Children’s literature: Mom and Daughter Relive Costa Rica via Scrapbook

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“Mom, we have to find a picture for Daddy to paint– somewhere cool that I’ve been to!” Sophia exclaimed, the next morning.

Sophia’s little brother was still sleeping, so mom and daughter sat on the couch to look at the family scrapbooks.

Sophia goes through her baby pictures. “Am I still that cute, Mama?” she asks. “You are even more beautiful now.” her mama says.

Sophia reads a caption on the page: “I never tried to squeeze my baby’s feet into shoes before– her feet get stronger without them. But now that she’s walking outdoors, I emptied the bag of hand- me- down baby shoes that Karla gave us, and found two pairs that fit her. Here’s Sophia in her first shoes!

“Wait, Mama!” Sophia said. Karla gave us used baby shoes?”

“Yes, what’s wrong with that?” asked Mama.

“Karla the airline stewardess?! I got my shoes from someone who had traveled all over the world? No wonder I’ve been to so many places already– I’m wearing someone else’s shoes! I bet her daughter traveled with her in these shoes, and now I am traveling! See Mama, shoes do take you places!”

Mama just smiled. “Let’s look at your pictures in Costa Rica. You were only 1 and 1/2 years old then. Your first trip overseas.”

Turning the page, Sophia saw that Mama had embellished it with detailed journal entries. Now that she was old enough to read, Sophia found herself delighted at what she was learning!

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Here’s Sophia at 4:00 a.m. ready and waiting to go to Chicago O’Hare airport. minus 13 degrees outside– January in Chicago! Hard to believe Central America is only four hours away by plane!  It’s winter here, but Costa Rica will still be having their summer. Wonder how hot it will be and how many bugs? Part of our time we’ll be up in the mountains, so we’ll keep some sweaters and rain jackets, but leave most of this winter clothing behind once we get to the airport. Hard to believe Central America is only four hours away by plane! Costa Rica, here we come!

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When we first arrived, the sky was clear but the wind was blustery. We were told that the wind gusts were unusual and had to to with Mount Turrialba volcano having erupted on January 5, 2010– one week earlier. Vocanoes can send ash far up into the stratosphere and this can continue affecting weather for quite a while. High winds and even rain and thunder in the sky can result from a volcanic eruption. No one was hurt in the volcano that year, but everyone felt the high winds were very unusual for such a mild climate.

Our trip started and ended with San Jose, the capital city of Costa Rica. San Jose is packed with cars. Only ten years ago, people mostly took buses or rode bicycles. But then people started being able to afford cars. There are so many cars that the city of San Jose made a law that people can only drive their car one day a week, and on the weekend. Some people may drive on Mondays, other people on Tuesdays, etc! So people still have to take buses or share their car with someone else. It did take us incredibly long to get to our hotel!

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In Costa Rica, coffee beans grow. They have the best tasting coffee in the world! And guess what? Mommy never cared for coffee before– until she had to start chasing little Sophia around! Yep, we had to put you on a little harness sometimes!

You ran all over in those little sandals. We put them on you in San Jose and you wore them the entire trip, until we returned to San Jose, and you lost one of them at a concert and cried for two days. We never found the missing sandal. It seems that it wanted to stay in Costa Rica. Funny to think of it, we got those sandals and summer clothes from a friend who had taken her kids to Puerto Rico. Her little girl is only a little older than you and they are part Peurto Rican– like you and Daddy. I think that sandal wanted to stay near the Carribean. I can’t blame it– sandals don’t like Chicago winters!

Children’s Literature: an aside for the reader:

A brief note to blog followers: I recently started training for a new position and am traveling all over for training. My family and I have been adjusting to the new routines, and additionally, we lost a very dear family friend to cancer last week. I intend to keep going with my blog plan and children’s story, but I apologize for the inconsistency these last couple weeks!

I need to backtrack in my story a little bit. I don’t think I need to remind anyone that its a rough draft– but if you’re new to this blog  you may want to take note: the story will come together and make sense in the end! Its about a little girl that wants to write her travel memoirs, and turn them into a story so she can win a writing contest and use the prize money to go to Italy. Her parents teach her to be grateful for all the places she has been already and to use those places as inspiration. Each post is a vignette for the book, and being a picture book it will have to be simplified into shorter, less descriptive stories put together as a series. Each book in the series will end with the girl having learned not only new facts about the places she’s been, but having a fuller understanding of the creative process of making a story, and lastly, each book will end with her family being inspired by her and drawing closer together.

Having said that, I now go back to a couple posts ago when I mentioned mother and daughter looking at the family scrapbook together. Mother has written vignettes, or memoirs about the places underneath the photos. The first place they look at is Costa Rica– having been the girl’s first trip outside the U.S. As a writer, I wrestled with moving forward with the plot, versus spending time on detail. I now see that this will work itself out if I end the first book with the girl reading her mother’s descriptions in the scrapbook, comprehending the definition of “Memoirs” and desiring to write her own memoirs. In this way, the first book encompasses the desire to go to Italy, introduces the challenge into the plot, requires a change in the main character’s perspective, brings her closer to her mom through the scrapbook, gives her a clue about the role her shoes played in this adventure, and deepens her mental image through both facts and feelings of a place she has been: Costa Rica.

Children’s Literature: Chapter 6: Memories

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As they sat down at the outdoor cafe to eat lunch, Sophia pulled out a notebook and began writing. “Mamma,” she said, “I’m writing down things I remember. My scrapbooks helped, and even my dreams last night helped me remember places I’ve been. It was so fun looking at the scrapbooks with you yesterday!”

“I remember eating outdoors at a cafe like this when we lived out West. Daddy did a painting of me outside the little ice cream shop there. And we went to a children’s store nearby where we got little purple and yellow boots for me. You even wrote something in the scrapbook about those shoes being from France. And I remember that little French girl wearing a beret. She had to have been the owner of my old shoes– she must have brought them to the consignment store. After all, they were French shoes. I remember playing with her and looking at musical instruments at one of the stores. And eating ice cream outside with her. Her mom was looking at Daddy’s art work.”

“Hmm… all those memories are from when Daddy worked in Pullman, Washington. I think you remember more than I do,” Mamma said. “Or you are just imagining it. But I was three when my parents took me to France on a business trip, and I remember a lot too.” Mamma said

“You’ll have to tell me all about it,” Sophia said. “I want to write a story about the little French girl, so I need to know more about France!”

“What about Italy?” Mamma asked?

“It’s just like you said, Mamma. I need to start with something familiar. You were in France, and I got to meet a girl from France. There’s a story here and I am going to write it!”

Children’s Literature, Chapter 5: The Little French Shoes

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The last chapter ended with a description of the scrapbook with mother and daughter looking at it together. That will take more work as it is a visual post with captions. It will require a painting, and fewer words. Here I am jumping to the next “chapter” where Sophia remembers the little French shoes she owned when the family lived out West. She begins composing a story about a little French girl she met, or imagines meeting….

Mamma, Sophia and her little brother glided over the cobbles stones on the Woodstock Square. “Can we get some fresh blueberries from the Farmer’s Market?” Sophia asked. “After your karate lesson,” Mamma said.

A woman walked speedily past them towards an office building. Her high heels made a “clip clop” noise as she passed. “Are those the kind of shoes you want, Sophia?” Mamma teased, “fancy shoes that go clip clop like a horse? Ride a fine horse to Banburry Cross, Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes, she shall have music wherever she goes..” Mamma sang the nursery rhyme and both children laughed.

“When I was in England,” said Mamma, ” I bought a pair of black shoes that were low cut with sturdy wide heels. They lasted a long time. The woman I bought them from said she had a pair. ‘I can even walk over cobblestones in them and not feel a thing!” Mamma did her best British accent to imitate the woman at the shoe store in England.

“Didn’t I have little boots that were sturdy and were different colors? Miss Kristine said they were made in France– she knew because she was a nanny there, remember? And we got them at a little town like this, where Daddy was showing his paintings.”

“My goodness,” exclaimed Mamma. “You remember that, and you were only 2 1/2? Those boots you wore when we went to Portland and you were feeding the ducks? Yes, we got them in Pullman, Washington, where Daddy used to work. There were some cute shops there, and we got you the boots at a children’s consignment store. Daddy displayed some paintings there at another store when Pullman had their art walk. And what did you do during the art walk, but try on more shoes while I was hanging paintings.”
“Yes,” said Sophia, “you have a picture of me trying on shoes in the scrapbook. And I’m pretty sure I met the little French girl at the art walk.”

“Really,” said Mamma, “I don’t remember that part.”

“It was fun looking at scrapbooks with you yesterday, Mamma! It helped me remember a lot!”

Children’s Literature, Picture Book Chapter 3: Scrapbook of Travel Adventures

Sophia and her Momma spent the next morning looking at their scrapbooks while Sophia’s little brother is slept.

“So this was my baby shower!” Sophia exclaimed. I thought you had baby showers before the baby came out?”

“All through my pregnancy, we were trying to sell our home,” said Momma. “It was very important, and very stressful on me. So we waited till you came into the world. That way all our friends and family would get to meet you!”

“How old was I then?” Sophia asked.

“You were only a month old in those pictures,” Momma said.

“What was my favorite present?” Sophia asked.”Did I get any shoes?”

“Well, yes. As a matter of fact, our friend gave you the little pair of white bunny slippers.”

“I remember those,” Sophia said. “I wore them in Idaho.”

“Yes,” Momma said. “You cried every time you lost the ‘girl bunny’ or the ‘boy bunny! I’m not sure how you told them apart,” Momma smiled, “but when you asked where they were, I always told you ‘they went down the rabbit hole’ and then you’d find them under your sheets. But one time, you dropped the ‘girl bunny’ outside in the snow after preschool, and cried for three days till we found it! It was good that the snow in Idaho doesn’t stay all winter like it does here in Chicago!”

Sophia laughed. “I sure loved those bunny slippers. We still have them, right?”

(Painting of Momma and Sophia sitting together holding the scrapbook. Next to them are the tattered pair of bunny slippers.)

Did I get any other shoes?” asked Sophia.

Momma said, ” you did get a bag of shoes from Karla, the airline stewardess. They were her daughter’s old shoes.”

“Really,” Sophia said excitedly. “That means that those shoes came from someone who traveled! Karla traveled to different countries, right?”

“Yes,” Momma said, “She worked for an international company and went all over the world.”

“Wow!” exclaimed Sophia. “Are there any pictures of me in those shoes?”

“Those were the first shoes you wore outside. Here’s a picture of you in them at grandma and grandpa’s house.”

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“That must have been fun. But what about travel pictures, Mom?”

“Well, here is your first big trip. We went to Costa Rica with our friends.

(Art: next two pages show scrapbook up close with pictures of Costa Rica and captions of what was happening, ending with a little notation about how Sophia lost her sandal there at a church and cried.)

Birthday Book Bash: Travel and Camping Theme

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Our birthday book bash was great fun! Thanks to all those who came out to celebrate our son’s birthday! Our little guy was so excited about his party, it took a while for him to fall asleep afterwards! He kept hugging me and thanking me for the great party! Although shy at first, he warmed up to all his friends and was thrilled about all the beautiful books! I will give some tips about camping with kids in this blog series. But first, I thought I would share a few birthday party ideas we tried.

How to Incorporate Books Into Your Child’s Party:

1. Put books on your wishlist to show you are seriously fun!

2. Scope out your spot. We picked a great outdoor location ahead of time. A beautiful park with big shade trees over us, a playground nearby, bathrooms nearby. The park wanted to charge us $230 to rent a picnic shelter (which is usually full of flies and bugs.) No thanks! Natural shade from the oak  trees was exactly what we needed! Besides, no one can gather around to hear good books at a shelter with rows of tables.

3. Bring picnic blankets, a tarp, and ask adults to bring chairs. In case it rains before you arrive, you don’t really want to sit on wet ground. We thought it best to bring a tarp and put the picnic blankets on top. (We also planned a back up indoor location.)

4. We read books that had to do with camping, outdoors, and adventure. The What If Monster story from Usborne, and the Shine a Light Books by Usborne– which have to do with learning about nature- we read inside our tent.

5. For older kids, you could do a variation on the learning theme, using books about wilderness survival and outdoor skills; even having one of the dads– or moms– demonstrate some outdoor skills.

6. We ate a s’more cake! Marshmallows were toasted on a propane camp stove. Read on for more information!

Which Usborne Books to Choose:

So at our party we read some great Usborne books! In the What If Monster story they pass around a little green What If monster. The book goes through all the bad scenarios that could happen. Each time the kids hear “what if” they pass the monster to the next person. Then the child in the story begins to change his thinking to good thoughts– What if I am successful? What if I meet my very best friend? The child who ends up with the monster at the end of the story wins a prize! What If’s can be a good thing– it just depends on your thinking! What a great concept for a real camping trip! Animally was another cute story we read. My son loved the pirate story

Why Make a S’more Cake?

Other than being just plain fun, it’s easy, cheap, and it all gets eaten! Think about it– you buy a really beautiful cake from Jewel or somewhere. It’s good for two minutes and then you have little paper plates with gobs of icing stuck to cake left over everywhere and you throw half the cake away. Adults don’t want to eat it for fear of gaining weight. Most kids are smart enough to know the icing is bad for them– they leave it behind. Our family can’t tolerate sugar very well and the kids are gluten intolerant. But we decided to have a little fun with s’mores. I arranged the Chocolate (which of course was left on ice until the right time), graham crackers, gluten-free snicker doodles, and marshmallows on a large tray in sections. The compartment in the middle of the tray had a bunch of marshmallows, and we stuck the four candles in the top marshmallows! It created a lot of excitement!

Safety tip:

A campfire was out of the question as this was in a public park. A big BBQ grill wouldn’t be worth the effort, and too hard for kids to reach. So we just brought a little propane camp stove and placed it on the picnic table. We formed three lines of kids and had adults to supervise while they toasted marshmallows. We had a hibachi charcoal grill too, but it took too long. The propane stove was easy to set up, and cooked the marshmallows quickly!

Flash Light Books:

After the s’more cake, kids came back to read the Shine a Light Books from Usborne. I only wish I had gone to the effort to set up a bigger tent. But the books work even in sunlight, just hold the flashlight close! Camping and good books just go together!

Have Books, Will Travel!

150312_002When I was young, I couldn’t travel anywhere without books! My parents used to tease me when we left for a trip– “are you really going to read all those books?” Well, now my husband does the same thing since I bring books for my two children, ages 7 and 4, as well as for myself. And I usually like to have a wide selection: some fiction, some history, some practical reading, such as health, or survival skills. I never know what might come in handy or what I might feel like reading.

Transporting a library can be challenging, though. Fortunately, my husband Jim has tapped into some great sites for free audio downloads. www.librivox.org is  one of our favorites. They have many classics, read by volunteers, all free, because they are in the public domain. On our recent trips, we have enjoyed listening to Paula the Waldensian, Master NoBook, the original Pinochio, The Outdoor Girls of Deep Dale, by Laura Lee Hope (author of the Bobsey Twins.) We enjoyed them as much as the children. If you’re not sure if your little ones are really listening, don’t worry. They do pick up on things more than we know. Are they learning to read? Sure they are! The logic and love of language comes from hearing things spoken, as well as reading them with your eyes. If you prefer, you can find the classics at the library, with pictures and then download the free audio so that they can be following along. This method is great for little ones that are just starting to read!

I love to bring Geography Songs from Sonlight along on almost any trip. We can listen to the song about the United States and look at the map. I have some additional map coloring/activity books to add to this exercise. Because so many books from Sonlight cover geography and different peoples all over the world, I can also tie these into the terrain we are visiting. My children were learning a little bit about the Middle East from the book Window on the World, when we took our trip to Arizona in the February/ March (the perfect time to go, as far as I’m concerned!) Since we visited the Sonora Desert, I was able to talk about other desert climates in the world and how they were similar or different. (The Sonora Desert actually gets a good deal of rainfall, it just happens to evaporate quickly because there are no roots or soil to hold it. This results in different and more plentiful vegetation than other types of desert.)

When we left for the trip, I brought some books we were finishing up. Naturally, it’s good to teach the children to finish what they start. One of them was Box Car Children, a book we have from Sonlight. My six year old and I were taking turns reading parts of it. In this beautiful story, the orphaned children live for a few months in a stationary, abandoned boxcar. We discussed the different parts of the country and what part of the country this story was likely to have taken place. As we had driven South from Illinois to Tennessee, across Arkansas and Texas, through New Mexico and over to Azrizona, then North to the Grand Canyon, then to Denver, and finally back to Illinois, we were able to observe first hand the contrasts in climate and wildlife, in a way that you cannot do during mid- summer, when life is vibrant (and hot) everywhere.

Additionally, we brought books that my husband and I had from previous trips West– some about desert life and some about the Grand Canyon. Never worry about bringing too many books! Encourage learning and it will happen readily! And you can always follow up at home, by going to the library and checking out books that have to do with where you’ve just been…

Sonlight Blog Party

Children’s Literature: Picture Book– Chapter 2 (To Travel to the Places Our Ancestors Came From)

When Sophia thought of her birthday then, it  still seemed far away– in summer. She pictured Giovina taking off the boots and the rain shrinking them down to her size. She pictured Giovina having fun in Italy with Jack, and buying new boots, so she could give Sophia the old pair. She tried to picture herself as a more grown up girl, going to Italy for her birthday.

As Sophia glanced out the window, she could see green grass. It was nearing the end of April, but still chilly out. Jack and Giovina had already returned from Italy, Sophia was sure of it. “When will we see Jack and Giovina?” Sophia asked. “I miss them and I want to see their pictures. Will they be back before my birthday comes?”

“They should be back soon.” said Momma. “And you may invite them. So you want to start planning your birthday?”

“Boots!” answered Sophia.

“So you want boots like Giovina’s?” Momma asked. “I don’t remember her wearing fancy boots.”

“Oh yes, she does. They wear everything fancy in Italy. She told me that. Let me draw you a picture,” Sophia said, determined.

Momma smiled, “You’re a little artist, just like Daddy!” she said.

Daddy looked at the picture. “Those look fancy, Sophia. You know we don’t have money for new things, especially if they are meant just to look fancy.” Daddy chuckled, “I wear post office boots, Momma wears hiking boots, but our little Sophia wants boots all the way from Italy!”

“Boots are not just to look fancy,” she said, repeating her idea: “Shoes take you places.”

“Sophia, shoes don’t take you places. Giovina does wear nice clothes, but she’s probably had them a long time and kept them nice. She can go to Italy because she saves money to go, plus she has family there to stay with– and besides she and Jack are only two people traveling together, not a family of four like us.”

“Yes, but she invited us to go next time, and we are from Italy, and we should go!” Sophia exclaimed eagerly.

“We’re not from Italy sweetie…” Daddy started to say.

“I know, not us—our ancestors are from Italy, that is, Grandma Barb’s dad, right? And his last name was Scalzitti, which means shoe-maker. And Grandma Barb’s mom was German, and your dad was from Puerto Rico, and mom’s family was from England and Germany. I know all that. But I want to go to all the places that our families are from. Why can’t we go?”

“I’ve always wanted to go to Italy, too” Daddy said. “But it will take time to save up money.”

“I know– Daddy, if you start painting more and selling your paintings, maybe then we can go to Italy!” Sophia said.

“Well,” Daddy said, “I have to keep my day job. But why don’t I do a painting for you, for your birthday. Find me a picture of someplace you have been– like our trip to Costa Rica, for instance. I’ll do a painting of you in a place you’ve already been.”

“O.K.” Sophia said. “As long as I can paint with you, Daddy!”

“That’s a great idea,” Momma said. “That will help you to be thankful for the places you have been. We have traveled a lot you know. Let’s look in our scrapbook tomorrow, and you can find a good picture for Daddy to paint from.”