I'm Emily Reynolds.
Dear John Adams,
Though you are long gone from this country which you and Abigail so passionately helped to found over two centuries ago, I hope you know you sparked a “pursuit of happiness” in many hearts and minds over the decades.
An author from my current day, and your old tie, Mother England, by the name of Neil Gaiman once said about creativity, “The world always seems brighter when you've just made something that wasn't there before.” I wholeheartedly agree. It's what motivates people to quilt, sew, bake, garden, draw, paint, build, compute, write, act, sing, and follow any creative endeavor.
When life gets too grim with its realities of washing dishes, burning off warts, working long hours to pay the bills, fixing flat tires, and facing the commute each day ("hardships" that would, perhaps, make you scoff, Mr. Adams)--we of modern America can set our phones down, and carve out thirty minutes a day to create. And freedom, with hope, returns...
Whenever self-doubt about my own creative gifts settles in, I think on you, John, and something you once wrote regarding your own purpose in life:
“The science of government it is my duty to study, more than all other sciences; the arts of legislation and administration and negotiation ought to take the place of, indeed exclude, in a manner, all other arts. I must study politics and war, that our sons [and daughters] may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.”
Wowza! Right? (Did they have that expression back in 1776? Guessing not.) But if your words hold true, Mr. Adams, two hundred years later, this must mean that because I studied illustration and fine art in school, my gritty forebearers fulfilled their duties to establish a stable (okay...maybe semi-stable at present) God-fearing government!
The sacrifices of so many, after the example of yours, set a new nation in motion. And because so many of you initially studied legislation, administration, and negotiation, farmers (like my grandparents on both sides) settled the land and raised crops to build an infrastructure, that raised up children (like my parents) who studied mathematics, philosophy, geography, natural history, commerce and agriculture. So that students like me (two decades ago), could choose to study children's picture book-making, as a regular offering in the course curriculum.
Not gonna lie, I feel a little spoiled—reaping what you've sewn, Mr. President. And humbled. And grateful. So thank you, for sacrificing your down-time, so I could practice writing and drawing picture books for a future generation of children someday. In the meantime, I'll keep painting and trying to capture a cross-section of this generation of "creators."
And perhaps someday I'll write and illustrate something that will inspire my grandchildren to want to improve the world, by sacrificing their leisure time to study "legislation, administration, and negotiation,” (and yes...maybe even porcelain), to keep the cycle of freedom going.
P.S. Mr. Adams, if you are permitted up there, now and again, to look down and read the writings of this lucky generation, please know that regarding your words, “Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present generation to preserve your freedom! I hope you will make a good use of it,” you're right...I don't think we will ever know how much it cost for you founding fathers to preserve our freedom, but I do hope, in my own tiny way, to make the most of it with my own God-given duties. And just so you know, I'm jealous of the rolling wooden ladders in your Stone Library.
1) Pumpkin Cat, written by Anne Turner,
and illustrated by Amy June Bates
If you don't love Halloween hoopla, this little bastion of soft, comforting hygge can’t help but leave you liking the fall season itself. The characters in Pumpkin Cat remind a reader of what's really important in life—helping others, and establishing a warm, welcoming home for those we can serve.
2) The Runaway Pumpkin, by Kevin Lewis
and illustrated by S.D. Schindler
This iconic lap-slapping, rhythmic classic, must be a favorite for thousands. But this review is for "the one" of you who has not yet discovered it. From the thumpity-bumpity prose, to the funny and clever illustrations, this story is sheer childhood magic.
When Buck and Billy Baxter and their baby sister, Lil, find, and pluck, a gigantic pumpkin from its stem (at the top of a hillside above their grandparents' farm), all chaos breaks loose. The resolution is cozy and homey, and full of satisfied family goodness. Like hot pumpkin soup in a warm bowl, you could spoon it up and almost slurp it down. (Check out other fantastic books illustrated by S.D. Schindler: Covered Wagons, Bumpy Trails, Louder Lili, and The Story of Salt.)
3) A Job for Wittilda,
by Caralyn and Mark Buehner
If you have a nasaly, but likable, witch voice (cackle's included!), you can pull out all the stops with this one. Husband and wife team, Mark and Caralyn Buehner, sure did with their comical story and delightful illustrations. Wittilda's big-heart draws children in to make them root for her character to find and keep a job. After all, who else would support her household of forty-seven cats?! EEK! Retro in sense of time and place, this tale feels as if it's lit from within by a glowing lava-lamp.
P.S. As with all Buehner books, Wittilda is packed with hide-and-seek pictures to keep little people searching while listening, and adults chuckling at the engaging play between what going on in the illustrations vs. what's spelled out in the story.
P.P.S. Be sure to seek out characters from the Buehners’ other books while reading, such as "Marvin the Ape." And, ask your child to see if he/she can spot the author's self-portrait Easter egg in the crowd at Dingaling Pizza. (Hint: he’s ear to ear with the snowman.) Enjoy!
4) Room on the Broom, by Julia Donaldson,
and illustrated by Axel Scheffler
This dynamic duo from England and Germany must be the cleverest creative pair yet from over the pond. Have you seen all their collaborations? If not, Google their titles and have fun checking out one each visit from the library over the next several months.
*Spoiler alert!* This joyful story lets gentle readers see for themselves that, “what we reap, we sow.” The tender witch is so gentle and open to welcoming lost and lonely souls, that the ending of the story is truly a satisfying thrill for children.
After reading the story, you won’t be disappointed to find that the short film adaptation (on Amazon Prime this October) is every bit as loving, big-hearted, and funny as the book.
Here's a fun link that introduces more Julia Donaldson titles (and these aren't even her best--I'll review those over the months to come...): https://www.kidsstoppress.com/article-individual/6-books-of-julia-donaldson-every-child-must-read/15023?fbclid=IwAR0CSKppKa_xHnbnl7_SLmsuPdnk8mcCvhZBhtD813WJ1R1sKl4BREPH_Kw
5) A Witch Got on at Paddington Station,
by Dylan Sheldon and Wendy Smith
Another witch book? Yep. And another UK-created title--at that! This little treasure was a serendipitous find for me at a thrift shop last year. Bingo! I absolutely love it! I begged my kids to let me read it aloud three or four times the first week we brought it home. A sweet but slightly clueless protagonist shares a (Mary Poppins'-style) surprise, on accident, with grumpy and complacent passengers on the city bus. And they're all the better for it--reminding us of the magic that lies in wait around every corner of this life—even while using the public transportation system--if we root for the underdog and have patience with others' quirks.
*Alert, alert!*: This nugget is super fun to read-aloud in a cockney accent if you happen to be an Anglophile. "Cheerio, and spit spot, Jane and Michael. Let's tidy-up, then!"
6) Pat of Silverbush, by L.M. Montgomery
What could be more delicious than to read some L.M. Montgomery in autumn?
The sense of home in the Pat of Silverbush, and Mistress Pat books is so vivid, one almost feels guilty for such raptures in the simple goodness of life as we know it. What a blessing is each day!
Here's a favorite review from a dear friend on Goodreads (thanks, Jo! Hope you don't mind I'm plunking down your words here...):
"I loved this sequel to Pat of Silver Bush. I think I even probably like the two Pat books better than the Anne of Green Gables books - I just adore the picture of contented domesticity at Silver Bush they paint, with the marvelous descriptions of evenings sat together round the table, eating and telling stories. It just makes me feel all warm and cozy inside, and I love those sorts of books. In the second half of this book, the domesticity rather recedes, and it becomes the gentle romance I was hoping for at the end of Pat of Silver Bush - the ultimate resolution of the plot is exactly what I expected, but there were several points during the book when I couldn't quite see how it was all going to work out correctly. When it finally did, in the last four pages or so, I found that it was so joyful I had to go to bed for a bit of a weep. An utterly lovely book. I'm just sorry that it's a library book and I'll have to take it back rather than keeping it on the bookshelves."
If you ever find yourself in Prince Edward Island, stop at the Anne of Green Gables Museum--across from the Lake of Shining Waters--the actual Silver Bush Farm, of which L.M. said, "I love this old spot better than any place on earth."
As Anne Shirley once said, “I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” So bring on the cooler nights, pile on an extra blanket or two, fill up a mug with hot cocoa, and check out a copy of Pat of Silverbush!
Happy golden minutes of reading, my bookworm buddies!
So I do recall a time when the morning after trick-or-treating, I’d awaken and think to myself, “Only 364 more days of waiting again.” And now, the morning after Halloween I find myself thinking, “Whew! We made it through another one—but only 364 days of peace left again…until that wretched pagan holiday supplants all structure!”
I don’t mind the month leading up to Halloween. Really, it’s actually quite pleasant, what with fall-themed decorations, the making of carrot muffins and butternut squash soups, and ideas going back and forth between children about what costume each child would like to wear or put together. And I do love carving a good Jack-o’-lantern with my kids. I really do enjoy these parts of October.
But what I don’t enjoy, are the candy bombs that upset all routine and normalcy in our home each year. I shiver at the cranky meltdowns that ensue every autumn when we have to wrench a sticky Dum-dum out of a child’s fist at 7:30 p.m.—when that very child should be putting a tooth brush into her mouth--and on a school night, for several weeks of school nights in a row!
There just seems to be no end to the demon candy once it's gotten. The stuff appears out of the woodwork. "Oh, little brother, you've eaten all of your candy? No problem, take some handfuls of mine." (Nooooo! Wait! I mean, really, we're glad that you're sharing, child, but we were hoping at least one of you would be through with your candy reserves--by St. Patrick's Day.)
Somehow each year I think to myself, “This year, we’re going to get things under control for Halloween.” This year, we’ll stay home and bake donuts and make popcorn and watch It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! But this is a (pumpkin) pie crust fantasy—that only a day-dreaming mother (or so my husband keeps telling me) of great naiveté would have. I'm clueless, but hopeful.
But none of my children would prefer this fairy dream of mine. In fact, my kids let me know quite regularly of the horror stories regarding the occasional friend whose parent is wise enough to rule out trick-or-treating in their home. You sage, courageous parent—wherever you are—blessings on your head. I'd like to shake your hand. And take a page out of your book. But my kids would never forgive me. Which is worse...a cavity or two, or a lifetime of one's children telling one's grandchildren how deprived they were as kids? They'll already be sharing horror stories enough about their chore-doing and myriad other issues. I'll let them have the trick-or-treating.
But in the meantime, the actual holiday is coming, and I haven't settled on at any really enticing alternatives to offer my littlest two, who get effected by the sugar the most. They at least might be persuaded into staying cozily at home! Otherwise, they'll end up a cranky, grouchy, Jolly Rancher-crunching-all-day-long mess for the few weeks following the 31st. Until my husband and I realize we've dealt with enough children refusing to do chores because of sugar crashes, and we begin confiscating candy at an exponential rate--pushing the loot deep down into the recesses of the closest garbage can.
Though it's not the most graceful parenting strategy--using candy as leverage for kids who feel sudden entitlement from the newly-gained control over eating hardcore sugar at will--it has worked, I'm embarrassed to say that I have and still do threaten things like, "Not a single piece of candy until you've practiced that piano." I know, I know--psychologists always say, "Don't use food or sugar as rewards!" But did those same psychologists deal with several children needing to fold laundry, clean toilets, load the dishwasher, and play outside, and feed chickens? On top of doing any homework? I don't think so. Those PhDs sat in clinical offices all day, while their maids scrubbed their floors back at the ranch.
When you are the maid, you need help! If a body makes a mess, and many little bodies certainly do, they have to learn to clean up after themselves. A trick-or-treating bag full of Milk Duds and Kit Kats make kids run circle around the house for ten minutes, then collapse on the couch, grumpy and only wanting one thing--more candy! (They're not wanting to pick up the trail of shoes, jump ropes and stuffed animals they'd just strewn in their wake. Oh, the sugar lows!
Don’t get me wrong, though, my family and I eat our fair share of slightly-sweetened cereals (the word “slightly” makes a parent feel not so guilty, right?), ice cream, and desserts after dinner usually twice a week—plus birthdays and holidays, or when having guests over. But kids with pillowcases full of candy at their disposal for free-reign consumption at any given time of the day? The thought makes me shudder. I'm feeling my eye start to twitch.
As a new mom, I loved Halloween! I bought Halloween candy the first week of October. And then bought more the week before the 31st, because I'd consumed half of it already. I dressed up my kids with glee and took them all over the neighborhood. I have to admit, trick-or-treating really gave us an excuse to connect with neighbors and see them in their homes, and feel...well, neighborly. But as an old, worn-out mom, I sneakily try to get away without buying any candy--until one of the kids reminds me on Halloween Day. So a bag of Smarties can fit the bill now, 'cause I know I won't touch them.
In fact, scooping up handfuls of Double Bubble penny candy and tossing them into the garbage after Halloween gives my endorphins a pleasurable zing! Even throwing full-size candy bars (highest on the scale of candy value) into the trash--with impunity--fires thrilling sensations of peace and freedom in my soul. Makes me want to skip around outside, humming in the cool autumn air.
What’s more, how did this strangely morbid, gratuitously-dark pagan holiday (which celebrates motion sensors setting off gyrating skeletons on people’s doorsteps to startle innocent mail carriers) survive through the ages? It’s the candy, I tell you, the sugar addiction. Free refined glucose for the begging! But as we all know, nothing is free. There’s always a price. It’s just usually the parents who have to pay it, in this case--over the next few weeks of November!
It’s great to dress up and eat treats with friends. I love decorating with happy pumpkins and cute black cat decor. It’s just I don’t like the idea of buying back candy from one’s children, or watching a society spend $2.6 billion on candy a year to see it pile up in the landfill, or rot our children’s teeth for weeks on end as they plow through their reserves. (All when we work so hard to help and remind them to brush their teeth carefully every other day of the year!) We are so funny as a society, aren't we?
And really, when millions of people are suffering from hunger and disease all over the world, maybe we should be giving our kids Unicef boxes again instead. Or at least passing out leaves of kale at the door. :)
In the end…I did love trick-or-treating myself, as a kid. I looked forward to it all year long. But there was never a more cleverly-enticing alternative offered. (Unsanitarily bobbing for apples? Hey, siblings share germs anyway, right?) Any ideas? Post them below…Please! I'd love to hear your better suggestions...
Here’s mine: I’m going to ask my youngest two if they’ll have a mini read-a-thon with me after we roll out pumpkin cardamom donuts together on the 31st. (And watch other people go trick-or-treating in It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.) As for my other older kids…they’ll probably still go trick-or-treating with friends. Which is great! I don't want to squelch all their youthful enjoyment. Other things like pop-quizzes and hours of homework do that well enough. But perhaps I can convince them to just hit ten houses each, then watch Charlie Brown afterward. Ha ha! Nice try, stodgy Mom! Probably not happening! But a motherly, vegetable-loving heart can try…
In any case, come back to my blog this Friday for six sweeter (rather than scarier) holiday gems—highlighting not so much this-weird-Halloween-culture-we’ve-constructed-as-a-society, but perhaps more of the ordinary kindnesses that make life sweet (with a Halloween twist). See you around then, on Friday October 4th with a great picture book list!
And, I suppose, I'll have to say it, Happy Halloween!