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It’s Poetry Month!


Read any good poems lately?  April is National Poetry Month, first designated in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets, and is the largest world-wide literary celebration. 

            Some of us first studied poetry as high school students. We memorized lines from Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” and Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” and read Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” aloud in English class.

Memories of reciting, ‘Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary’ and reading ‘O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?’ might cause you to inhale quickly and deeply.

But you probably smile when you hear one of the most quoted poems:  Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are.  Jane Taylor’s lullaby was first published in 1806. One of my Grands was surprised when she learned that Twinkle, Twinkle is a five-stanza poem.  “Read it again, Gran,” she said.  “Is it really more than 200 hundred years old?”

            Years ago, I began reading poetry to our Grands while we ate breakfast after they spent the night with Husband and me.  We read the traditional Mother Goose poems, but the favorites are Shel Silverstein’s poems.

            Silverstein’s first book, Where the Side Walk Ends, was published in 1974 and the copy that belongs to Daughter is literally falling apart and is still on my kitchen bookshelf.  The back inside cover lists poems we read often.  My favorite is Hug O’ War.

I will not play at tug o’ war,

I’d rather play at hug o’war,

Where everyone hugs

Instead of tugs,

Where everyone giggles

And rolls on the rug,

Where everyone kisses,

And everyone grins,

And everyone cuddles,

And everyone wins.

Micah, age 8, said, “Will you read the one about the king?”  I didn’t know a poem about a king, but Micah’s older sister, Annabel, searched until she found an ink drawing of a king.  “It’s Peanut Butter Sandwich.”       

“And the king eats peanut butter sandwiches!” said Micah.  Annabel read that the king’s mouth stuck quite tight from a last bite of a peanut-butter sandwich.  Neither a wizard, a dentist, a doc, a plumber, a carpenter, nor a fireman could unlock the king’s jaws.  For twenty years, they toiled until finally every man, woman, girl, and boy pulled and then ‘kerack,’ they broke through that sandwich. 

“Wait!” said Micah, “I know what he said: I want a peanut butter sandwich!”

Annabel grinned, then continued.  “The first words that they heard him speak were how about a peanut-butter sandwich?” 

Micah laughed and asked, “What’s the one about the boy who didn’t know about money?” That one is Smart.

My dad gave me one dollar bill

            Cause I’m his smartest son,

            And I swapped it for two shiny quarters

            Cause two is more than one!

            Micah and Annabel giggled all the way to the end as Smart trades quarters, dimes, nickels, and finally shows his dad 5 pennies. 

 Celebrate Poetry. Find a book.  Search online.  Read a poem.  Not just now – anytime.


Sign Up Now!

Almost every week, he went to the Putnam County Library.  As an infant in a sling across his mother’s body, then as a toddler he rode in a stroller, and later he walked and held hands.  His older brother and sisters showed their library cards and carried home armloads of books.  His mother helped him choose a few books. 

            And then Micah turned 5.  It was finally his turn to his sign his name and promise to take care of the books checked out on his very own card.  What a celebration!  His name on a plastic card meant he took home 20 books for two weeks.  When he returned them, he could get 20 different books. 

            September is Library Card Sign-Up Month, and the American Library Association and the Putnam County Library remind parents that the most important school supply is a library card.  Because a public library has always been part of my life, I can’t imagine not having access to the many books and resources that fill library shelves.     

            Any child age 5 or older can apply for a card at the Putnam County Library.  The child must be accompanied by a parent or guardian who signs the application and who can show a valid photo ID and proof of residency. There is no charge for library cards to Putnam County residents.  An out-of-county adult pays a $10 fee, but a child who lives out of county can have a free card.

            I’m reminded of a conversation with a retired librarian.  She and I stood opposite each other holding a metal bar, both doing leg lifts as part of physical therapy for knee replacements.  Her whisper voice, her kind eyes, and her short statue helped me immediately place her behind the counter of the Putnam County Library.  She wouldn’t know me, I thought.

            “I remember you from the library when I took my children, many years ago.  Thank you for helping us find books,” I said.

            “I remember you,” she said.  “You had a girl and a boy and they brought their books back on time and they were quiet.”  Oh, I was thankful that’s the way she remembered my children.  We reminisced about the days when a visit to the library was to only check out books.  “There’s much more at the library now.  Computers, magazines, movies, music,” she said.

We talked about the many clubs and special programs available at the library.  “There’s a summer reading program for kids that my grandchildren like.” I said. “And young kids don’t need a library card to go to weekly story time and preschool craft time.”

            “You’ve got to get kids to the library young so it becomes a habit,” she said.  “I wish everybody would take their children to the library.  Then read books to them at home, too.”  I agreed.

            And I wish every child felt the excitement my young Grand did when he held his library card for the first time and his feeling of pride every time he carries home his stack of books. 


Celebrate Reading

To exercise your brain and keep it healthy, read. Just like you are doing now.

            This past Saturday, March 2, was National Read Across America Day, which has been celebrated on Dr. Seuss’s birthday since 1998. This day, created by the National Education Association, is intended for children and youth in every United States community to celebrate reading. Let’s stretch that celebration of reading through all of March for everyone, from children to adults.

Reading twenty minutes a day is the time that numerous research studies have proven makes a difference in a child’s learning. Generally, the more time we are exposed to something and the more time spent practicing it, the better we’ll become at performing it. This is true for reading. Reading exercises and stretches the brain; it connects the present with previous learning. Reading aloud to a child develops listening skills and prepares young children for learning. The single greatest factor in a child’s ability to read is being read to, even as a newborn.

When’s the last time you read to a child? It’s a gift, for the child and you. Snuggling a little one in your lap while reading aloud is a bonding time. Quiet, uninterrupted time. Once after I finished a book with Annabel, when she was 4, she said, “Gran, will you show me that again?” Show me again. Those words told me she had comprehended the story and transformed it to pictures. Don’t think a teen-ager is too old to be read to. They’ll not sit on your lap, but they’ll listen. Even adults like to hear someone read aloud. Years ago my Tennessee Tech professor, Dr. Eleanor Ross taught a class entitled Teaching of Reading and my favorite part of the class was the last few minutes when Dr. Ross read a children’s book aloud.

My love for reading goes back to childhood when Mom or Dad sat beside my bed and read from a Bible story book and whatever book I was reading at the time. When I was a fourth and fifth grade student, I read every biography that was in our school library. Do I remember the details of those people’s lives? No, but I read for fun and followed the example of everyone in my family who read newspapers, magazines, and books.

As an educator, mother, and grandmother, I’m convinced that children who are read to and have opportunities to read aloud and silently have a high probability of being successful students, and therefore, successful in their work. Research shows a strong correlation between a child’s ability to read and academic performance. You’ve probably heard that students first learn to read and then read to learn. It’s true.

We would all do well to follow the suggested 20 minutes daily reading habit. A well-known quote by Dr. Seuss sums up the importance of reading. “The more you read, the more you will know. The more you learn, the more places you’ll go.” Let’s share our reading, our learning, the places we go with someone else.


Family Vacation – Not as expected

Screen Shot 2016-07-14 at 7.05.03 AMRecently, I heard a friend lamenting that her grown children are so busy there’s no time for a family vacation. I suggested a weekend getaway, like the couple of nights Husband and I spent with our college-age children many years ago. But I warned that her vacation might not go exactly as she expected.

When Daughter and Son were college students, there was a narrow window of time between their summer jobs and the beginning of fall semester. I was happy that they would spend a weekend in Atlanta with Husband and me. We planned to go to a Braves game and eat good restaurant suppers, but I was most looking forward to family visiting time.

Returning to Atlanta brought back memories of two previous trips to Turner Field and the many nights we’d watched the Braves’ televised games. During a night baseball game, we reminisced about where we sat when Dale Murphy played first base and how Son had wanted to eat everything offered at the concession stand.

We stayed in a two-level condo with a kitchen and living room so we could eat breakfast in and have a place to gather. While watching Saturday Night Live, we agreed that we’d sleep in and make our own breakfasts.

I awoke first, made coffee, set out banana bread and fruit, and then curled up on the sofa to read a book until everyone else got up. Son came down the steps first, poured his morning Mountain Dew, and we talked a few minutes. Daughter joined us. She poured orange juice and sat on the couch beside me. This was perfect: my two children were all mine. I got up to freshen my coffee, and when I came back into the room, Daughter and Son both held paperback books in their hands.

I asked a question and got short responses. My attempts to start a conversation fell flat. My children kept their eyes and attention on their books while I talked. Then Son laid his book on his lap, looked at me, and said, “Mom, all our lives you wanted us to read and now we are.”

Daughter added her two cents worth. “Yeah, all those times you took us to the library to get books paid off.”

Son added, “Remember how we could keep a light on late at night as long as we read? Well, it worked, Mom. We just want to read our books now.”

My feelings were a hurt. I swallowed hard. I’d read aloud as I rocked my babies. How many times had I stopped whatever I was doing to read to them when they were toddlers? I read their school assignments with them. And those times we traveled all day in the car to the beach for family vacations, I read aloud or we listened to books on tape. I was determined my children would like to read.

I wiped a few sentimental tears. Together we shared reading time – each with our own books and that felt good. When Husband came downstairs, he was quiet and we continued to read. Eventually, the spell broke and then we talked about the books we were reading.

I don’t remember the book titles. But I realized grown-up children sometimes do exactly what we parents teach them, but maybe not at a time we’d choose. And family vacation time? Although what happens isn’t always as expected, it’s good to be together.

Little Free Library

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As Husband and I drove along a Cookeville street last week, he took his right hand off the steering wheel and pointed.  “Did you see that? It looked like a little house with books inside,” he said.  I quickly turned my head toward where he pointed, but I didn’t see any little house, just regular size houses, and I wondered how he could see through a window to see books inside a house.

But Husband was right.  He did see a little house with books on shelves behind a glass door.  It’s mounted on a pole right beside the sidewalk. Under the little house is a sign that reads, “Take a book.  Leave a book. Or both.”

This Little Free Library was a Mother’s Day gift to a friend, a fellow retired teacher.  She had heard about the idea of free libraries a few years ago and when she mentioned it to her son, he not only built a library for her, but also installed it and planted flowers around it.  A Little Free Library, according to littlefreelibrary.org, is a  “take a book, return a book” gathering place where neighbors share their favorite literature and stories. In its most basic form, it is a box full of books where anyone may stop by and pick up a book or two and bring back another book to share.  The movement was started in 2009 by Todd Bol in Wisconsin.  He built a small schoolhouse, mounted it on a post, filled it with books, and posted a sign that read FREE BOOKS.  His neighbors and friends loved it.  Then he built more small libraries and gave them away.

The word spread from neighbor to neighbor, from local to regional to national to international media, and this one-person endeavor became an international happening.  A non-profit corporation was established in May 2012, and by the end of that year over 15,000 Little Free Libraries had been registered on the online site.  These libraries are now all over the world.  From Alaska to Hawaii, from Australia to Iceland, from Italy to Ghana.

I like everything about Little Free Libraries.  Books.  Free.  Bringing neighbors and friends and strangers together.  Encouraging children and adults to read.  Encouraging conversation about books and reading.  A project started by one man in his yard that has spread throughout the world.  I’ve seen them in a few big cities like Charleston, South Carolina, and Alexandria, Virginia, but my favorite one is right here in Cookeville.

Through Facebook, Jimmie announced that she’s in the library business and issued an invitation to “Take a book. Leave a book. Or both.”  My five-year-old Grand and I did both, and we quickly dubbed her library as Ms. Jimmie’s Little House Library.  A little house filled with books, just waiting for neighbors and friends to stop by.

I wonder how many more Little Free Libraries will spring up around here – in Cookeville, Putnam County, the Upper Cumberland.  I better put on my walking shoes and find a few more books to share.  And maybe, I’ll add something to my birthday wish list:  one library.









Another Day to Celebrate

Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 1.32.40 PMSunday, March 2 is Theodor Seuss Geisel’s birthday and if he were living, he’d be 110 years old.  Dr. Seuss Day, also known as Read Across America Day, was created by the National Education Association to celebrate reading, and it began on March 2, 1998.

Geisel first signed his pen name “Seuss” on a cartoon that was published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1927 when he made a living as an illustrator and a cartoon artist.  His first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was rejected 27 times before it was published in 1937.  But it wasn’t until 1957 when The Cat in the Hat was published that Dr. Seuss was recognized as a children’s book author.  I’m thankful he kept trying.

Some of his books are nonsensical and children love them.  I wore out Hop on Pop and Green Eggs and Ham reading them to my children.  As I whipped green food coloring with scrambled eggs my stomach turned flips, but Son thought green eggs were a fun breakfast.  And while he read the book, I cooked the eggs.

I’m not encouraging anyone to eat green eggs, but I hope that all children had someone to read to them.  As an educator, I welcome questions about how to help children learn.  It’s a three-word answer:  read to them. Whatever you want to read or whatever they want to hear.  Dr. Seuss said, “You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read to a child.”  And, in my opinion, no one is ever too young or too old, too small or too big, to be read to.

How do you choose books that are appropriate for children?  Choose a book in the children’s section at the public library.  Ask your child’s teacher.  Search Google.  Read the classics that you read as a child.  Children quickly tell you which books they like.

My Grands have their favorite books.  The toddlers choose Little Blue Leads the Way, Go, Spot, Go, and books about trains or Curious George.  My almost five-year-old Grand’s favorites are Goodnight Gorilla, A Snowy Day, and all books featuring Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.  My first grade Grand likes books by Mo Willems (her favorite is I Am In A Book) and the Little House on the Prairie books.  My oldest Grand is in a Star Wars phase so he chooses The Yoda Chronicles and anything about Star Wars – not my favorite topic, but I don’t let him know.  All he knows is that I like to read to him and hear him read.

Why read to children?  Dr. Seuss said it best in I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!  “The more that you read, the more things you will know.  The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”   A quote that screams “Read!”  A quote that urges adults to read to children.

To celebrate Dr. Seuss day, my Grands might think me a bit wacky when I don my tall hat like the tall cat wore in The Cat in the Hat and read the book aloud.  But they’ll like the cupcakes, and I’m not telling them that the book has been around since I was a kid.

Dr. Seuss’s birthday.  A day to celebrate reading.