Author Archives: Lisa Ripperton
Author Archives: Lisa Ripperton
Many families have a tradition of giving books to their children at Christmas and on their birthdays. While this can be a wonderful custom, today I want to talk about finding opportunities for book giving outside of those occasions.
With my oldest son, the practice of giving books on holidays turned out to be less rewarding than I had initially hoped. As energetic as he was, he tended to gravitate toward gifts that gave him opportunity to move and play actively, rather than those that involved sitting still and reading. Because I didn’t want to waste valuable time wrapping books that would be quickly set aside, I soon stopped presenting him with books on those occasions altogether.
Of course we still bought books and incorporated them into our family read-aloud time, but we didn’t make a special occasion out of it. I reasoned that since nourishment for the mind is as critical as nourishment for the body, books are not optional; they are a necessity. But I wouldn't wrap up a loaf of bread to put under the Christmas tree and expect him to be overjoyed upon discovering it, so why should I do that with books?
We did have one exception to not gifting books on holidays, however, and that occurred each year during Advent.
In anticipation of St. Nicholas’ annual visit on December 6th, my children put wooden shoes in front of our fireplace on the evening before. In addition to chocolate coins, clementines, and a long hand-written letter, St. Nicholas often left a few other goodies to help them prepare for the holidays. One year he gave them cookie cutters and aprons for baking gingerbread cookies, and another year, beeswax and molds for making candles. But every year, the children also had the pleasure of finding next to the wooden shoes a couple of new Christmas picture books to brighten the season!
Were I able to go back in time, however, I would want to find more occasions throughout the calendar year to give gifts at times when my children would appreciate them, and in doing so, establish a rhythm that they could anticipate eagerly. (File under “things I would do differently if I had to do it over again”).
Several posts by Celeste Cruz at Joyous Lessons offer excellent ideas for this sort of practice. In one post, Celeste describes tucking a book as a gift in each of her children's Easter baskets, selecting from a store of books she has stockpiled for just such occasions. (I only wish I had heard that suggestion thirty years ago!) In another post, Celeste shares about the celebrations their family holds at the end of each homeschooling term, where part of the presentation is a stack of book that relates to their studies from that term. These books aren’t presented to individual children, but rather given to all to share!
While both Easter and the end of the term present occasions where we might give small presents to children, those gifts aren’t traditionally books. We love that Celeste is using these special times to create her own traditions with her children and to share books with them in such a meaningful way. What better present could she give them?
If presenting books to your children for birthdays and Christmas is already a well-established and joyful ritual, by all means, continue. But we suggest that you consider establishing some new traditions, as well.
One great occasion for giving books to children is when they are about to have more time on their hands than they are accustomed to, say at the start of summer vacation or the beginning of a week by themselves at grandma's house. Either instance would be a great opportunity to offer sequels to some titles they have already enjoyed, or to hide a new book in their suitcase as a surprise.
And, as you head out on a family vacation, be ready with a bag of books related to the places you will be visiting, and audio books for the whole family to enjoy throughout the car ride. Additionally, you can introduce seasonal books to welcome each new season. (Especially rewarding will be those books that provide impetus for new activities out of doors, such as gathering nuts in the fall, or following tracks in winter.) You may even want to put special emphasis in your family on a holiday such as Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, or Thanksgiving by marking the occasion with the gift of a book that brings home the meaning of the holiday.
In families with lots of children, birthday celebrations happen regularly, and are enjoyed by all. If you have an only child, on the other hand, celebrations are much less frequent. You might make their half birthday the cause for celebration each year, or even give them a new book every month on the day of the month that they were born.
Besides birthdays, there may be other days in the calendar significant to your family, but no other. It might be the day a child was adopted, the anniversary of the passing of a loved one, or the occasion of some other momentous event. The gift of a thoughtfully chosen book could be a meaningful way to observe the day.
As you can see, there are boundless opportunities for book giving – marking a beginning, an end, or a special day in the life of your family – which can serve as way posts on your family's journey through the year.
We’d love to hear what occasions you commemorate in your family by giving books! Please let us know in the comments below.
This on-going series – Introducing Chapter Books – is intended to highlight books that are ideal for families who are just beginning to read chapter books aloud with their children. In our experience we have found that children are typically ready to undertake the challenge of listening to stories without illustrations on each page around age five, and all of the books mentioned in this series have been selected with this age and purpose in mind. A later series will discuss books to use when your child is transitioning to reading chapter books independently.
In introducing children to chapter books, we recommend reading aloud THE SANDMAN: His Farm Stories by William J. Hopkins with children who have already enjoyed Ox-Cart Man, the nationally-beloved picture book written by Donald Hall and illustrated by Caldecott Medal winner Barbara Cooney. Those children who love the simple story of the New England farmer who loads his ox-cart at harvest time with goods his family produced that year, takes them to sell at market, then walks home with coins jingling in his pocket, are primed to hear stories that offer more information about the process of growing products for market. His Farm Stories by William J. Hopkins provides 21 detailed stories of that sort, making it an excellent book to follow Ox-Cart Man and an ideal first chapter book for young readers to listen to.
In each chapter the author recreates a familiar world that children will recognize with excitement. Every story begins in the same way,
Once upon a time there was a farm-house, and it was painted white and had green blinds; and it stood not far from the road. In the fence was a wide gate to let the wagons through to the barn. And the wagons, going through, had made a track that led up past the kitchen door and past the shed and past the barn and past the orchard to the wheat-field.
setting the scene for the story and beckoning the young listener to follow along.
And every story ends the same way, “And that's all.”
In between we encounter the same characters in this three-generation household ─ Uncle John, little John, Aunt Deborah, Uncle Solomon, and Aunt Phyllis ─ going about their daily business on the farm, doing work that varies with the seasons. Each chapter, focusing on a single activity, is a complete story, independent from what came before and what follows after. Episodic stories such as these enable the young listener to enter fully into an individual chapter, with no need to keep a more involved plot line in mind.
On this 19th century farmstead, where virtually everything the family eats, they produce themselves, we witness the cooperative efforts of all members of the three-generation household. In many of the stories we hear about Uncle John and Uncle Solomon working in tandem to do strenuous outdoor labor, while in others, Aunt Deborah and Aunt Phyllis take turns churning butter and preparing meals. Even little John shares in the chores: driving cows to and from pasture, gathering eggs, sorting apples, raking hay, and tagging along and helping as he is able. The loading of the ox-cart for market requires the effort of all, including the faithful team of oxen who are indispensable assistants in the heavy work of the farm.
An immense amount of detail emerges in these simple stories of farm life. In the story about corn, for example, we hear how Uncle John used oxen to plow a furrow, and then harrow it, before teaming up with little John to poke holes in the ground and plant the seeds. When the corn is ripe, they strip the ears of corn off the stalks one day, then rub the kernels off the cob the next (saving the cobs to use in starting fires). Some of the corn they set aside for seed for the following spring, and some to take to market, taking the remaining sacks of corn to the mill to have it ground, eventually to be made into johnnycake in another story.
The author crafted these stories over a period of three years by telling them to his young and highly inquisitive son. Commenting on the editorial support his son provided, he says, “The detail, which may seem excessive to an older critic, was in every case ─ until I had learned to put it in at the start ─ the result of a searching cross-examination. If the bars were not put up again, the cows might get out; and if the oxen did not pass, on their return, all the familiar objects, how did they get back to the barn?”
Twenty-one stories of the everyday doings of Little John around the farm: fetching water, grinding corn, making cider, growing wheat, boiling maple syrup, and so on.
Different children will take away different ideas from His Farm Stories and its sequel More Farm Stories. Some children may marvel at the long sequence of steps involved in producing foods that today they can easily purchase at the grocery store. Others may be fascinated by the technology ─ the elaborate mechanical systems devised to saw logs, press cider, and grind grain. Still others may be more interested in how life was different without running water, electricity, or motor vehicles. Yet another group, captivated by the images of the countryside in Ox-Cart Man, may be called upon to imagine in their mind’s eye what this particular farm looked like at every season, where the fields and orchard were situated in relation to one another, how the tools, feed, and animals were arranged inside the barn, and so on.
Twenty-one more stories about Little John working and playing on the farm, engaged in such activities as tending animals, growing corn, and chopping wood, or fishing, skating, and sledding.
The author used them with his young son from ages 4 to 6, who, he reported, “has heard them repeated many times, and his interest has never flagged. As the farm stories slowly grew in number, they entirely displaced the other stories.” But if the stories don’t strike a chord with your child at 4, be sure to try again when they are a year older.
If His Farm Stories resonates with your children, you can further their interest by visiting living history museums. Our own family made a regular practice of doing just that. We visited the Frontier Culture Museum in the Shenandoah Valley of western Virginia several times, as well as Old Sturbridge Village in central Massachusetts, not far from where His Farm Stories takes place. Nothing beats the opportunity to see the threshing of wheat, the hackling of flax, and the baking of bread in a brick fireplace in person, especially with a knowledgeable docent at hand to field your child’s every question!
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