls. My goal is to help you find the ones that do!
(Painting by Mary Cassatt: "Mrs Cassatt Reading to her Grandchildren" -1888)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Recently, two really great kids (thank you Tati and John) independently recommended a book series to me.  So I took their advice and started reading!   This series involves four smart kids who've been enlisted by a kind genius (Mr. Benedict) to go on a mission and outsmart an evil mastermind (Mr. Curtain) who wants to take over the world.

Let me introduce you to The Mysterious Benedict Society, and a world full of adventures, mysteries and puzzles. Parents will be happy that these books are as much about friendship and family as they are about adventure.

Calling all kids, ages 11-14:  If you're intelligent, creative, or happen to know Morse Code, the Society could probably use your help (but don't worry - if you don't know Morse Code, you'll learn it in this book!)

What would you do if you saw this peculiar ad in your local newspaper...

"ARE YOU A GIFTED CHILD looking for special opportunities?"

In Trenton Lee Stewart's book, dozens of children enroll to take a series of mysterious, mind-bending tests.  But in the end only four very special children — two boys and two girls —  succeed. Their challenge: to go on a secret mission that only the most intelligent and resourceful children could complete. To accomplish this they will have to go undercover at the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened (otherwise known as L.I.V.E. - EVIL, spelled backwards!), where the only rule is that "THERE ARE NO RULES".

But what the children - Reynie, Kate, Sticky, and Constance - find in the hidden underground tunnels of the school is more than paper, books and pencils. As the four brave heroes face physical and mental trials beyond their wildest imaginations, they have no choice but to look to each other for support -- and answers.

Visit The Mysterious Benedict Society website here.
The Mysterious Benedict Society, first published in 2007, is the first in a series that also includes The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey, The Mysterious Benedict Society and The Prisoner's Dilemma, The Mysterious Benedict Society: Mr. Benedict's Book of Perplexing Puzzles, Elusive Enigmas and Curious Conundrums and the recently published The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict.

Monday, August 20, 2012


...And it looks great!!!
Mossy will be available September 18, 2012

Author/illustrator Jan Brett always jumps into her latest book project with both feet, completely immersing herself in the subject matter and illustrations.

Click HERE to read the NYTimes interview with Jan about how she and her husband were inspired to build a turtle pond in her backyard, and where she got the idea for this cute book about a turtle with a garden growing on its shell.

Is your child an aspiring artist?  You can watch Jan's video "How to Draw a Box Turtle" HERE.

Her website, http://www.janbrett.com/ is full of (free!) fun activities, coloring pages, games, and cards that go with each of her books. This could keep you and your child busy for the rest of the summer! 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Woman Who Thinks in Pictures

2009 Film Biography of autistic engineer, Temple Grandin
Yesterday we had our three adult children home, with two resting on our living room couches.  Our daughter, who has been put on full bed rest for the duration of her pregnancy, was over for a change of scenery and to visit her brother, who was recovering from oral surgery to remove all four of his wisdom teeth!  I pretty much kicked into full "Mom Mode" - with lots of help from my oldest son, who is home for the summer until his college classes start in the fall.

We all ended up watching a captivating HBO movie that my mom recommended: Temple Grandin.  Claire Danes starred in this biopic about a high-functioning autistic girl who overcame the limitations imposed on her by her condition to become an expert in the field of animal husbandry and humane slaughter.

Temple developed an interest in cattle early in life while spending time at her Aunt and Uncle's ranch. She did not speak until the age of four and had difficulty right through high school, mostly in dealing with people. Her mother was very supportive as were some of her teachers.  My favorite quote from the movie is when Temple's mother is talking to one of her teachers.  She says, "Temple is different, but not less."

Temple Grandin, who is now in her sixties, says one reason this movie is so incredible is that - largely thanks to director, Mick Jackson's insight and creativity - it allows us to see how Temple thinks: in pictures.  Claire Danes does an excellent job portraying Temple, and has a wonderful supporting cast of Catherine O'Hara, David Strathairn, and Julia Ormond.

You can also watch and listen as the real Temple Grandin lectures HERE on TED.com, with her talk "The World Needs All Kinds of Minds".

Because of the story involves the humane slaughter of cattle, the movie is best for teens, but I came across a thought-provoking biography written for kids (grades 5 and up) by Sy Montgomery, titled Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World. This compelling biography is full of Temple's personal photos, and takes us inside her extraordinary mind, opening the door to a broader understanding of autism.

This book is not to be missed - add it to your kids' summer reading list!

Friday, August 10, 2012


C.S. Lewis wrote: "grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape."

On the road near Ashburton, Dartmoor in Devon, England, 1982.
As I wrote about in my last post, since my dad's sudden passing away from cancer on July 1st, our family has slowly begun to find our way through the winding valley of grief together.

We take the bends in the road one at a time. This new landscape of separation, dotted with familiar objects that would bring a flood of happy memories along with pangs of loneliness, often feels disorienting:  seeing photos everywhere of Dad vibrant and alive; his handwritten "to do" list on his desk; his customary place next to my mom now empty on the bench where they sat together on the back deck; and his glasses that he'd worn so recently, lying still and unused on the bedside table.

After dad's funeral, as my siblings left one by one, I stayed with my mom, and brother in Indiana for several weeks. We began to allow ourselves to accept this new reality of daily life void of Dad's physical presence, while appreciating the new relationship and eternal presence our family was building with him spiritually.

Separately, though together, Mom and I endured many moments that could have been numbingly empty; but thankfully we experienced the mutual comfort that comes from the tender and honest companionship of another who has been left behind, as well as the blessed grace that is God's gift.

One afternoon, in search of something to read, I pulled out a vaguely familiar volume, bookended with others between a couple of heavy gilded lions on a table that I'd walked past several times a day. The spine bore the title, The Good Natured Bear.

I opened the cover to experience a little jolt of recognition, accompanied by the (lately) ever present feeling of bright sadness, as I read my own handwriting:

To my sweet Daddy Bear -- a present from our Ashburton bookstore.  
Love, Wendy Bear. Christmas '82 

My mom took this photo of me in Dartmoor,
while we were on a family trip to England
when I was 18 years old.
Tears began to flow as I recalled the day I had bought the book.  It was while we were on a family vacation in England during the summer of 1982.  For part of our visit, we stayed in a 17th Century house in the quaint town of Ashburton, which is located on the southern slopes of Dartmoor in the South Devon countryside.

This day, it was raining.  Ever the romantic, Dad, after making us kids some popcorn, had invited Mom to go walking and exploring in the rain. They left, turning down the narrow alleyway which led out to the shops, and around a corner, where they stumbled upon a cozy used bookshop.  They quickly came back and got us kids, and we all spent a fun afternoon browsing through the antique treasures on the bookshelves.

My gift to Dad from the bookstore in Ashburton

The title of the book I bought that day for my dad, and my inscription on the inside cover had a special significance.  For one thing, Dad was truly a "Good Natured Bear".  He was a big man - tall (6'4") - and his very deep voice was full of jovial humor, with a balance of authority and kindness.

Siblings with Dad in the cute town of Ashburton: Me, Ginger, Greg, Terri
and Heidi (our little brother Peter Jon, suffering a bout of chicken pox,
 had to stay hone in California - I think he got a new bicycle out of the deal!)
Not only that, we were "The Bears"!  Dad had adopted the affectionate "Bear Family" moniker after hearing the jazzy Three Bears song, composed by Bobby Troup in the 1950's after the well known children's story. [trivia note: Troup, a Sigma Alpha Epsilon like my father, also wrote Get Your Kicks on Route 66, another of Dad's favorite jazz tunes].

The Three Bears song was made popular by the Page Cavanaugh Trio, Ray Ellington Quartet, and Leon McAuliffe.

With both our parents being wonderful musicians, my brothers and sisters and I were blessed to grow up with lots of music in our home.  Our family was often requested to sing our own fun version (a musical amalgamtion of the two Youtube videos I've embedded) of The Three Bears, for friends.

Mom, a classically trained pianist, wouldn't miss a beat as she'd pound out the tune and sing the "Mama Bear" part, while Dad - in his booming bass voice - was the "Daddy Bear", and we kids were collectively "the little girl with blond hair" (aka Goldilocks) and the "Little Wee Bear".

I love this picture of my dad in the early '70's with his guitar!
Today marks 40 Days since my dad's passing. I'm dedicating this post to my precious Mom, 5 siblings, "GeeGee's" 20 grandchildren, and his soon-to-be-born first great grandson.  We'll never forget our wonderful Daddy Bear!  Memory Eternal!

"Bye, bye, bye," said the Daddy Bear
"Goodbye, bye, bye," said the Mama Bear
"Hey Babba Ree Bear," said the Little Wee Bear...
So ends the story of the Three Little Bears!

Four of us six siblings - Ginger, Greg, Heidi and me - with our
Dad and Mom, being silly in Devon, England, 1982.
[photo taken by my sister, Terri]

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


Are We There Yet, Dad?
Some of my favorite childhood memories are of summer family road trips with my dad and mom. Dad's varied occupations - first as a college campus ministry director, later as a writer, editor, and publisher, and finally as a priest in the Orthodox Church - required him to travel quite a bit.  

Dad brought the whole family along as often as he could. I recall tooling down Route 66, my dad at the wheel, my mom beside him, with my siblings and me crammed in the backseat.  We kids didn't quite understand the nostalgia of that old highway; we just wanted to get to our destination as soon as possible.

Our impatience would lead to a predictable question: "Are we there yet, Dad?" His truthful, yet disappointing answer in the negative would prompt us to take turns needling him every ten minutes or so, "How much longer until we get there?" - to which he'd finally announce with authority, "Okay, kids, it's time to play The Quiet Game!"

A Final Journey
To my regular readers, it might seem as if I've been playing "The Quiet Game" for the past few weeks, but the reason I've been absent from the world of blogging is that I was on another journey with my dad.  Our last one together on this earth.

In June, Dad was told by his doctors that after thirteen years his metastatic melanoma cancer had returned, was already in stage 4, and was untreatable.

My siblings and I immediately flew out to the Midwest to be with my parents.  I think those days in the hospital were some of the most loving, blessed, and bittersweet moments we have ever had together as a family - full of thanksgiving, tears, hugs, and kisses.

I know a question we all wanted to ask was, "How much longer until we get there, Dad?" Just a week later, Dad was moved to a beautiful hospice facility, and on July 1 we accompanied him to the Gates of Heaven, praying and singing hymns at his bedside.  It was a peaceful moment that I'll never forget.

Measuring Time
A couple of years ago, I came across and saved a tender perspective on the subject of loss, which brought me comfort in facing my father's death.  It’s from Wendell Berry’s book, Andy Catlett, Early Travels.

In this affectionate, fictionalized memoir, Andy (as an elderly narrator and the main character) looks back on his boyhood in rural Kentucky, and reflects on all the family and friends who have been part of his life.

The author, in one of his most poignant passages, describes how time is halved, and how the past and future are not only divided, but connected, by the present moment:

Time is always halved...by the eye blink, the synapse, the immeasurable moment of the present. Time is only the past and maybe the future; the present moment, dividing and connecting them, is eternal...We measure time by its deaths, yes, and by its births. For time is told also by life.  As some depart, others come. The hand opened in farewell remains open in welcome...time that is told by death and birth is held and redeemed by love, which is always present.  Time, then, is told by love’s losses, and by the coming of love, and by love continuing in gratitude for what is lost.  It is folded and enfolded and unfolded forever and ever, the love by which the dead are alive and the unborn welcomed into the womb.  The great question for the old and dying, I think, is not if they have loved and been loved enough, but if they have been grateful for love received and given, however much.  No one who has gratitude is the onliest one. Let us pray to be grateful to the last.

While my Dad was in the hospital, I experienced this unique aspect of measuring time not just by death, but by birth, with the present moment dividing and connecting the past and the future.  My daughter, Mary, pregnant with her first child, brought a framed ultrasound picture of her unborn baby to my dad, in order to introduce her grandfather to his first great-grandchild and newest namesake, "Peter".

In grateful silence and awe, I watched as my daughter hugged my dad, and several realizations hit me:  hadn't it been just an "eye blink" ago that my daughter was a baby being introduced to her grandpa?  Now here she was, a grown woman and wife, soon to become a mother, and my first grandchild, still in utero, was present with us as a fourth generation of our family.

On July 1, 2012, my dad passed away amid tearful hugs and goodbyes, and my grandson will soon be born and welcomed with gentle kisses and hellos.  One journey is completed and a new one will begin...