Hi all! Make sure you check out my awesome neighbor Adriane‘s contribution to the new show, The Storytellers, at the Glickman library. If you’re not in Portland (and even if you are), explore the blog for her project, Plunder the Influence. She asked all kinds of people in her life to submit photos of their books and describe something about them: either how they live with them, or specific important books, or even books they have loaned and wished they hadn’t. I’m totally mesmerized by all the book photos. So many different ways that books are in our homes! And make sure you check out the books of yours truly.
Ancient Egypt Drawing Book by Ralph Masiello
Henry is all about Egypt these days, and I’m all about getting Henry to focus more and put more detail into his drawings, so this book happily satisfies both of us. There are all the classic Egypt icons — pyramids, eye of Horus, Egyptian gods — as well as some more obscure things (who needs just any old Sphinx when you can have a Hieracosphinx, an Androsphinx, and a Kriosphinx?). Each drawing takes you step-by-step through how to do it (like Ed Emberley’s Make a World) and throws in a few little facts, as well as artistic hints. Henry has drawn some pretty impressive stuff, I have to say.
Once again, the Let’s Explore Blog came through with a great activity! Just in time for Saint Patrick’s Day, Amy offers up a free downloadable book called “The Leprechaun’s Walk.” You print it out, and then your kids fill out where the leprechaun walks to (“over the ________________, around the ______________” etc.) and draw accompanying pictures. Then they color in and cut out a little leprechaun puppet, so they can make him walk through the story. Let’s Explore suggests attaching the puppet to a stick or straw, but we didn’t really have anything readily available, and the boys seemed happy enough just moving the leprechaun through on their own.
They loved this activity. You can see here how intently they’re working on their books (we also just moved the side-of-the-road desks into the library, and they’ve been having a good time having a more centrally-located working space). Eli had me write in the words for him, and Henry did it all himself. I dig how such an open-ended activity inspires creativity — Eli’s leprechaun walked through a farm and milked some cows, and Henry’s leprechaun walked through a jungle. I also realized that Henry really needs an assignment of some sort to get him to focus and do more detailed drawings. He spent a long time on this book, and kept adding more animals and more details. Eli loved that he could memorize the words, so he could “read” it to Dave when he came home. Three minutes of work on my part = an hour of happy quiet kid activity!
Inspired by an ancient kid craft book from my own childhood, Henry begged me for days to take photos so he could make them into photo drawings. I finally had a minute to take a bunch of photos and print them out, and it was totally worth it. While he didn’t make anything amazing, he spent hours working on cutting out the photos and inserting himself and his siblings into such wacky scenarios as crawling into an apple, pouring out of a jug of maple syrup, and riding around on blood cells.
Eli watched the whole thing like it was a performance art piece being put on for his own personal benefit, and they both thought the whole thing was hilarious. Let me repeat: this occupied them for hours. Totally worth the 15 minutes it took me to print out some photos. And it’s such a good rainy day activity, that Henry even drew them all as raindrops (inspired by the Magic School Bus, I’m sure).
And yet again the Let’s Explore blog provided us with a fantabulous activity: creating zoo maps. You print out some zoo maps, and have your children use them as inspiration to create their very own zoo. I printed out the zoo maps she recommended, explained the basic concept to the boys, and let them go. Eli spent the whole time with the Oregon Zoo map, drawing lines all along the pathways to show where he “and his friends” were going. Henry, though, got really into the whole thing, and spent days drawing his map (he has been kind of dashing off a lot of quickity-quick sketch art lately, so it was awfully nice to see him focusing so much on one piece). He decided his zoo sections would be shaped like the world map, and animals would live in the appropriate sections. I highly recommend this activity! We loved it!
So this is the kind of parent I’ve become: I notice that the giant box of diapers has come from Diapers.com, and I carefully herd the children upstairs to bed so that they don’t see it. Then I fall asleep while putting Zuzu to bed, but manage to drag myself up so that I can open the giant box, put all the diapers away, and put the giant box into the recycling. Because heaven forbid they should play with a box.
Listen, they play with the box, and they have a great time. But they become attached to it, and it sits right in the middle of our not-very-big living room. And at some point someone starts stabbing at it with scissors to make “windows” and then there are little bits of cardboard everywhere. Also they like to use the diaper packages as giant building blocks, and at some point the packages get ripped open and there are diapers everywhere. So I am always very motivated to get that diaper box squared away before anyone knows it existed. I am the Diaper Box Fairy.
I totally thought I’d be the kind of parent who would say, “Oh, kids! A giant box! What fun! Here are some markers! Would you like some cotton balls and glue?” Instead I’m hiding markers and boxes and getting mad because they don’t bus their plates.
Thursday the summer jar told us to go to the Portland Museum of Art. I’d put it in the jar because I haven’t been in a few years, and I wanted the kids to see all that art right there in our own town, I thought it might be inspiring, and I thought it might be interesting to compare it to the galleries we went to. Instead I spent the whole time feeling like they wanted us to leave.
First they told me that I couldn’t carry Zuzu in my back in the Ergo. I carry Zuzu on my back everywhere and for a moment I couldn’t even get my mind around how I would bring her around the museum if she wasn’t in the Ergo. When I asked why, the woman at the ticket stand (there must be a more official name for that, but anyway) said that it was because I might not be aware of what was on my back. I get what she meant, I think, that if it were really crowded maybe I’d back into a painting? They did at least provide (flimsy) umbrella strollers, so I strapped Zuzu into one of those to wheel her around. But I will say that it felt all wrong to have her all the way down there in the stroller when I’m so used to her being up on my back.
We went into the first exhibit, a collection of paintings from New England artists’ colonies. Eli was pushing Zuzu in the stroller. Within thirty seconds a docent came over and snidely said, “We ask that one adult hand be on the stroller.” Again, I get it. They don’t want a crazed 3-year-old driving the stroller into a sculpture or something. But I was annoyed because I didn’t want the stroller in the first place, and also because it was a crappy stroller that was like a grocery cart with a bad wheel, and also because the docent said it in a voice that said, “I pity you with your horrid, horrid offspring.”
We decided to go upstairs. I’ve never used the elevator in the museum before. There is absolutely no signage telling you where the elevator is (hidden in a hallway off to the side of the entrance). I wouldn’t have to use the stupid secret elevator if it weren’t for the stroller. Anyway, we finally find the elevator after walking all over the first floor, get in, and there’s a sign that says what’s on each floor, which also says, “Interactive Exhibit for Families!” and tells us where that is. We decide to do that, and make the trek through the museum to the adjacent McLellan Sweat House, which requires us to go through small rooms with a jumbled collection of fragile antiquities and an antique couch that Eli said, “Oh look!” about and was walking toward when a guard hissed, “DON’T TOUCH!” at him, so he turned around. Then we went down a small set of stairs and through a giant heavy door (stupid stroller stupid stroller) to get to an empty room that had a sign on the wall that said, “Interactive Exhibit for Families! In Progress!” Sigh.
Up to the third floor we went (in the secret elevator), where the world’s nicest museum worker let Henry wheel Zuzu in careful circles around a bench while he lovingly teased Eli about what he thought might be behind a door in a mural that was taken from the old Westbrook post office. Love that guy. Totally engaged the kids in the art and didn’t yell at Henry about the fact that he was pushing the stroller without an adult hand on it.
Then we got all excited in the next room, which had lots of fun modern art (Warhol! Claes Oldenburg! Roy Lichtenstein!). We peeked up at the Calder mobile, and in the middle of the room was a salvaged-wood sculpture called Gem by Robert Indiana. “Look!” I said to the boys, gesturing at it. “Where do you think those wheels came from?” and as we were debating wagon vs. wheelbarrow, a docent came over and said, “We have an 18-inch rule, and you’re getting a little close with your pointing there.” Translation: “Don’t be exuberant about the art.” Subtranslation: “Please get your rugrats and leave.” And so we did. The boys could tell that they weren’t wanted. They looked hurt. Maybe I did too.
Look, I get it. I know that the museum is filled with priceless works of art. I know that some children are awful and destructive. I get that you need rules to make sure that the art is protected. That’s fine. And I certainly don’t think that the world needs to cater to my children. I don’t think that they should have handed me a “Portland Museum of Art Scavenger Hunt” pamphlet when I walked in (although, hey, that might have been nice). The whole reason we were there was because it wasn’t the Children’s Museum, and I want my kids to understand that the world is not built for them, and that there are also maybe more interesting things in museums than a display where they can milk a pretend cow.
My issue was really with the extreme condescension. People, this is Portland, Maine. It’s a place where we’re nice to each other. It’s a place of genuine smiles. It’s a place where you work at the museum because you love art, and if you see a mom with some engaged kids on an otherwise dead afternoon, you maybe would mention something interesting about the art, rather than throw your mighty docent muscle around.
So we left. We walked down Congress Street and past Whitney Art Works, with its huge window and giant art, and the boys stood there staring and said, “What’s THAT?” and I said, “Let’s go inside” so we did, Zuzu on my back dammit, and the woman in there smiled a huge enthusiastic smile and said, “Hi!” and let us walk around and look at things and we didn’t even have to pay.
Then we got bread and cookies at Big Sky and the boys ate their cookies at Lady Liberty in Monument Square and watched some jugglers and we felt happy about Portland again.
Until we got back to the car and there was a ticket on the windshield.
I’m sure you’re all desperate to know what’s been happening with our summer jar since we started it a little over a week ago. I will say that it’s odd how anxious I get each morning when we pull that day’s activity. But so far all has been great.
Day 1 we picked “Visit an art gallery.” Zuzu had her one-year doctor’s appointment, so we went gallery hopping afterwards. I have to say that I’ve never done this before, and we had a great time, and it did everything it was supposed to: on the drive home, I asked, “What did you learn about galleries?” and Henry said, “I learned that artists can have their own gallery and sell their own art, and that there are so many different kinds of art that people can make. Really cool art!” We went to four different galleries. When we walked into the first one, the Holly Ready Gallery (I love her paintings), Henry said, “This is really SMALL” which opened up the whole discussion on what a gallery is in the first place. The boys also loved Mainely Labs. Predictably. (How often do you get to meet not only the artist, but also the dog who’s in all the paintings?)
Day 2 the jar told us to try a new ice cream place, and we trekked over to Willard Scoops, which is not only a new ice cream place, but a new one in our very own town. I got Salt Caramel, Henry got Candy Shop (which had M&Ms in it) and Eli, a boy after my own heart, got Dark Chocolate (note that they had both Chocolate and Dark Chocolate flavors, and he picked the Dark Chocolate). Zuzu tried some of all of ours.
Day 3 was to hike Bradbury Mountain. This was the first of many outdoorsy summer jar things. I tried to overload the jar with outside exercise, since often the kids’ first inclination is to sit inside reading. And pretty much every time we’ve tried to get them to go on a hike on the weekends, they whine and demand to be carried. I was also nervous since it had been raining for a week without stopping. But trust the Wisdom of the Jar, I say, because it wasn’t raining, and the kids were randomly all happy about a hike, and when we got there they ran ahead of me and jumped up and down with excitement. So much so that I decided to skip our usual shortcut to the summit and took them on the longer route. It was an hour up (and, as other Bradbury Mountain hikers know, five minutes down), and it wasn’t until ten feet from the top that Eli said something about the hike being too long. Plus, Henry found a toad, and we all got to hold him (poor thing). I also took my two new favorite photos of the boys. I took the first picture, saw how glum they looked, and demanded they smile for the second one. Eli’s face in the smiling photo makes me laugh out loud every time I see it.
I forgot that there is a great playground at the end of the Bradbury Mountain hike, and that made it all even better. So Zuzu got to end the hike with one of her favorite activities.
Day 4 was to make a cardboard stool from Foldschool, and that needs its whole own post to talk about, next week some time. Once again trusting the Jar Wisdom, though, since it poured the whole day, making it a bad day for hiking, but a great day for being stuck inside making a cardboard stool.
Yesterday we got “Visit the Portland Museum of Art,” which also deserves its own post, so look for that coming up.
Henry has been learning about the ocean in school, and he is completely running with it, so to speak. He has been drawing and cutting out dozens of different ocean creatures, and telling us facts about each one. He drew a complex chart of the life cycle of a coral colony and brought it to school to teach his classmates, then a few days later made a life-size drawing of a nurse shark to show them (his teacher said, “He’s like my assistant teacher!”).
He spent a good deal of time wrangling the neighborhood posse into taping his creatures onto the back fence, so we’d have our own outdoor aquarium (that’s the nurse shark on the right in the top photo).
One thing I love about kid obsessions is when you learn a whole bunch of new stuff yourself. Like Dave and I were surprised to learn that the starfish (or sea star, depending on how itchy you are about the “fish” verity in your terminology) are the most insane creature on the face of the earth, just about. Some alarming starfish facts:
- Starfish have eyes at the end of each arm. They can’t see with these eyes, though. (How that makes them eyes, I have no idea.)
- A starfish can eat kind of large sea life, like crabs. It just suctions on and doesn’t let go, and pretty soon the crab is eaten.
- If a starfish is disturbed, it may throw off an arm. A new arm will regenerate in about a year. And a new starfish will generate from the broken-off arm.
- When eating something such as a clam, the starfish opens the clam shell a tiny bit, and then pushes its stomach outside of its body and into the clam shell. And then digests the clam while its stomach is still outside its body.
(All crazy starfish facts from a nicely illustrated book called Where the Waves Break: Life at the Edge of the Sea by Anita Malnig.)
Small Magazine had a quick bit on Milimbo, who makes graphically simple and very beautiful children’s books and prints. I don’t know if Milimbo is a man or a woman (or a collective), but they are based in Spain. The children’s books are wordless versions of common stories (so there’s no language barrier), like Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel. I love childrens’ books that are works of art all on their own.